Born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania on August 11, 1794; Longacre apprenticed as a bookseller and engraver in Philadelphia. From 1819 to 1844, he engraved metal plates for banknotes and book illustrations. In 1830 Longacre, with James Herring of New York, started work on the “National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans,” a four volume set of biographies of famous men with accompanying engravings that was completed in 1839. This project was highly successful both artistically and financially.

On September 16, 1844 Longacre was appointed to the position of Chief Engraver of the Mint, succeeding the late Christian Gobrecht. Secretary of State John C. Calhoun was responsible for Longacre’s nomination to the post, passing over several candidates who had more experience with coin or medal engraving. Longacre proved to be a “quick study.” By 1849 he created his first major new coinage design, the Liberty Head for the new gold dollar and double eagle.

It is highly probable that Longacre created coin dies for the California firm of Dubosq & Company. Theodore Dubosq Sr. was a jeweler from Philadelphia who arrived with his family in San Francisco on May 18, 1849. After Longacre’s death in 1869, a pair of 1850 Dubosq & Company five and ten dollar gold coin patterns were found included in his estate. This private “moonlighting” work was not done under the aegis of the government, as the dies closely resembled current (Coronet Type) United States five and ten dollar coins.

In 1854, Longacre created new designs for the enlarged one dollar gold coin and the brand new three dollar gold piece. This odd denomination was perhaps created to facilitate purchases of sheets of 100 3 cent stamps. This design (“Indian Princess”) was created so that the three dollar coin would not be confused with the existing five dollar coin. Longacre had an especially good eye for designing wreaths. His Flying Eagle cent of 1856-1858 utilized on the obverse, Gobrecht’s flying eagle design from his pattern silver dollars of 1836-1839; and on the reverse, his wreath of corn, wheat, cotton and tobacco. Other coins designed by Longacre included the two and three cent pieces, the Shield nickel; and the extremely popular Indian Head cent of 1859-1909.

In 1867, Longacre and former assistant engraver Anthony Paquet worked on coin designs and modifications for the government of Chile. James Barton Longacre died on January 1, 1869; leaving a superb numismatic legacy that endures to this day.