George T. Morgan, born in Birmingham, England, in 1845, came to the United States from England in 1876 and was hired as an assistant engraver at the Mint in October of that year. He figured very prominently in the production of pattern coins from 1877 onward. To his hand can be ascribed some of the most beautiful of all patterns of the 1877-1882 era, including several varieties of 1877 half dollars, the 1879 "Schoolgirl" dollar, and the 1882 "Shield Earring" coins.
As in the descriptions of the Bass Collection patterns, several references are made regarding Morgan's ability vs. that of William and Charles Barber, the following article by Ted Schwarz, "The Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars," in The Numismatist, November 1975, gives another numismatic view of the situation while imparting the history of Morgan's employment:
"Mint Director H.R. Linderman was just as concerned about [the designs of] the Gobrecht coinage and other designs in circulation as were the people opposed to the [designs of the] current specie. He felt that change was needed, but he also felt that Chief Engraver William Barber, and his assistant, his son Charles, were overworked and perhaps underqualified. He turned for a solution to the London Mint and wrote to the director, 'Could you find us a first class diesinker who would be willing to take the position of Assistant Engraver at the Mint at Philadelphia? We would like a man who could produce a finished hub, and if he understood modeling and also bronzing it would make him more valuable to us. We could pay about $8 per day to a person of proper qualifications. If you know of such a one who would be likely to answer our purpose, I will be glad if you will place me in communication with him.' The reason for turning to the British Mint was explained at the end of the letter: 'The engraving of coinage and medal dies has not been brought to much perfection in this country. In England it appears to have reached a standard equal if not superior to that of any other country.'
"The director of the London Mint, Charles W. Fremantle, replied in part, 'My enquiries as to an Assistant Engraver lead me very strongly to recommend for the post Mr. George Morgan, aged 30, who has made himself a considerable name, but for whom there is not much opening at present in this country. I send a letter from him, to which you will of course reply as you may think best, but I may perhaps just say that looking to Mr. Morgan's real talent, I do not think that he wishes to make conditions which are in any way unreasonable, and that I am convinced you would not find in him any inclination to take undue advantage of such privilege in regard to private work & as you may see fit to concede to him. I may add that he is personally agreeable & gentleman-like, & particularly modest and quiet in manner, so that he would be likely to make an agreeable colleague. You will judge of his qualifications by the work he is sending you, & I can only say that I shall be sorry if we lose him from this country, while I make no doubt he will be a valuable acquisition to yours, both officially and as an artist. It has of course occurred to me that you may think Mr. Morgan too good for the place you have to offer, but I have a strong opinion that he ought not to be lost to you on that account, & that you will do well to secure his services.'
"Morgan's letter described his training and experience: 'I am familiar with the engraving of coin dies, having for several years, assisted Messrs. J.S. & A.B. Wyon." I think I may say that I have a good knowledge of Design & Modeling. I served an apprenticeship to the Die Sinking at Birmingham. From Birmingham School of Art I successfully competed for a Scholarship at South Kensington… during my Studentship I obtained Medals & Prizes for Models of Heads from Life. Figures from Life & Antique Heads from Photographs and Flowers from nature. I believe it is not usual for an Engraver to have a practical knowledge of Bronzing. Fortunately I have a knowledge of this art and could in a short time so instruct an apt scholar that he would be able to successfully bronze a medal.'
"Morgan was indeed hired by the Philadelphia Mint, with the understanding that William Barber would soon be retired so there would be space for the British engraver to use for work. The two Barbers shared an office in the Mint from which they conducted not only government business but also operated their own private engraving firm. With the Mint's knowledge they often used business hours for their private enterprise, wasting the taxpayers' money. The retirement of the senior Barber would enable him to devote full time to his private engraving firm, while also freeing half the office space for Morgan.
"In 1878, George Morgan had a chance to demonstrate his experience and talents. His coin, a variation of the adopted dollar introduced in 1878, had Liberty's head sculpted in a classic style. The only complaint against the design was that Liberty appeared somewhat obese. Charles Barber also submitted a possible design. However, his version showed Liberty fat, rather dumpy looking and appearing to have thyroid trouble. It was far from his best effort. It is interesting to study the reverses of the early designs of both Morgan and Barber. The Morgan eagle, supposedly created in imitation of real life, actually seemed more heraldic in nature while the Barber eagle seemed stately and real. However, that opinion was not shared by everyone. Morgan used Anna Williams, a Philadelphia school teacher, for his model of Liberty. He apparently was enchanted with the woman and called her profile the most nearly perfect one he had ever encountered. The first of the Morgan dollars was ironically presented to President Hayes, the man who had vetoed the act authorizing the coins. The rest began entering circulation rather fitfully. The coins were generally ignored in the northern and eastern portions of the United States, but they were popular in the West and in the South, primarily because the recently freed slaves felt more secure with such 'hard' money than they did with the paper dollars commonly used for eastern business transactions."
