Gobrecht’s Engraved Proof Cent - Updates

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by Rexford, Sep 25, 2020.

  1. Rexford

    Rexford Well-Known Member

    Some of you may have seen my post from a while ago about this piece: https://www.cointalk.com/threads/di...-head-large-cent-pattern.363665/#post-4645853


    In sum, it's a Proof 1843 Petite Head large cent that is carefully engraved with a layout of the design that would become the Mature Head. 1843 was a transitional year for the Petite Head and Mature Head types, and all large cents of 1844-1857 bear the latter design.

    I have a few updates on the piece:


    Looking at the circular guidelines visible on both faces (above, highlighted in blue), we find that they are very telling in terms of the coin's origin and purpose. The compass-guided alignment process we see here is in fact not a new technique for the U.S. Mint. In A Guide Book of United States Gold Dollars, Q. David Bowers describes the process by which the dies for the 1849 gold dollar were created: ". . . a metal compass or scribe was placed at the center of the hub die, and tiny circles were scratched around the periphery to serve as guidelines. Then, on the obverse die 13 stars were punched in by hand, and on the reverse die, lettering was placed around the periphery." In other words, prior to using die punches to stamp in sections of the design such as the stars and lettering, a compass or scribe was used to hand-engrave light circular guidelines around the face of the master die in order to indicate where these punches would be placed. This technique was employed upon the dies of early United States coinage as a whole, though collectors of cents and half cents may be especially familiar with it due to the central dot present upon many earlier issues, the result of the compass digging into the die during the alignment process. Since the engraving work upon the master die is recessed, the dot is raised on struck coinage.



    Above, the die punch alignment process (image courtesy of Bill Eckberg). Below, leftover impressions upon the die from the compass used in the alignment process: from left to right, central dot upon reverse of Coronet Head cent, and remnants of circular guidelines upon proof 1834 half eagle.

    This system of compass-drawn circular guidelines is the exact method used upon the engraved 1843 cent (below). I've highlighted the guidelines below in blue, with arrows indicating where the central point of the compass created an indented mark upon the surface. Though there were of course no die punches used upon this piece, the purpose of employing this method is essentially the same — only instead of punching in the design elements, they were hand-engraved.


    B) The piece now resides in the following PCGS holder:


    After receiving it back from grading, I noticed that the engraving work was in fact first carved and then traced with black ink, which wasn’t totally apparent from the photos I had available in the meantime. This is a technique that I have seen employed on many foreign prize medals in order to make hand-engraved details more visually apparent, but it’s interesting that it was utilized by an employee of the US Mint here. Because of how carefully this piece was stored, and perhaps due to the relatively few hands it has passed through since its creation, much of the original ink remains.

    The inking is only done over the areas of the final engraved design and over many of its corresponding guidelines (on both sides), and not over the engraved areas upon the piece that were scratched out and redone (this only occurs on the obverse). For example, you may notice a scratch on the cheek of the portrait in the TrueView; in fact, this is the scratching out of a continuous rim-to-rim horizontal guideline that is located at a slight angle to the inked-in "final" horizontal guideline, beginning one bead below it at the left rim and three beads above it at the right:


    In fact, there are many areas upon the obverse that appear to have been engraved lightly and then scratched out and rearranged. By mapping out all of the engraved-and-then-scratched-out areas of the piece, which are also the areas that are not inked in, we may construct a layout of an initial design that was engraved upon the coin. The initial stars and horizontal/vertical guidelines are accurately represented in the following image, but the lines representing the date box are a bit rough as there are a lot of engraved lines in that area and it's hard to tell what's going on:


    Evidently, midway through the engraving process, and after the stars and at least part of the date box were engraved, the engraver decided to ditch that design and rearrange the engraved layout. He seems to have done this directly after engraving the vertical guideline, which only goes halfway down the face of coin, unlike the other guidelines. You may notice that in this initial layout, the horizontal and vertical guidelines are not perpendicular, as they are in the final design. I assume that the vertical guideline represents the rotation of the portrait, while the horizontal guideline represents the rotation of the stars. You can see that the two horizontal guidelines each line up with their corresponding stars in this way. However, since the engraver had not yet begun to trace the portrait before he switched tactics, the initial vertical guideline does not visually align with anything.

    It is interesting as well that the scratched-out uppermost star and corresponding horizontal guideline line up roughly parallel with the scratched-out date, as pictured below (the blue lines). In the final inked-in engraved design, the uppermost star and date also line up in this way.


    Since the arrangement of the stars and date are identical in the initial and final engravings, one would there would be no need to stop the process and re-engrave everything at this point, and instead the portrait could simply be re-engraved at a slightly counterclockwise angle to match that initial engraved layout of the stars and date. But, this discounts that there is a reverse to this coin, and that the obverse and reverse are at a 180° rotation to one another. If Gobrecht had continued with the initial design, the date and uppermost star would not be centered opposite the reverse design. In the final engraved design, they are.
    TypeCoin971793, NSP, C-B-D and 9 others like this.
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  3. C-B-D

    C-B-D Well-Known Member

    Amazing piece. I want it!
    Rexford likes this.
  4. Rexford

    Rexford Well-Known Member

    Decided to draw this up a little better so it's a little less confusing:

    Initial Engraved Obverse Detail

    Final Engraved Obverse Detail

    I made one further conclusion, which is that the vertical guideline in the first image (red tracing) is not actually part of that initial design at all, which is why it's not perpendicular to the horizontal guideline. Actually, it seems to just be a mistake that was made when engraving the second and final design. It would seem that after going about halfway down the face of the coin, the engraver realized he was off by a hair, stopped, and recreated the line at a slightly counterclockwise position.

    So the thought process seems to be as follows:
    a) Engrave the horizontal guideline, large circular guidelines (to place the stars), then the stars and date box
    b) Realize that the engraved design is not centered opposite the reverse design
    c) Scratch out everything
    d) Re-engrave the horizontal guideline, corresponding stars, and date box
    e) Start to engrave the vertical guideline and realize measured slightly off
    f) Scratch out the vertical guideline and re-engrave it
    g) Engrave the portrait

    This will probably be my final update. I think I might have gotten everything I can out of this piece!

    KBBPLL Active Member

    Fascinating piece and analysis. I always wondered what the central dot in early coins was from.
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