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Musings on Mint engraver/ designers, and the impact on the buffalo nickel (part 2 of a series)

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by Peter J. Miksich, Jr., a Buffalo Nickel Devotee

When Black Diamond started to show signs of age, his Zoo-keepers decided to make some money off him.

They unceremoniously had him hauled off to a local New York slaughterhouse -- where they cut him up and sold him as "Black Diamond Steaks".

I don't really know if Charles Barber, Chief Engraver, the "Grand Ol Man" of the Philadelphia Mint even knew about it, but Barber himself cut the daylights out of the coin Black Diamond was portrayed on (the Buffalo Nickel) long before the Bisons' demise.

Charles Barber was a man of prejudices, he had to be, it WAS his job to engrave new coin designs. But after Victor David Brenner's Lincoln Cent, and the Augustus St. Gaudens gold designs invaded "his turf".....the pot simmered.

Then it came to a boil.

To be sure, he got back at Brenner and St. Gaudens for their foray into his territory. He hemmed and hawed and blockaded their advances, sometimes with valid reason, but nonetheless with a fervor of a man scorned -- cutting and modifying their original designs somewhat just to prove a point.

He WAS Chief Engraver, after all!

He played a role in having the VDB removed from the Lincoln Cent. No doubt. His prejudice toward that coin shows in the fact the he most likely reveled in removing it from the Hub during the first year of the Cent's issue. He got back at poor Brenner by leaving his initials off the coin on purpose.

It wasn't till he passed away that anyone dared to put them back on. George Morgan, the "Dollar Guy", put them under Lincoln's shoulder.

St. Gaudens passed away before he had a chance to see Barber's tinkering with his designs, most notably and arguably the most beautiful American coin, the Double Eagle.

Flash to 1912

Barber's Liberty Nickel was to be replaced, and it was decided to commission James Earl Frasier for the new coin. His Buffalo Nickel was both beautiful, artistic, and a real jewel shining in the darkness.

The new coin was minted rough-hewn (fields not smooth) like a medal.

It would be too verbose here to speak of Barber's dislike for the coin, and when a problem arose, he was very quick to solve it.

The word "CENTS" on the reverse of the coin in high relief was wearing away prematurely.

The Mint was still having nightmares from the V Nickel debacle, when "Racketeers" took normal five cents coins without "Cents" on them and dipped them into gold. They were passed as gold coins.

After talking to Frasier about a re-design, and getting his approval, the mint put FIVE CENTS in an exergue to protect it. Barber went bonkers!

Not only did he do the repair, he could not hold off, he smoothed down the fields on both sides of the coin to remove the "medalist" look of the coin.

The Type II coin lost the "look". Well, it DID get Barber's look.

I can imagine him smiling as he cut...and smoothed....and cut some more.

The "Grand Ol Man".....true to his prejudices......had his final say.

Hope you all enjoyed this.


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