Early American Mint ghost and engraver

The Designs of the Times column from the March 30, 2015, edition of Coin World
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 03/17/15
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Most collectors of early American coins are familiar with the name John Reich. He designed the Capped Bust coins beginning in 1807, but how much else do we actually know about him?

The most comprehensive work on his life was privately published by Stewart Witham in 1993. Stew was an avid collector of the Capped Bust coinages, Bust errors and other items designed by Reich. Stew was one of the most knowledgeable collectors of these series and wrote many articles for The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine.

Russell J. Logan, noted researcher and co-founder of the John Reich Collector’s Society, noted in the foreword to Stew’s 1993 work: “The study of numismatics goes well beyond the accumulation of coins and medals. The research published in this paper is a classic example of how learning about the times and the environment in which our early coins were manufactured can enhance the pleasure we find in collecting them.”

Reich was born on Aug. 16, 1767, in Furth, Bavaria, and married in 1791. He had a daughter in 1792. He traveled to America onboard the vessel Anna, landing in August 1800, without wife or child. 

Reich was an indentured passenger and had to be pledged to an employer that would have paid his passage in exchange for his employment. John Brown, a silversmith, became Reich’s employer, paying him a dollar a week for two years in exchange for his 20 guineas indebtedness. So began Reich’s existence in America.

His career at the Mint began on April 1, 1807. He immediately began work on redesigning the half eagle and half dollar coins. His “signature,” a scalloped point on star 13, appears on the dies he created. He worked at the Mint until his resignation over pay and failing eyesight on March 31, 1817, after exactly 10 years.

We have proof of Reich’s whereabouts thereafter through newspaper ads and city directories, which end in Pittsburgh in 1832. There was a catastrophic flood that year, as well as a cholera epidemic. No further information is available on Reich past this point. He may have been buried in a “pauper’s grave” having succumbed to either of these calamities without enough assets to provide a proper burial.

There is no known engraving of Reich’s likeness. He played a pivotal role in the development of our early coinage, but has left no additional personal clues. Perhaps someone will eventually discover a “self-portrait” with the initials JMR.

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