Gobrecht, Christian. The name of Gobrecht, the third person to occupy the post of chief engraver at the Philadelphia Mint, is well known to collectors today and is reflected in such popular terms as Gobrecht dollar and The Gobrecht Journal, the latter being the publication of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club. Among pattern coins his contributions are at once important, beautiful, and extensive. Most familiar are his Liberty Seated coins, first made in pattern form in 1836, and continued across the denominations of half dime, dime, quarter dollar, half dollar, and silver dollar for years thereafter. Throughout the middle range of the last century, the Liberty Seated obverse as well as Gobrecht's perched eagle reverse were used as obverse and reverse dies for hundreds of different pattern varieties, often with the other die being the work of James B. Longacre or one of the Barbers.
Separately, Gobrecht's flying eagle is an American numismatic icon. First used on the 1836 pattern dollar, it later appeared on many other patterns as well as regular issue 1857-1858 cents. Years later, on June 28, 1906, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the famous sculptor who had been commissioned to redesign the entire American coinage spectrum, wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt, stating that for the reverse of the $20 coin he was going to use: "a flying eagle, a modification of the device which was used on the cent of 1857. I had not seen that coin for many years, and was so impressed by it that I thought if carried out with some modifications, nothing better could be done. It is by all odds the best design on any American coin."
Not only did Gobrecht's designs stand on their own, but they spawned many later versions by others, including Liberty Seated figures created by Longacre, William Barber, and possibly even by J.A. Bailly.
Christian Gobrecht was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania, on December 23, 1785, the son of the Reverend John C. Gobrecht who had come to America in 1755 from Germany. Gobrecht's mother, Elizabeth Sands, traced her lineage to Plymouth colony as far back as 1642. He married Mary Hamilton Hewes on May 31, 1818. After serving an apprenticeship in Manheim, Pennsylvania, he became an engraver of ornamental clock works in Baltimore, later moving to Philadelphia in 1811, joining the banknote engraving firm of Murray, Draper, Fairman, and Company, circa 1816. In 1817, Gobrecht made improvements to his 1810 invention of a medal-ruling machine by which a three-dimensional medal or bas-relief object could be converted to a two-dimensional illustration for use in a publication using a linear process. In 1824, he prepared dies for the Franklin Institute medal of the same date, signed GOBRECHT F. below the bust of Franklin.
He furnished dies to the United States Mint as early as 1826 and in September 1835 was accepted as an assistant engraver to William Kneass. Shortly before, on August 27, Kneass had a debilitating stroke, and all pattern and die work from that time onward was done by Gobrecht, including the creation of the 1836 Gobrecht dollars and, most probably, certain 1838 pattern half dollars (that have been called Kneass heads for many years). From December 21, 1840 until his death on July 23, 1844, he served as chief engraver. He is most famous for his silver dollar design of 1836, featuring the Liberty Seated obverse which would soon become a staple in American numismatic history. This coinage design was based on sketches prepared by Thomas Sully and Titian Peale. The obverse design remained on all silver coins for many years, including the half dime (to 1873), dime (1891), quarter (1891), half dollar (1891), and silver dollar (1873). He also created the Liberty Head (or Coronet or Braided Hair) motif that was first used on the $10 gold coin of 1838, and soon thereafter on the half cent, cent, and gold $2.50 and $5.
Much more could be said about Gobrecht, but as within the year we featured his biography in a special article, we refer the reader to Rare Coin Review #126, November/December 1998, "Christian Gobrecht: American coin die engraver extraordinaire," by Q. David Bowers.
Below is an example of Gobrecht's most famous work - J58/P61 although no originals of this design are presently known to exist.
Image of Christian Gobrecht courtesy of the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian Institution.