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Artistry of coins equally deserving of appreciation

by Toni (Antoinette) Rahn


Editor's Note: This piece was originally published as the 'Editor's Letter' in the August 2018 issue of Coins Magazine.

Christian Gobrecht and Augustus Saint-Gaudens are two of a select list of artist engravers whose skills and vision have impacted several generations.

It’s more than a little likely that these two names are not unfamiliar to many of you, but ask someone in the general public to name notable U.S. artists of the 20th century, and I’d bet neither of their names would come to mind.

However, they should, as should many of their contemporaries within the ranks of past and present U.S. coin designers.

It takes incredible skill, patience, and precision to create an image or motif that resides on the face of a coin or a note. In turn, these artists’ miniature masterpieces afford everyone the opportunity to own an item of artwork. Because that’s what they are when you get right down to it.

In some ways, the appreciation of coins and notes as an art form is a bit like collecting art prints. By their very nature, prints are often (but not always) more abundant and affordable, as they are the multiples of the same original artwork.

We see a similar occurrence with coins of higher mintage. Now, as you well know, that’s not a hard and fast rule, as supply and demand is always a factor. Regardless, from the standpoint of appreciating the artistic elements and presentation of coins, there resides a universe of artistry to explore.

For example, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ $20 gold Double Eagle is often called one of the most iconic coins in U.S. history. This month, our esteemed columnist and contributor Michael Thorne thoroughly discusses the history of the coin, Saint-Gaudens’ path to becoming a respected coin designer and engraver, and Thorne’s journey of rediscovering an appreciation for “Saints” decades after his initial introduction.

Past Chief Engraver at the United States Mint Christian Gobrecht’s handiwork is also on display and is the subject of discussion in this issue, courtesy of Mark Benvenuto. As part of his examination of gold coin collecting options, Benvenuto recommends the classic Coronet coin.

Gobrecht’s design features two decidedly American images, Liberty and the eagle and shield. However, as Benvenuto mentions, while Gobrecht presented both in a manner keeping with the trends of coin design of the day, it also represented the pride and hope of a then-young nation.

If you are interested in learning more about the artists who designed and engraved US coins, you’ll find a nice listing with short biographies for several at this site:

Plus, if you are interested in seeing large-scale examples of Saint-Gaudens’ artistic prowess, there are more than a few opportunities within the U.S, including sculptures in Chicago and Boston. Perhaps if you are able to make summer travel plans, a place to visit may be the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site ( located in Cornish, N.H.

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.