If there are any superstars in the coin-making business, coin designers are at the top of the list. Their products are seen by millions of people, and their craftsmanship becomes a source of pride.
It can also be a source of great controversy and bitter personal rivalries.
Barbers vs. Morgan for Silver Dollar Designs
William Barber had reigned over U.S. coin design for a decade in the post-Civil War era as the mint’s chief engraver, and he and his son Charles established a lucrative private engraving business, taking advantage of Charles’ rent-free office at the Philadelphia mint. In keeping with tradition in their native England, he presumed Charles would succeed him as Chief Engraver and would have coin design as his personal purview. Charles did, in fact, succeed his father upon William’s death in 1879 and designed a series of U.S. silver coins that became known as Barber coins.
But the Coinage Act of 1873 halted production of silver dollars for circulation, so Barber’s designs only appeared on dimes, quarters, and half dollars. By the time silver dollar production resumed five years later, Mint Director H. R. Lindeman, along with several others, had decided the Barber designs were outdated and too “European looking” and wanted a new design for the dollar. Lindeman was concerned that the Barbers had become too distracted by their private ventures to give proper attention to the new coin’s design, so he reached out to the Royal Mint in London to enquire about the availability of any talented engravers they might recommend.
London Mint Director Charles W. Fremantle enthusiastically promoted a young diemaker of great talent named George T. Morgan, whose future was blocked by the hereditary traditions of the British mint. Lindeman seized the opportunity to have such talent available and secured passage for Morgan to Philadelphia, where he greeted Morgan enthusiastically.
The same could not be said for the Barbers, who regarded Morgan as unwanted competition and a threat to their standing. Their concern was valid.
The Morgan Dollar Establishes Engraver’s Reputation
As Mint Director, Lindeman had final approval on all coin designs, and when Charles Barber, who was now Chief Engraver (Morgan was an assistant engraver) and Morgan submitted designs for the dollar, Lindeman chose Morgan, feeling his work was superior. Thus was born the legendary Morgan Dollar, and George’s reputation as a superior engraver was assured.
Morgan Becomes Chief Engraver
But Charles Barber remained Chief Engraver and the men’s relationship was cool, at best. Morgan continued to work as Barber’s assistant until Barber’s death in 1917, when he was finally appointed Chief Engraver at age 72, well past his prime. It was bittersweet since many had felt for years that Barber lacked talent and Morgan should have been promoted to the position much earlier. Barber was even accused of passing up Morgan designs in favor of inferior ones out of jealousy.
Morgan Designs for Pattern Coins, Half Dollars, Commemorative Presidential Medals and Postage Stamps
Nonetheless, Morgan figured prominently in the design of pattern coins, including several varieties of 1877 half dollars along with the 1879 "Wash Lady" dollar, and the 1882 "Shield Earring" coins. He also produced commemorative medals for several U.S. presidents as well as having a number of his designs used on postage stamps. Morgan continued working until his death on January 4, 1925.
But George T. Morgan will always be best remembered for the Morgan Dollar, nearly 650 million of which were produced between 1878 and 1921.
Morgan Silver Dollars for Collectors
The Great American Coin Company® is pleased to offer Morgan Silver Dollars minted between 1878 and 1921 for both collectors and history buffs. These 90% silver coins are available in various grades as well as ungraded cull condition. They’re an important part of any portfolio and are an inexpensive way to launch a beginner on a rewarding, life-long interest in coin collecting. They make great novelty gifts that capture an important time in U.S. history, too.
The Great American Coin Company® offers a wide selection of collectible U.S. coins and paper money as well as currency from around the world. We keep adding unique collectibles as they become available, so be sure to visit us frequently. And while you’re there, be sure to visit our blog for interesting and timely articles about currency and precious metals.