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.