Additional information concerning Morgan's coming to America and his relationship with the Barber family is provided by R.W. Julian in a commentary he contributed to Bowers, Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia:
"The Englishman embarked from Liverpool on board the Illinois on September 27, 1876, arriving at the port of Philadelphia 12 days later. The new engraver went directly to the Mint where he received a friendly welcome from the superintendent, James Pollock. The Barbers, father and son, were less than pleased to see Morgan and the reception was correct, but chilly. In the meantime, Fremantle had sent Linderman a number of non-Morgan English eagle designs for contemplation. Morgan then traveled to Washington where he spent a day discussing possible designs for the silver coins with the director. Linderman favored a return to the female head of Liberty as seen on the coinage prior to 1836 and also a strong eagle on the reverse. Morgan well understood that Dr. Linderman would be looking over his shoulder at every step, controlling the exact form the new designs were to take.
"Upon his return to Philadelphia, Morgan was curtly informed by Chief Engraver William Barber that there was no room in the Mint for him to work, and the modeling would have to be done elsewhere. It is true that the Mint was cramped for space in 1876, but Barber could have found room for the new engraver had it been necessary. (Linderman eventually ordered that this be done.) In the meantime Morgan did much of the work at 3727 Chestnut Street, a rooming house that was one of several places where he stayed after his arrival in America. Morgan enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts to enrich his knowledge of American art as well as to meet others in his field. It was at about this time that he was introduced by Thomas Eakins, Philadelphia artist, to Anna Willess Williams, a local teacher. Morgan persuaded her, with some difficulty, to pose for the Liberty head that Linderman wanted for his silver coinage. According to an article in The Numismatist of May 1896, there were five sittings in November 1876. The original designs were intended for use on the half dollar. At the time, no coinage of silver dollars was contemplated."
Following Chief Engraver William Barber's death in 1879, Morgan hoped that he would be named to the post. However, the nod went to Barber's son Charles, a man of relatively few talents in the engraving field. Charles Barber remained in the position for many years, until his death on February 18, 1917. Subsequently, Morgan became chief engraver, but this was late in his life, and his "glory years" had already been spent in a secondary position. He remained chief engraver until his death on January 4, 1925.
The Numismatist, February 1925, carried his obituary:
"George T. Morgan, chief engraver for the Philadelphia Mint, died suddenly on January 4 at his home, 6230 McCallum Street, Germantown. He was 79 years old. Despite his advanced years Mr. Morgan had been active until a few days before his death, when he became ill. Prior to that he had been engaged in modeling a series of medals in commemoration of the secretaries of the Treasury of the United States from Alexander Hamilton down. Mr. Morgan had made the models for and engraved medals commemorating the administration of every president since Rutherford B. Hayes. He collaborated with the country's noted sculptors in designing the country's coinage and, to a considerable extent, in adapting such models to use on postage stamps of all denominations. His work made him personally known to all the presidents of recent times. His employment by the United States government in the Philadelphia Mint covered a period of 48 years. The famous Bland silver dollar was one of his coin engravings. His initials appeared on a large proportion of all the coins issued in the last quarter of a century or more by the Mint. Born in Birmingham, England, in 1845, he studied at art schools in that country, and came to Philadelphia to enter the Engraving Department of the Mint. He brought with him the Englishman's love of cricket as a sport and was one of the founders of the old Belmont Cricket Club in West Philadelphia. He retained his interest in the game to the last and was an active member of the Germantown Cricket Club. He was a man of striking physique and his years sat lightly on him. He was a life member of the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts and a member of the Sketch Club. He was for many years a vestryman of Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, Germantown, and superintendent of its Sunday school. He is survived by his widow and three children-Miss Phyllis Morgan, Leonard P. Morgan, who is an electrolytic chemist in the United States Assay Office at New York, and Mrs. C.M. Graham."
In addition to his many pattern coins, Morgan is particularly remembered for his famous "Morgan dollar" which was struck for circulation from 1878 to 1921 and several commemorative coins, plus a vast production of medals.
The following is an example of one of Morgan's most famous patterns - J1702/P1904 - the shield earring design.
Image of George Morgan courtesy of Alex Doty.