The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 36, September 6, 2015, Article 19


Charles Edward Barber The August 2015 issue of the newsletter of the Cuban Numismatic Association reprints an undated article by David Ganz on archival materials of U.S. Mint engraver Charles Barber, which includes some good information on Barber's Cuban coin designs. The correspondence archive is housed at the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian, with copies at the American Numismatic Association library. -Editor

Mr. Frank Putrow, our past President, supplied the following article on Charles Barber written by Mr. David L. Ganz some time ago. It is not common knowledge among Cuban numismatic collectors that Charles Barber, Chief Engraver for the U.S.A. Philadelphia Mint, was the engraver of the first Cuban coinage in 1915. This timely article should represent a tribute to Charles Barber on the Centennial of Cuban coinage.

CHARLES BARBER : Artist Extraordinaire

Coins are often identified by the type of design (the Liberty quarter), the theme (buffalo nickel), metallic composition (1943 steel cent), or even size (large cent). But a few coins have received immortality for the artist who created them. More than any other artist, this distinctive tribute is associated with Charles Barber, whose Barber dime, Barber quarter, and Barber half are the stuff of great numismatic collections, and whose V-nickel includes the 1913 Liberty nickel rarity. His patterns are the stuff of numismatic legend. All are widely collected.

Charles Edward Barber was a prolific artist. His governmental career spans an incredible 12 presidential administrations and 48 years of government service. Starting in 1869 as an engraver's assistant - when Andrew Johnson was president - and ending during the second term of President Woodrow Wilson as chief engraver of the United States, Charles Barber probably designed, and engraved, more coins and medals than any other person in the employ of the United States or any other Mint, before or since. His tenure as Chief Engraver, 1880 to 1917, one of the Mint's longest, also coincided with fundamental changes in the national coinage system, starting with the enactment of the Coinage Act of 1873. It is a rare tribute that the work of a sculptor or engraver of coinage has his work stand the test of time, but in Barber's case, nearly 70 years after he died, his coinage designs were still being produced for circulation. (The Cuban 2 centavos coin, bearing his design, was still in production as late as 1986).

Charles Barber was also a chronicler of his life and times, an inveterate saver of correspondence that he received and copies of letters sent by him. He was a collector who saved examples of the coins that he created, and the patterns that he designed - together with examples of the work of others. Several years ago, in November, 1991, the Library and Museum of the American Numismatic Association received an extraordinary gift consisting of copies of the personal papers of Charles Barber, covering his term as sixth chief engraver of the United States Mint at Philadelphia. The originals were deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, but a complete set of the papers (which are about three inches thick) were presented to the ANA Library with the caveat that they could not be written about by scholars, or others, for a period of three years. That caveat has long since expired, and the papers have opened a depth of previously undisclosed knowledge about Barber and the coins he created. Covering coinage of the United States and many foreign countries, medallic works by the artist, and his extraordinary collection of numismatic pattern pieces, the journals are a rare opportunity to look to the past, and learn about the future. Barber's papers include handwritten correspondence, typescripts, and many design sketches for various coins. It also has information that is bound to make some changes in the way he is viewed as an artist, as well as in how his works are collected.

In reading through the notebooks, I was struck by how this material has yet to be mined by numismatic researchers. Barber maintained two small notebooks in which he listed the coins and medals that he owned - many of which he had engraved himself. It turns out that Barber was a collector not just of materials that he created, but of other artists such as Augustus Saint- Gaudens. Portions of the contents turn certain numismatic truisms on their ear. For example, the "Red Book" lists the mintage for the 1907 wire rim with periods $10 gold piece as 500 specimens, and the 1907 round rim periods before and after E Pluribus Unum as 42 pieces (noting that 19,958 were melted). Barber's notebook suggests that 50 pieces were made of the one, and his notebook states as to the other "only 550 made." Each is relatively scarce, but it would appear that this is based on availability or survivability, not just mintage.

