Thursday, May 26, 2016

The First Chief Engraver of the US Mint: Robert Scot

Robert Scot was the first official Chief Engraver of the US Mint

Robert Scot (October 2, 1745 – November 3, 1823) was Chief Engraver of the United States Mint from 1793 until his death in 1823. Scot designed the popular Flowing Hair dollar coinage along with the Liberty Cap half cent. Scot is perhaps best known for his design, the Draped Bust, which was used on many silver and copper coins. Robert Scot was the most prolific engraver of early American patriotic iconography, with symbols and images depicting rebellion, unity, victory, and liberty throughout his career in America.

Draped Bust Silver Dollar

Early life

Scot was born on October 2, 1745 in Canongate, Scotland. He learned watchmaking from, and was also trained as a line engraver by, Richard Cooper, Sr. at the University of Edinburgh.

Robert Scot moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1775. He began engraving plates for Virginia currency using the standard Arms of Britain design. After the landmark Fifth Virginia Convention of May, 1776, Scot engraved Virginia currency with the radical Virginia Seal, which depicted the overthrow of tyranny. In 1778 Scot engraved Virginia currency with the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis (made famous by John Wilkes Booth). This is a Latin phrase meaning "thus always to tyrants". It is a shortened version of the phrase "Sic semper tyrannis ad mortem" ("Thus always I bring death to tyrants").

Scot moved from Fredericksburg to the new Virginia Capitol of Richmond in 1780, as Engraver to the State of Virginia. Under the direction of Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson in 1780, Robert Scot engraved the Virginia Happy While United medals as gifts to Native American Indian Chiefs. On January 4, 1781, Richmond was burned and destroyed by British troops under the command of General Benedict Arnold.


Scot announced his arrival in Philadelphia with newspaper advertisements in May of 1781, listing his engraving shop at the corner of Vine and Front Streets. He began engraving for Robert Morris, then Superintendent of the Office of Finance of the United States, in July of 1781. The paper money that Scot engraved for Morris helped to finance the Siege of Yorktown, the decisive battle of the American Revolution. Shortly after that battle, Major Sebastian Bauman commissioned Robert Scot to engrave a map that illustrated the American victory, titled "Investment of York and Gloucester."

As a Freemason, Robert Scot engraved the frontispiece for Ahiman Rezon, dedicated to General George Washington, for the Grand Lodge of Philadelphia. Scot also reproduced Charles Willson Peale's 1772 portrait of George Washington as an authorized drawing and line engraving, while visiting at Mount Vernon.

While in Philadelphia, Robert Scot and his family were members of the Religious Society of Free Quakers, a radical sect of ardent patriots who were disowned by the pacifist Philadelphia Quakers for their constant support of the American Revolution. Other members included Timothy Matlack, the probable scribe of the Declaration of Independence, and seamstress Elizabeth Claypoole, better known as Betsy Ross.

The Great Seal of the United States

The Declaration of Independence of the United States initiated a requirement for a national seal that would represent the sovereignty of the United States of America. After three design committees had not yet completed the design work for the Great Seal, Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson was given the assignment to complete the design in June of 1782. Thomson's design utilized many of the features of the committees' work, and was approved by Congress on June 20, 1782. The engraver for the original Great Seal die was attributed as Robert Scot by Richardson Dougall and Richard Patterson in their book, The Eagle and the Shield. The primary source of their attribution was a note by Thomson for payment of a seal to Robert Scot. The only seal that Thomson is known to have been involved with is the Great Seal. Other evidence includes exact stylistic and technical attributes of Robert Scot's engravings to the Great Seal die, including a star constellation for the Commissioner of Revenue seal, the eagle for 1782 frontispiece engraving of Ahiman Rezon, and borders on a 1783 seal for the College of William and Mary.

Chief Engraver of the United States Mint

Robert Scot was commissioned Chief Engraver of the United States Mint on November 23, 1793, after the tragic death of non-commissioned engraver Joseph Wright from the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.

The Coinage Act of 1792 mandated design requirements for United States coins, including an obverse "emblematic of liberty" and a reverse with "the figure or representation of an eagle." Scot's initial coinage designs included the Liberty Cap half cent and the Flowing Hair silver coins. In 1795, Scot engraved designs for the first gold coins of the US Mint that included a drapery for Miss Liberty. The drapery was continued with silver coins starting in 1795, with the famous Draped Bust design. After several reverse issues for silver and gold coins with small eagle designs, Scot introduced the Heraldic Eagle reverse in 1796, a modification of the Great Seal of the United States.

Federal Stamps and Seals

In 1798, Robert Scot engraved rate stamp dies for each state, for use on documentary paper in an effort to raise money for support of the undeclared Quasi-War with France. Under President John Adams, the United States Navy was quickly expanded, which required considerable funding. In 1800, Scot engraved the second series of stamps, known as the Second Federal Issue, to support the Quasi-War, and also the First Barbary War. Scot also engraved the seal for the Navy Department in 1798, and seal dies for the Department of State in 1802 and 1817. The current federal seals for the Navy and State Departments, along with the Great Seal of the United States, retain much of the designs from earlier dies engraved by Robert Scot.

Photo courtesy of Coin HELP!
Information from Wikipedia - Used under CC BY-SA license

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