The best known American coin design of the 19th century was the image of a seated personification of Liberty. This image, with minor modifications, appeared from 1837 to 1891 on most United States silver coins with the exception of the three and twenty cent pieces. Based on sketches by Thomas Sully of a modification of the English “Britannia,” the enduring image of Liberty Seated was engraved in 1835 by the chief engraver at the Philadelphia Mint, Christian Gobrecht.

Gobrecht was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania on December 23rd, 1785. He apprenticed as a clockmaker and watch engraver. In 1816, Gobrecht joined the Philadelphia banknote engraving firm of Murray, Draper, Fairman, and Company. His engraving skills were an immediate asset to the firm. Around 1817, Gobrecht began to work on the engraving and production of privately issued medals. He eventually sought, with little success due to nepotism and “mint politics”, to obtain an engraving position with the Philadelphia Mint.

In September 1835 Christian Gobrecht was at last accepted by the Philadelphia Mint as an assistant engraver to William Kneass. Kneass had suffered a debilitating stroke a month earlier. Gobrecht prepared all pattern and die work from that point on. From December 21, 1840 until his death on July 23, 1844, he served as Chief Engraver of the Mint. In addition to his Liberty Seated design, Gobrecht was responsible for the flying eagle (based on sketches by Titian Peale) used on the reverse of the silver dollar of 1836-1839 and the obverse of the copper-nickel cent of 1856-1858. This device was later modified by Augustus Saint Gaudens for his superb $20 gold coin of 1907-1933. The obverses of the $2.50, $5.00, and $10.00 Liberty or Coronet type gold coins of 1838/9-1907/8 were also designed by Christian Gobrecht. In addition, Gobrecht’s engraving skills were used on the half cent of 1840-1857 and large cent of 1837-1857. Even though Gobrecht died in 1844, his coins survived him by over 60 years, spanning the Civil war and the settling of the West! The numismatic legacy left by this fine artist is a testament to his outstanding but brief output of only nine years!