Christian Gobrecht: United States Mint Chief Engraver Series

The history of United States coinage is particularly rich. Think about it; the Walking Liberty half dollar design, the American Silver Eagle, the Morgan dollar, colonial issues such as the Halfpenny and early American Tokens. It is quite frankly amazing the amount of work and creative process that is in involved in designing coinage, but the intricacies of past US coinage is perhaps superior to anything done in the last couple of decades. For example? The Liberty Seated series. It was highly successful and designed by the third United States Mint Chief Engraver, Christian Gobrecht.

Gobrecht’s Early Years

Born in December of 1785 to a German immigrant and a Plymouth Colony ancestor in Hanover, Pennsylvania, Gobrecht grew up learning the intricacies of clockwork. As an apprentice in Manheim, Pennsylvania, he worked on ornamental clocks until he moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to continue doing so. From there, next stop was Philadelphia has he was employed to engrave at a prestigious banknote engraving firm called Murray, Draper, Fairman, and Company in 1816.

After the observance of many inventions was attached to his name including the medal-ruling machine that was used heavily in the engraving field, an automation doll, a version of the camera lucida, and a parlor reed organ improvement, Gobrecht was starting to get attention from others including the United States Mint Director at the time, Robert Patterson.

Offered a job as the assistant director at the Mint in 1823, Gobrecht actually turned down the position but found himself applying for the chief engraver position later that same year after first Chief Engraver Robert Scot passed. He was not granted the chief engraver position but was offered an assistant engraver position at $600/year salary but decided to once again decline. Although declining many offers, Gobrecht managed to still create a positive relationship with the Mint as he provided many pattern dies as well as letter and numerical punches in 1826 as an independent contractor.

Gobrecht’s Early Years

It was in 1835 that Gobrecht finally accepted a position offered to him at the US Mint when the decline of William Kneass’s health took its toll. In addition to Kneass’s health, the Mint was also undergoing changes in directorship and it was then that Gobrecht finally agreed to help out and become Kneass’s assistant.

As an assistant, Christian Gobrecht was quick to the draw as his production of several patterns would lead to one of the most popular, or at least memorable, in the Liberty Seated dollar design. Later known as the Gobrecht Dollar, only 1,000 plain-edge pieces were struck for circulation and was known for having multiple die alignments. The first obverse die depicted the seated figure Liberty inspired by the goddess seen on Britannia coins and was dated 1836.

Underneath the figure was the inscription “C.GOBRECHT F.” which many criticized Gobrecht for as no one had ever put their name so clearly visible on the design of any coins. Pattern pieces were stuck in 1838 with Gobrecht’s name removed. Although not working out the way intended, the design for the Gobrecht Dollar would become the inspiration for the Liberty Seated designs themselves on the half dimes, dimes, twenty-cent pieces, quarters, and half dollars. The reverse of the designs created by James B. Longacre and his inspiration of the Flying Eagle cents would grace the coin and the series would be depicted on US coinage from 1837-1891 until the Barber coinage would take effect.

Later Years - 3rd Chief Engraver

In addition to the Liberty Seated designs, Gobrecht produced dies for the two-cent piece and gold dollar while in 1838 he presented the design for the Liberty eagle that would be replicated for years to come on half and quarter eagles. The following year he engraved the designs for the Braided Hair cent and again the Braided Hair half cent before taking over the chief engraver position after William Kneass died 1840. Some already observed that he had been acting as chief engraver since he began as Kneass’s “assistant” in 1835 because of the dreadful health Kneass was in during that time period.

Not so long after taking over as the official third chief engraver, Gobrecht passed in 1844. His designs and life works are crucial to today’s United States coinage and have left quite the impact. His designs for the Liberty Seated series proved to be important as they remained in circulation for over 50 years. His works are still highly regarded today.