The fledgling United States Mint opened in 1792 with a full complement of machinists, administrators and other sundry personnel, but it sorely lacked in artistic talent. After several years of negotiations, Secretary of State Thomas Jeffer-son’s attempts to hire French inventor Jean Pierre Droz, one of the finest engravers and coiners in the world, had proved futile. Mint Director David Rittenhouse appointed artist Joseph Wright as Chief Engraver in August 1793, but Wright hardly got started before he died a few weeks later in one of Philadelphia’s annual yellow fever epidemics. Desperate for an engraver, Rittenhouse engaged the aging Robert Scot, an English born watchmaker and banknote engraver. Unfortunately Scot’s limited talents as a die engraver, exacerbated by his advancing years and failing eyesight, provided the Mint with marginal designs at best.
Criticism of Scot’s designs was immediate.... (Expand Text)