Grab a handful of coins from your purse or wallet, and look at it. Did you ever think about who designed the portraits on those coins? Each one was created by a talented artist. Here are the artists for the coins currently in circulation.
The cent is one of only two denominations of coin that have been in continuous production since the earliest days of the US Mint (the other is the half-dollar.) The cent has gone through many designs, but the current Lincoln portrait on the obverse of the coin is the longest-running design in US Mint history. The portrait was created by Lithuanian immigrant Victor David Brenner, who came to the United States in 1890 at the age of 19. He arrived in the country with little more than skill in the trade his father had taught him: engraving. He went on to study in France, winning awards at the Paris Exposition of 1900.
President Theodore Roosevelt ordered a penny to be created for Lincoln’s 100th birthday, and insisted that it be based on a bas-relief made by Brenner several years before. When Brenner submitted his design, he originally included his entire name on the coin, as was the custom with coin designers in Europe. The Director of the Mint decided to use Brenner’s initials, instead. (This inadvertently led to the “VDB Penny” scandal, which you can read about here.)
Felix Schlaf was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1891; he served in the German army during World War 1, and won awards for his art in Europe. He and his wife moved to the United States in 1929. In 1938, he submitted a design for the new nickel; his design was chosen by Nellie Tayloe Ross, who was serving as the Director of the US Mint. Schlag won $1500 for the design; he used the money for a funeral for his wife.
He gave the government permission to put his initials on the nickel starting in 1966, and passed away in Owosso, Michigan, in 1974. The Michigan State Numismatic Society placed a memorial in his honor in 2008. His initials can be seen on the classic Jefferson nickel (the newer nickels have a design by Joe Fitzgerald) between the bust and the edge of the coin.
John R. Sinnock, 8th chief Engraver of the United States Mint (1925-1947), created the designs for both the Roosevelt Dime and the Franklin half-dollar (minted from 1948-1963), as well as sculpting the Purple Heart medal (which he did not design.) An odd rumor regarding the design arose in 1946 when the dime was originally minted. As is custom, Sinnock’s initials had been added to the design, and it was rumored that the “JS” on the coin stood not for “John Sinnock,” but for “Joseph Stalin.” The rumor made waves again with the release of Sinnock’s 1948 design for the Franklin half-dollar. You can see his initials on Roosevelt dimes today, just between the date and the lowest point of Roosevelt’s bust.
John Flanagan was a well-known portrait sculptor who created the iconic bust of Washington for the quarter coin. He designed both sides of the initial Washington quarter, which was issued in 1932. Though the reverse of the coin changed in 1998 for the State Quarters series, the obverse design was only modified slightly, and still bears Flanagan’s initials (look on Washington’s neck just left of his ponytail.) Flanagan also designed the medal commemorating the Battle of Verdun, which was given to France to commemorate the World War I battle. He also served as assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer of the legendary Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin.
The design for the obverse of the Kennedy half-dollar was created by Gilroy Roberts, the ninth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, following the service of John Sinnock. He was a talented gemstone carver and sculptor. You can find his initial on the lower side of Kennedy’s neck, just above the words “we trust.”