Home‎ > ‎

1840 Seated Liberty


Image courtesy of Superior Galleries.


    In late 1839, Robert Ball Hughes was hired as an engraver by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia to modify the obverse of the Christian Gobrecht (1785-1844) design of the Seated Liberty.  This was to make it strike better and possibly more modest according to some reports.

    Ball Hughes added drapery at Liberty's left elbow, reduced the size of the rock, and placed Liberty's shield in an upright position.  It was used for over 50 years, from 1840-1891, on all denominations of silver coins except the half dollar which remained closer to the original Gobrecht design according to Tom Lamarre.  This included the half dime (until 1874), dime, quarter, and dollar (until 1874).  Ball Hughes also may have modified the designs of other coins in the early 1840's according to John Dannreuther. 

    The following is from Notes on "No Drapery" vs. "With Drapery" Design Types, by Len Augsburger of Liberty Seated Collectors Club  in The E-Gobrecht, Vol 2, Issue 1, Jan 2006, Whole Number 10 at SeatedDimeVarieties.com:

"Notes on "No Drapery" vs. "With Drapery" Design Types by Len Augsburger. In compiling a list of bibliographic sources on Christian Gobrecht's life and work, I ran Into an interesting article on the contributions of Robert Ball Hughes to seated Coinage, written by Georgia Chamberlain in the August 1958 number of the Numismatist. Hughes was paid $75 for his efforts in reworking the original Gobrecht design, which resulted in the "with drapery" types beginning in 1840 for most seated denominations. Hughes invoiced the mint on June 24th, 1840, explaining in part the scarcity of "with drapery" dimes for that year, these apparently not minted until later n the year, and in relatively smaller quantities than the "no drapery" type. Chamberlain further comments on Ball's design changes: "Robert Ball Hughes probably studied Thomas Sully's original drawings for the figure of Liberty, adding the 'drapery from elbow' which Sully had indicated. Gobrecht in preparing dies from Sully's sketches had simplified the drapery to a large extent. Hughes also followed Gobrecht's Liberty closely in his model but made it in lower relief'. Chamberlain further editorializes: "Hughes' knowledge of anatomy and art of sculpture is evident In his improvement over Gobrecht's rendering of Sully's design. In (Robert] Ball Hughes' seated Liberty, the head is more in proportion with the body, the hair more aceful1y arranged. [Robert] Ball Hughes' introduced a lock of hair to soften the awkward length of undraped shoulder and subtly suggested in his modeling the neck muscles, collar-bones and the throat. While Robert Ball Hughes kept remarkably close to the Gobrecht rendition of limbs and drapery, he was able as a trained sculptor to model the whole body in more correct proportion and anatomy. At the same time, he softened and naturalized the drapery. Gobrecht introduced straight lined drapery from the elbow in the 1839 half dollar. [Robert] Ball Hughes, in his new design for seated Liberty of 1840, used on the dollar, quarter, dime and half dime, added the curves of a graceful linen fold design to the drapery from the elbow, which extends to the knee." "

    Note that $75 in 1839 would be equivalent to about $1,500 in 2008 according to the calculator on Measuringworth.com.

    John Dannreuther, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Service, prolific author, and numismatic researcher, has written a wonderful article Robert Ball Hughes -- More Than a Coin Designer? in the April 2007 issue of Rare Coin Market Report, the Members magazine of the PCGS Collectors Club.  It's available here courtesy PCGS, a division of Collector's Universe (NASDAQ:CLCT). The article is also available online at the PCGS Library.

    Tom LaMarre also has written an article about Ball Hughes life entitled Seated Liberty Makeover: The Helping Hand of Robert Ball Hughes by Thomas S. LaMarre from Rare Coin Review No. 91, Feb/Mar 1993.  Source text for the article provided here courtesy of Thomas LaMarre and by permission of  Bowers and Merena Auctions www.bowersandmerena.com.

    Robert Ball Hughes, Sculptor and the U.S. Silver Coinage of 1840 by Georgia S. Chamberlain, The Numismatist v. 71, no. 8 (August, 1958), pp. 928-932

    Master Die Trial from Heritage Auction Galleries

    J110/P123 at USPatterns.com

    For a description of how the artists' design is made and transferred using a Contamin reducing (pantographic) lathe see Making Money in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol 24, Issue 139, December 1861, to May 1862.  New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1862 pp. 16-28, available through Cornell University Making of America.  Pages 23 & 24 describe the transfer process and page 24 has the following picture of a transfer lathe:



See also:

Building a Better Quarter by R. W. Julian, Coins Magazine, March 2006

All about the Quarter p. 38 by R.W. Julian in The Numismatist, December 2005, the magazine of the American Numismatic Association at www.money.org

Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I Press, Inc./Doubleday, New York: 1987, pp. 285-87, 291, 293, 295, 309-11, 315, 334-35, 354-47, 350, 393, 436-37, 441, 493, 529, 678. (available at most public libraries and at Amazon.com )

Introduction To Collecting Coins PCGS Coin Guide by Q. David Bowers

Coinfacts.com Your Online Reference for U.S. Coins by PCGS


last update 11/1/2010

For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2010

visitors on myspace