United States Mint Chief Engraver Series: Gilroy Roberts

Perhaps one of the most popular of commemorations happening right now in the numismatic hobby is that of the 1969 moon landing. With the three man crew of Apollo 11 (including most famously Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, Jr.) making their literal prints on the moon, the space race was commanded and finished with success as the United States was and still is the only country to have done such remarkable things within science and engineering. But perhaps also worth mentioning is the aforementioned space race being started by that of President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

As important as Kennedy is within our nation’s history as well as within the numismatic business, he himself has been commemorated on numerous occasions including the most popular of annual designs: the Kennedy Half Dollar. Designing the obverse of the famous half dollar was none other than the ninth Chief Engraver, Gilroy Roberts.

Gilroy Roberts Early Years

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in March of 1905, Roberts grew up with a natural artistic talent as his surroundings consisted of art due to the fact that his father was a professional sculptor. Roberts learned at a young age his father’s craft and from then on would advance his techniques and expand the plethora of knowledge it took to eventually become hired on at the United States Mint later on in his professional career.

At the age of 31, Roberts was hired on at the Mint as an assistant engraver and sculptor but did not stay but a year and a half as he took another job at the Washington, D.C. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It was nearly a decade later when Roberts decided to return to the Mint in May of 1944 and became a top assistant to then-Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock.

Over the next few years, Roberts worked closely with Sinnock as Sinnock’s health was declining. In addition to helping him with the design process of the Roosevelt Dime, Roberts aided in the finishing design of the Franklin Half Dollar as Sinnock passed before completing both the obverse and reverse. The liberty bell on the reverse was finished and engraved by Roberts as well as the addition of the small eagle.

Ninth United States Chief Engraver

After the passing of Sinnock, then-President Harry S. Truman appointed the position of Chief Engraver to Gilroy Roberts in July of 1948. His career consisted of numerous designs of commemorative and congressional coins and medals in addition to foreign coin and medal designs for countries that included Denmark, Colombia, Cuba, Ethiopia, and more.

Perhaps his most important and prestigious of designs was that of the Kennedy Half Dollar obverse that was commissioned after the country fell into mourning due to the loss of the beloved president in November of 1963. Based on a previously designed medal by Roberts and his top assistant and later 10th Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, the Kennedy Half Dollar was approved by Jackie Kennedy and went into official production in 1964. The coin itself is still one of the most popular United States produced and circulated coins to have ever been created. The design has brought fame to both Roberts and Gasparro.

Gilroy's Later Years

Months after the Kennedy Half Dollar was minted, Roberts retired in October of 1964 making him the the first US Mint Chief Engraver to retire from the position rather than passing while holding office as the ones who came before him did. After retiring, Roberts continued to sculpt and work within the art community before his passing at the age of 86 in January of 1992, just a mere month away from his 87th birthday.

(Source: www.usacoinbook.com )