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 John Ray Sinnock  (1888 - 1947)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/New Mexico / Mexico      Known for: Portrait medallic art, coin engraving and design

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John Ray Sinnock
An example of work by John Ray Sinnock
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John R. Sinnock (1888 - 1947) was the eighth Chief Engraver and Sculptor of the United States Mint. During his tenure at this post, he designed the Roosevelt Dime, the Franklin Half Dollar, assisted with the modern Purple Heart, the Congressional medal awarded to Thomas Edison, and various other medals and commemorative coins. With superb talent and expertise, Sinnock made important contributions to the numismatic community and solidified his place as one of the greatest engravers in American history.

Sinnock demonstrated an early aptitude for the arts. Dedicated to pursuing a career in the artistic field, Sinnock enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts College of Art & Design), where he received his degree in Normal Art Instruction. After graduation, Sinnock became extremely active in the Philadelphia art community, where he was a member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club and the Philadelphia Alliance. He also exhibited numerous portrait medals he designed at the Pennsylvania Academy. Sinnock then used his credentials to obtain a job as an art instructor at both his alma mater and at Western Reserve University, where he taught for ten years. When a position for assistant sculptor opened up at the U.S. Mint, Sinnock applied, and was immediately hired under then Chief Engraver George T. Morgan.

In collaboration with George T. Morgan, Sinnock designed the reverse of the 1918 Illinois Centennial Half Dollar.  Then, in 1926, one year after he succeeded Morgan as the Mint's Chief Engraver, Sinnock created the two Sesquicentennial American Independence Half Dollars. This marked the first time that a living President, Calvin Coolidge, was depicted on a coin.??Several years later, Sinnock was commissioned to refine the design of the Purple Heart?one of the most prestigious military awards. The award was originally devised by General George Washington as the Badge of Military Merit. It consisted of purple cloth formed into a heart, lined with narrow lace. Since that time, there had been many attempts to revive the award, and a bill to do so was even introduced into Congress. However, it wasn't until February 22, 1932?the bicentennial of Washington's birth?that the award was officially revived. At the time, it was the Army Office of the Quartermaster General who was responsible for preparing military awards and medals.

The task was then bestowed upon Elizabeth Will, one of two heraldic artists in that office. Subsequently, Sinnock was commissioned to refine Will's design and create a plaster model. Although Sinnock cannot be credited with designing the modern day Purple Heart, he made several important amendments that helped create the medal the world has known for more than eighty years.??After the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945, U.S. Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross initiated plans to commemorate his inspirational leadership throughout the Great Depression and World War II. Since Roosevelt was actively involved in the March of Dimes campaign, the ten-cent piece seemed appropriate. Ross selected Sinnock to design the new Roosevelt Dime, as he had previously designed a medal of the President. The obverse features a left-facing profile of Roosevelt, while the reverse is imprinted with a liberty torch, an olive branch (symbolizing peace), and an oak branch (symbolizing victory). The Dime was released to the pubic in 1946.

??Later that year, Ross commissioned Sinnock to design a half dollar coin to honor Benjamin Franklin. Sinnock based the obverse design on a medal the mint issued in 1933, which was a composite of several Franklin portraits. The design is beautifully crafted and skillfully executed. However, Sinnock died before he was able to finish the reverse. The coin was completed by his successor, Gilroy Roberts. It was eventually introduced to the public in 1948, replacing the Walking Liberty image that had been in use since 1916. Sinnock's technical skill and discerning eye led him to create some of the most important coin designs ever made. The designs of the Roosevelt Dime and Franklin Half Dollar are some of the most recognizable and celebrated images in America. And while his life was cut short during his tenure at the Mint, Sinnock's legacy lives on, through his designs and through the contributions he made to the numismatic community.

"John R. Sinnock:  One of the Greatest Coin Engravers in American History", Art and Coin,

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The chief engraver of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, John Ray Sinnock was born in Raton, New Mexico and studied at the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art (PMSIA, now The University of the Arts College of Art and Design).  He received a diploma in Normal Art Instruction in 1913.

Active in Philadelphia art circles, he was a member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club and the Philadelphia Alliance and exhibited portriat medals at the Pennsylvania Academy.  His subjects at those exhibitions included President Herbert Hoover, Charles Dickens, Henry Morgenthau and Thomas Edison.

"He also designed and may have engraved a 75mm diameter bronze medal commemorating the life and public service of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. . . .It was clearly produced between the death of President Roosevelt in 1945 and the death of Mr. Sinnock in 1947." (Thompson)

His work is in the collections of the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, the National Museum in Washington DC and the American Numismatic Society in New York City.

Sources include:
Jamie C. Thompson, Attorney-at-Law, Winnemucca, NV. (Paperwork accompanying a medal by the artist)
Peter Hastings Falk (Editor), Who Was Who in American Art and The Annual Exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy, 1914-1968
Additional information courtesy of Sara MacDonald, Public Services Librarian, The University of the Arts PMSIA, whose sources are commencement programs, annual reports.

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