One researcher’s discovery in the Smithsonian Institution’s
National Numismatic Collection in 2004 set another researcher on a
path to explore the behind-the-scenes life of one of America’s most
famous coin designers.
A new book by National Numismatic Collection curator Karen M. Lee,
The Private Sketchbook of George T. Morgan, America’s Silver
Dollar Artist, is based on Morgan’s sketchbook. The sketchbook
had lain buried in a Smithsonian vault since 1966 and may have
remained forever collecting dust in a museum vault had it not been for
a researcher’s curiosity, who discovered Morgan’s sketchbook some
eight years ago.
The Private Sketchbook of George T. Morgan, America’s Silver
Dollar Artist, Lee’s first book, is being published by Whitman
Publishing LLC, to be released Nov. 20.
The contents of Morgan’s sketchbook reveal the sculptor-engraver’s
creative process over the course of nearly two decades. Lee’s book
shares highlights from that creative process with readers.
Most of Morgan’s work while employed by the U.S. Mint is
identified and illustrated in the book, which has an extensive and
comprehensive bibliography. Central to Lee’s book are 80 pages from
Morgan’s personal and professional sketchbook — the entirety of the
creative journal that he carried from his native England to the United
States in 1876 and continued to add to after his arrival in the United
States. The British-born Morgan became an assistant engraver at the
Philadelphia Mint sometime after the conclusion of the six-month trial period.
Morgan was appointed as the seventh chief engraver of the United
States shortly after Charles’ E. Barber’s death on Feb. 18, 1917.
Also illustrated and discussed are many of Morgan’s medallic
endeavors while in England.
Finding the sketchbook
Jeff Garrett, a Lexington, Ky., numismatic researcher and dealer,
happened upon the sketchbook in 2004 while utilizing the NNC archives
on one of his frequent visits to the museum.
Lee “took particular interest” in the find, writes Richard Doty,
senior curator of numismatics at the Smithsonian, in his foreword to
Morgan’s sketchbook was donated in 1966 to the National Numismatic
Collection by the New York numismatic firm, Stack’s.
“The gift occasioned little notice at the time: the Stack family
had long been, and still are, generous contributors to the NNC,” Doty
writes in the foreword. “So Morgan’s book was carefully stored, then
forgotten for more than four decades.”
Realizing the research value of the sketchbook that once belonged
to Morgan, Lee tackled the task of following the coin and medal
designer’s lineage and craft back to his birthplace of Bilston, England.
“My curiosity about George T. Morgan’s sketchbook was raised years
ago, when I first saw it in the National Numismatic Collection,” Lee
said Oct. 23. “My colleagues and I were examining one sketch in
particular — the concept proposal for a $100 coin. I remember being
eager to turn the pages but having to wait until we finished our
discussion. I was intrigued when finally I saw the full contents of
the book — it contained such a wonderful variety of subjects and images.
“At the time, I hadn’t yet discovered that Morgan began sketching
in the book during his student years in Birmingham, England, or that
the book was rare because of the completeness or variety of its
contents. Yet it was clear this object had a story to tell and that my
goal was to discover and interpret it. The Private Sketchbook of
George T. Morgan is the result.
“Still it amazes and humbles me that a single object has revealed
so much about the private life of a beloved public figure.”
Morgan’s proposed obverse design of Commerce for the $100 gold
union was created during the depths of an economic depression in the
mid-1870s. Apparently no patterns were produced from those designs.
However, in the mid-2000s, his obverse design for the union was used
by the private New York Mint to issue Proof silver and gold medals.
The eagle reverse of the 2008 medals is from another sketch in
Morgan’s sketchbook, one he did not intend for the $100 coin.
Coming to America
In her book, Lee traces Morgan’s life and career in England from
his birth in 1845 up to and beyond the time he joined the U.S. Mint in 1876.
Morgan had attended the Birmingham School of Art in England from
1861 to 1867 before he won one of 16 scholarships awarded in 1868 to
attend the prestigious National Art Training School in South
Kensington, where he studied for two years.
Morgan also studied for four years under the tutelage of Leonard
Charles Wyon at Britain’s Royal Mint.