Considerable source material is found on coinage of Cuba, covering a relatively short period of time (1914-15), but one in which there was considerable activity, for in 1915, the U.S. Mint produced 39.6 million coins for Cuba in denominations as low as one centavo to as high as 20 pesos in gold. Traditional sources credit a Cuban engineer, E.I. Montoulieu, with sheparding through the new Cuban coinage program. The Barber papers reveal otherwise. Montoulieu did become involved, but not until months after Charles A. Conant of 32 Liberty Street, New York City, wrote to Barber advising that he had been engaged by the Cuban government to "aid them in carrying out the coinage measure which became law on October 29th last." "I understand the government of Cuba desires the coinage as soon as possible," Barber wrote to Conant in early December, 1914, adding that "we have made the dies for coinage for almost all the Central and South American countries... [and] therefore can claim a pretty wide experience in this line."

A December 10, 1914 letter from Barber to Conant requested "to have for approval designs made for each coin with the required inscriptions, insignia and emblems displayed in a satisfactory manner." Barber focused on the diameter, "the relative in size one coin shall bear to the other, considering always the mechanical requirements for successful coinage." Barber advised that he would use a technique involving an engraved matrix "of both obverse and reverse of each coin", and that to facilitate "reproduction of the dies and decrease the cost of coinage what is technically called in this country a hub and by the French a "poincon" is made from the matrix."

For reasons of cost, the Cuban government initially contemplated issuance of several denominations only - just over half of the 13 units authorized under the new coinage law. All, however, were made that year, the first by Barber "for any one of the coins named two months after all detail consisting of design, diameter and everything necessary for the successful execution of the work is agreed upon and fixed." The fee: $3,000 for the first seven; then $400 apiece for the next six. While Barber executed the dies, Eduardo I. Montoulieu, "specially attached to the Monetary Commission" according to Conant's letter of December 24, 1914, prepared the actual drawings. But even here Barber has influence.

Two sketches were also submitted for the portrait of Marti on the five and 20 gold pesos: one draped, the other undraped. Barber also advocated either a reeded edge or a border, because "it would be unsatisfactory" not to have it and would leave the coin "bare, bald looking raw and unfinished." Many years later, the Cuban gold 10 pesos of 1916 was displayed at the 838th meeting of the Rochester Numismatic Association by John Jay Pittman, a past president of the American Numismatic Association, but in 1950, just beginning his career. The companion Cuban 1915 gold proof was shown by Pittman in January, 1951.

The material in the archive captures the professional lifetime of Barber. Among the earliest documents is a letter from Mint director H.R. Linderman, dated July 21, 1876, whose salutation begins "Dear Charley", and congratulates him on the bronze head of Col. James Fair, who later became U.S. Senator from Nevada. At the time, Barber had been his father's assistant for a scant seven years. His father, William Barber, preceded him as chief engraver. One of the last, written less than six months before his sudden death at age 77 on Feb. 18, 1917, is correspondence received from Adolph Alexander Weinman, the New York City sculptor who was then working on the Winged head (Mercury) dime design. As the late Leonard Forrer wrote in his book on medallic artists, Barber "was appointed an assistant in 1869 and became the official head by promotion in 1880, to fill the vacancy caused by his father's death. The appointment was not unmerited. Mr. Barber's five cent piece is a successful venture in very low relief. His handiwork is more or less visible in all principal medals executed since 1869..." Barber's design style was distinctive. His use of a classical styled head was noted by Professor Vermeule: "This Greco- Roman restyling of a Greek head of the 4th century B.C. was on display at the Philadelphia Academy of Art when Charles Barber, George T. Morgan and other artists of the Mint in the period from the Civil War to the First World War admired it and turned its full, grave if not heavy profile into designs for coinage."

I checked with David Ganz, who writes:

"The Item in question comes from The Barber Papers, a significant body of original documentation the originals of which were donated by Stack’s to the Smithsonian. I was ANA vice president at the time and as chairman of the Endowment Committee, I helped secure a copy of the Barber Papers for the ANA Museum.

"The article covers a lot more than the Cuban collection (which is significant). The most scholarly article was done for The Numismatist, It ran in February 1995 (starting page 170). This September, I celebrate my 6th decade writing about coins and numismatics."

For more information on the Cuban Numismatic Association, see:

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: THE PAPERS OF CHIEF ENGRAVER CHARLES EDWARD BARBER (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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