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 Robert Scot  (1774 - 1823)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania / England      Known for: Coin, portrait and plate engraving, medallic art, watchmaker,

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Before the first coins were ever struck, U.S. Mint officials understood the importance of maintaining the integrity of American coinage. America’s coins not only needed to be of standardized weight, but had to be reflective of the newly independent nation’s pride and power. In order to ensure that attention to design was a primary consideration, Mint officials created the position of Chief Engraver and Sculptor. The first individual to be appointed to this post was Robert Scot, who served from 1793 until his death in 1823.

Scot was born in 1744, yet there is discrepancy as to precisely where. Some records show that he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, while others list him as a native of England. It is, however, known that Scot began his training in England as a watchmaker, where he developed technical skills and acquired a fundamental knowledge of engraving. Scot moved to the United States in 1777, where he found employment engraving plates for subsistence money, bills of exchange, and office scales. In 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War, Scot moved to Philadelphia, where he took a position as a portrait and plate engraver.

In August 1793, Mint Director David Rittenhouse appointed artist Joseph Wright as Chief Engraver. Wright, a New Jersey native and portraitist, was well known for his 1783 paintings of George and Martha Washington, as well as his superb skills as a die-sinker and engraver. Sadly, within only a few weeks of the appointment, an epidemic of yellow fever took Wright’s life. The Mint scrambled to find a replacement, but there was no one in America who seemed qualified, and Congress refused to seek the services of a European firm, since the Revolutionary War had just come to a close. Desperate to fill the vacancy, the Mint hired Scot, whose appointment was quickly approved almost as a matter of necessity.

As Chief Engraver, Scot played an active role in the design—and redesign—of many of America’s first coins, including the Liberty Cap Half Cent, the Flowing Hair Half Dimes, the Quarter Eagle, the Half Eagle, the Draped Bust, the 1804 silver dollar, and various large cents.

One of Scot’s greatest challenges as Chief Engraver was creating original designs for the first U.S. gold coins of any denomination—the Gold Half Eagle ($5) and Eagle ($10)—which were circulated in 1795. For the obverse, Scot modified the Liberty Cap design originally created by Joseph Wright. For the reverse, he created a small eagle perched on a simple branch, clutching a wreath in its beak and an olive branch in its talons. The eagle, however, proved enormously unpopular, derided in the press and among the public as “scrawny.” To appease the critics and repair his reputation, Scot immediately set out to revise his image of the eagle. This time, he based his design upon the Great Seal of the United States, creating what became known as the Heraldic Eagle image. This new reverse design depicted a more powerful looking eagle, wings spread, holding the Union Shield on its breast. Scot placed 13 arrows in the eagle’s right claw and an olive branch in its left—reflecting an inclination towards war rather than peace. Whether this was Scot’s intent or not was unknown, but the Heraldic Eagle image was never corrected. The new design debuted on the new gold quarter eagle ($2.50) of 1796.

By 1807, Scot’s eyesight was deteriorating. Concerned over Scot’s age and health, Mint Director Robert Patterson hired John Reich, a talented young engraver, to serve as the assistant engraver to Scot. Reich’s first assignment was to redesign all denominations. Scot was deeply offended, and it is generally believed that he treated Reich with much disdain. Reich continued to work as the assistant engraver for ten years for a very paltry salary. Though Reich resigned in 1817, Scot continued to use Reich’s basic designs until his death in 1823.

Source:
"Robert Scot, First U.S. Mint Chief Engraver," Art and Coin, http://www.artandcointv.com/engraverRobertScot.php


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