Morgan’s status as a
proficient medalist and engraver was elevated through his association
with the Royal Academy of Arts and Art Union of London, and private
commissions from the Royal Mint.
Dr. Henry R. Linderman, director of the U.S. Mint, had telegraphed
his intentions of seeking a permanent assistant engraver for the U.S.
Mint in a letter dated June 13, 1876, to Sir Charles William
Freemantle, deputy master of the Royal Mint.
Morgan was executing private commission work for the Royal Mint at
In an Aug. 22, 1876, letter to Morgan, Linderman offered Morgan a
six-month trial at the Philadelphia Mint, “an arrangement distinctly
different from the assistant engraver position Linderman originally
wished to fill.”
“The downgrade suggests that William Barber,
the Mint’s chief engraver, and his son, Charles, who also worked at
the Mint, may have gotten wind of the idea, and, unwilling to share
their workshop, tried to restrain the offer so it could later be
nullified,” Lee writes, but also notes, “In fairness, some sources
indicate the Barbers were unaware of George Morgan’s arrival.”
Morgan alerted Freemantle by letter dated Sept. 20, 1876, of his
intentions to sail aboard the SS Illinois for the United States the
following week to accept Linderman’s offer.
“One wonders how Morgan managed to arrive in Philadelphia on
October 7 and, before the end of the year, create a polished design
for a $100 gold coin, along with sketches for a trade dollar and a
half dollar, and a proposal for a centenary medal,” Lee writes.
According to Lee, as Morgan was en route to Philadelphia by
steamship, Linderman, apparently unaware, sent a letter dated Sept.
28, 1876, to Freemantle after not having heard from Wyon about Morgan
being recommended for the assistant Mint engraver’s opening.
Illustrations of all of the original correspondence are published
in Lee’s book.
Soon after his arrival, Morgan was reimbursed by Linderman for his
$222.50 in travel expenses.
Linderman’s welcome contrasted sharply with Morgan’s reception
from the Barbers.
“Aware that the stability of their dynasty could be jeopardized by
this acclaimed and well-trained engraver, they waged a campaign to
block Morgan from working in the Mint,” Lee writes. “Director Henry
Linderman, claiming that there was no space, instructed Morgan to
conduct his business from his boarding-house room,” Lee writes.
Morgan took up residence at a boarding house run by the widow of
Adam Eckfeldt Sr., second chief coiner of the U.S. Mint, who died some
two decades earlier.
Morgan immersed himself in several projects, including developing
designs for a new silver half dollar, designs that would be used
instead for the silver dollar that collectors know today by his surname.
During the trial period of Morgan’s employment, Linderman gave him
his approval to go to the Mint and have his designs executed in model
form. It represented the beginning of a long and storied career at the Mint.
Morgan’s 48-year tenure on the Mint’s engraving staff is the
longest in Mint history, eclipsing William
Barber’s by a single year.
Morgan become chief engraver subsequent to the Feb. 18, 1917,
death of Charles E. Barber, under appointment by President Woodrow
Wilson, with the concurrence of the U.S. Senate.
Morgan died in office as chief engraver on Jan. 4, 1925.
More than a dollar
Most collectors recognize George T. Morgan as the designer of the
silver dollar that bears his name (1878 to 1904, 1921).
Morgan’s body of work includes much more beyond the silver dollar.
Among his accomplishments are a multitude of commemorative coin
designs; patterns, experimental and trial pieces; U.S. Assay
Commission medals; military decorations, badges, campaign items,
cabinet medals, galvano plasters, Indian peace medals, reliefs; U.S.
presidential medals; and medals for Treasury secretaries, Mint
directors and Mint superintendents.
Lee’s book provides:
➤ An in-depth historical background on Morgan’s life.
➤ Family photographs, personal letters and documents published for
the first time.
➤ Behind-the-scenes correspondence from the U.S. Mint and
Britain’s Royal Mint.
➤ Analysis and interpretation of Morgan’s drawings.
➤ An illustrated catalog of Morgan’s American numismatic works.
The book has a suggested retail price of $29.95.
Pre-orders for Lee’s 192-page, hardcover book are being accepted
The book will also be available from numismatic and general
booksellers nationwide. ■