On November 23, 1793 Robert Scot was appointed as Chief Engraver of the United States Mint at Philadelphia by David Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse, who would serve as Mint Director from April 1792 through June 1795, had previously appointed Joseph Wright, a favorite of both Franklin and Washington, to the position. An epidemic of yellow fever in September 1793 ended Wright’s life prematurely.
Scot had trained as a watchmaker in his native England At the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783, Scot immigrated to Philadelphia where he became employed as a portrait and scientific plate engraver. Scot’s appointment was championed by Thomas Jefferson almost as a matter of necessity. With the untimely death of Joseph Wright, there was no one in America who possessed his skills as a die sinker and engraver. Congress refused to contract the services of a European firm, so Scot got the “nod” almost by default.
The first designs to appear were dated 1794, with the half cent, half dime, half dollar and silver dollar. The silver coinage featured similar designs for all three denominations. The obverse features a personification of Liberty facing right with flowing hair. The legend: “LIBERTY” and the date are at the top and bottom respectively separated by 8 and 7 stars for the (then) 15 states. The reverse features a rather malnourished eagle surrounded by a wreath with the legend: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the outer edge. The half dollar and silver dollar both had a lettered edge stating their respective denominations (FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR / HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT), as a device to prevent clipping. Clipping was a process where metal was shaved or filed off a coin by unscrupulous people. The half cent was similar to Joseph Wright’s design for 1793. Scot essentially reversed the head of Liberty so that now it faced right.
1795 saw the debut in circulation of the gold half eagle ($5.00) and eagle ($10.00). Featuring a unified design theme, the obverse depicted a turban wearing or capped bust of Liberty with “LIBERTY” and the date at the top and bottom respectively, flanked by 5 and 10 stars. The reverses show yet another underweight eagle clutching a wreath in its beak and with an olive branch in its talons. The legend: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” surrounds the eagle. These gold coins have a reeded edge. The new gold quarter eagle ($2.50) of 1796 featured the debut of a badly needed design change for the reverse.
The first depictions on U.S. coins of the bald eagle, America’s national bird, were derided in the press and among the public as “scrawny” or “looking like a turkey cock.” Scot set out to adapt the Great Seal of the United States for use on coinage. His design had its debut on the quarter eagle of 1796. The new design depicts a somewhat “beefed up” eagle holding the Union Shield on its breast with thirteen arrows and an olive branch in its claws. The eagle holds a scroll inscribed: “E PLURIBUS UNUM” in its beak. Above the eagle are 13 stars in an arc of clouds. The legend: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” surrounds the border. Scot made an error by reversing the objects carried in the eagle’s claws. By placing the arrows in the right claw, and the olive branch in the left (reversed from the Great Seal) he gave the impression of a warlike posture rather than a message of peace. Whether this was intentional or not; we may never know. The Heraldic Eagle image was never corrected during the life of the design (1796-1807.)
Scot’s most enduring coin device was that of the Draped Bust personification of Liberty from 1796-1808. It is probable that the inspiration for the obverse was a portrait by Gilbert Stuart of Anne Willing Bingham of Philadelphia. She was of a prominent Philadelphia family that was related to the Shippen family, also of Philadelphia. Edward Shippen was Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. Two of his daughters, Peggy and Theodosia, married Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr respectively.
Anne Willing, born in 1764, by age 16, was considered to be “the most beautiful young woman in Philadelphia.” During the American Revolution, George Washington occupied the house next door to the Willings as his headquarters. Anne and her family would have been occasional guests of General Washington’s. Upon marrying wealthy merchant William Bingham in 1780, Anne continued to live her life of opulence and refinement. On a trip to London in 1785, the Binghams met the portrait painter Gilbert Stuart. Good portrait painters were in demand in late 18th century London; and Stuart was considered to be among the very best. William Billing commissioned Stuart to paint a portrait of his family. This portrait was never completed. A preparatory sketch of Anne, at age 21, has survived.
In April, 1796 Stuart, now residing in Philadelphia, was commissioned by now U.S. Senator Bingham to paint a portrait of President George Washington. This famous full-length portrait of Washington would become known as the Lansdowne Portrait, named after its recipient, Lord Lansdowne of England.
Stuart had received a mint commission, probably from Rittenhouse, in 1795 to prepare a drawing based on Anne Bingham’s portrait sketch to be used on new designs for U.S. coins. The drawing was adapted by Robert Scot and Adam Eckfeldt into a master die. The modified image of Anne Willing Bingham graced most United States silver coinage from 1795 to 1807. Copper coinage, also featuring the Draped Bust portrait, included half cents from 1800-1808 and large cents from 1796-1807.
The new Federal coins of the United States proclaimed to the world that America was no longer a colonial possession; but was now on an equal footing with the established countries of the world. All Draped Bust coinage is highly desirable and quite scarce in higher grades.