Most famously known for serving as the eighth Chief Engraver at the US Mint, John Ray Sinnock, was born on July 8, 1888 in the city of Raton, New Mexico. Sinnock had always has an interest in the arts and specifically was talented in sculpting. Eventually he moved to Pennsylvania and attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and studied artistic methods and designs. At the age of 25 in 1913, he finally earned a degree in Normal Art Instruction.
Upon graduation Sinnock played an active role in the local art community and thus began to grow his reputation. He was a member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club and the Philadelphia Alliance; through these clubs he met other artists and showed off his own works. Some of the portraits and medals he often displayed included famous people such as US President Herbert Hoover, inventor Thomas Edison, writer Charles Dickens and Henry Morgenthau.
Sinnock was able to successfully land a job teaching as an instructor of the arts at the same school he graduated from and at the Western Reserve University. Sinnock taught at Western Reserve University for about 10 years. At a point in those 10 years, the US Mint sought to hire an assistant sculptor, a position Sinnock applied for. He was quickly hired by the Mint’s Chief Engraver George T. Morgan. In 1923, John R. Sinnock became Assistant Chief Engraver at the US Mint.
In collaboration with George Morgan, Sinnock’s first work designing coins at the Mint was the reverse of the commemorative 1918 Illinois Centennial Half Dollar; Morgan designed the obverse of the coin, which depicted US President Abraham Lincoln. Not long afterwards, George T. Morgan passed away and John R. Sinnock took over his post and became the eighth Chief Engraver of the US Mint in 1925.
A year into becoming Chief Engraver, Sinnock engraved the 1926 Sesquicentennial American Independence Half Dollar for the 150th anniversary of the signing of America’s independence. The front of the coin featured both President Washington and President Calvin Coolidge; it was highly unusual that a living president was used as a portrait on the coin. The reverse featured the Liberty Bell, which is a precursor for a future official US coin that Sinnock would help design later.
John Sinnock also designed the 1926 Sesquicentennial American Independence Gold $2.50 Quarter Eagle coin. The obverse featured a standing liberty while the reverse featured the Independence Hall building located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were signed. This was a US commemorative coin where only 200,000 were produced, but over 150,000 were melted down again a short time later.
A few years later, Sinnock was involved in the creation of the Purple Heart military medal, a prestigious award that would be given to those who were wounded or killed while serving in the military. Originally, this badge was invented by General George Washington and was called the Badge of Military Merit and consisted of a purple cloth shaped like a heart and lined with lace. There was a call to resurrect this award again and a bill was proposed to Congress. On January 7, 1932, General Douglas MacArthur boldly reopened work on the revival of this award and worked with the Washington Commission of Fine Art. An Army Heraldic Specialist from the Office of the Quartermaster General by the name of Elizabeth Will was in charge of the redesign. The Commission chose three prominent sculptors, including John R. Sinnock, to sculpt the plaster models for Will’s medal design. In the end, John R. Sinnock was selected as the winning sculptor. The medal was officially revived by Executive Order of the President of the United States on February 22, 1932, which was the bicentennial or 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Elizabeth Will takes the credit for the design of the Purple Heart medal and John Sinnock takes credit for making refinements and the modeling of the medal.
The United States was battling the Great Depression and World War II and at the time, the nation and the “Greatest Generation” was being led by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt passed away on April 12, 1945, near the end of World War II. Nellie Tayloe Ross, the current US Mint Director, immediately began plans to commemorate President Roosevelt. Roosevelt, passionately founded and participated in the March of Dimes, which was a campaign to fight and ultimately eradicate Polio. Nowadays, it promotes the general health of women and babies. Because Roosevelt was actively involved in the March of Dimes, it only seemed appropriate that the US dime be used to commemorate Franklin Roosevelt.
Ross appointed John Sinnock to design the new dime since he had already produced a medal depicting Roosevelt in the past. On January 30, 1946, the Roosevelt Dime would be released to the public on what would be Franklin Roosevelt’s 64th birthday. Based on Sinnock’s previous medal, he got to to work and produced what is now known as the Roosevelt Dime. The front of the coin depicts Roosevelt facing left and the reverse of the coin depicts a flaming torch symbolizing liberty, with an olive branch symbolizing peace and an oak branch symbolizing victory.
Upon the initial minting of the Roosevelt dime in 1946, a false narrative arose in the United States that the letters “JS” actually stood not for John Sinnock, but for Joseph Stalin. The urban folk story coincided with the Second Red Scare. The rumor surfaced again after the release of the Sinnock designed Franklin half dollar in 1948.
Another controversy that surrounded the Roosevelt dime following its public release was an allegation that Sinnock copied or borrowed the design of the President’s profile from a bronze bas relief created by sculptress Selma H. Burke for the dime’s obverse. Sinnock denied this claim and said that the obverse portrait of the President was a composite of two studies which he made from life in 1933 and 1934. Sinnock said that he also consulted photographs of FDR and had the advice and criticism of two prominent sculptors who specialize in work in relief.
During the same year in 1946, US Mint Director Ross gave Sinnock a new commission to produce a new design for the US Half Dollar. The required theme for the new coin was to honor Benjamin Franklin. Sinnock based the obverse of the coin on a 1933 Ben Franklin medal that he had produced earlier. He was successful in completing the obverse of the coin. However, John Sinnock passed away on May 14, 1947 at a young age of 59 before he could finish the reverse of the coin. The coin was completed by Gilroy Roberts, who took over the post and became the ninth Chief Engraver of the US Mint. Gilroy used the Liberty Bell as the reverse of the coin, which is very similar to the reverse of Sinnocks 1926 commemorative Sesquicentennial half dollar.
In 1948, this new silver coin was first produced and became known as the Franklin Half Dollar. It was released to the public on April 30, 1948, which was the anniversary date of President Washington’s inauguration as US President. The coin would be produced up until 1963 when US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and would be honored on the half dollar.
John Sinnock is remembered as one of the greatest coin engravers. He won many awards, including the A.W. Mifflin Award given for study abroad. John also produced a Congressional gold medal that would be awarded to Thomas Edison, among many other commemorative medals and coins that he had produced. After Sinnock passed away, much of his work and materials in art were given to Margaret Campbell, a trusted friend of his. Some of his work is now part of a collection at the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, The American Numismatic Society of New York and the National Museum in Washington DC.
Check out coins designed by Longacre and other famous Chief Engravers at our Ebay Shop