Edward. Barber, who became the sixth engraver at the Philadelphia Mint
in 1879, following the death of his father, Chief Engraver William
Barber, remained in the post until his death on February 18, 1917.
Apart from the pattern series, Charles Barber is best known today for
his 1883 Liberty Head nickel and the 1892 dime, quarter, and half
dollar. He also designed certain commemorative coins and medals. In the
present arena of pattern discussion, certain dies of 1879 are sometimes
ascribed to his hand, but they are not signed, and at present there is
no complete delineation of who did what among the various dies of this
year as well as others through 1880, although the Flowing Hair $4
Stella and the various Washlady dies are attributed to him. With some
exceptions, it is evident that Charles Barber's work was second in
artistic rank to that of his assistant, George T. Morgan.
Barber was born in London in 1840, and in 1852 came to America with his
family. His father, an engraver, gained a position with the
Philadelphia Mint and in January 1869, following the death on New
Year's day of James B. Longacre, became chief engraver. In the best
Mint tradition of nepotism, Chief Engraver Barber signed Charles as an
assistant, although it seems likely that the younger Barber's talents
in this area were modest at best. In 1877 his wages were $4 per day.
March 1875, Charles Barber married Martha E. Jones. The union produced
one child, daughter Edith. Martha died in 1898, and on December 3,
1902, widower Barber married Caroline Gaston.
After his father's
death on August 31, 1879, there was an interregnum in which George T.
Morgan was being considered for the chief engravership. However, the
position passed from father to son, and a few months later Charles E.
Barber was named to the post. During his tenure he designed the 1883
Hawaiian silver coinage and certain coins for Cuba and Venezuela. Among
commemorative coin dies from his hand are the obverse of the 1892
Columbian half dollar (from models prepared by Olin Levi Warner), both
dies for the 1893 Isabella quarter (from sketches by Kenyon Cox, of
Brownies fame), the 1900 Lafayette dollar (numismatic historian Arlie
Slabaugh has observed that Barber's work is virtually certainly a
plagiarism of the obverse of the Yorktown Centennial medal of 1881,
engraved by Peter L. Krider), and others. The complexity of sorting out
who did what with certain dies is illustrated by the obverse for the
1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition commemorative gold dollar; Charles
Barber is given as the author of the die, but George T. Morgan
assisted, and the portrait was copied from an early 19th-century die by
Chief Engraver John Reich, who in turn modeled it from a bust by Houdon.
even a brief biography of Barber-such as this is-would be complete
without mentioning his position as the "enemy" in the "private war"
President Theodore Roosevelt had with the Mint in 1905-1907, when the
chief executive sought to have a non-Mint employee, famous sculptor
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, prepare new designs for all American coins from
the cent to the $20 gold piece, as he felt that, in particular,
Barber's current designs for the silver coins were insipid. The
observation was hardly new, and in 1895 a contributor to The
Numismatist commented: "All the sculptors and artists in the United
States have severely criticized the existing coinage. The designs of
European coins, they declare, are infinitely superior." The story of
Roosevelt's interest, which has been told at length many times in our
catalogues and elsewhere, resulted in the creation of the memorable
MCMVII High Relief $20, over Barber's strong objections.
obituary in The Numismatist, April 1917, noted that "the latest coins
designed by the younger Mr. Barber were the Panama-Pacific $2.50 gold
and the 50-cent silver pieces. Mr. Barber cut the dies for a number of
the pattern series, and is said to have possessed a splendid collection
of these pieces."
Below is an example of Barber's work - J1766/P1980.
Charles Barber also had a nice collection of patterns. To view an article by Roger Burdette, click here.
Image of Charles Barber courtesy of Heritage.