Early Life of George T. Morgan
In 1845, George T. Morgan was born in Bilston, Staffordshire, England. During his adolescence and early adulthood, he was educated at the Birmingham Art School, and then was granted a national scholarship to the South Kensington Art School. He continued his education at the South Kensington School for two years where he received numerous awards and prizes. While in England, Morgan was employed by The British Royal Mint in London under J.S. and A.B. Wyon, a family that had produced generations of engravers for the Tower Mint. Morgan was greatly respected in his position as an assistant engraver and would have been positioned nicely to move up in the ranks. However, the Wyon family's long standing relationship with the Tower Mint kept them in employment and their sons employed as well.
Morgan's fate changed when the United States Mint Director, H.R. Linderman, sent a letter to the London Mint Director, Charles W. Fremantle around 1876. Linderman believed a change needed to be made within the U.S. Mint, and was worried that the current Chief Engraver, William Barber, and his son Charles were too distracted by other private jobs and possibly too under-qualified in order to make this change. Mr. Linderman was specifically worried about the design of the coins that were in circulation at the time; the public seemed to have a negative opinion concerning the aesthetics of the coins. In his letter, he told Fremantle he did not believe America's engraving process was as refined and elegant as the British Mint, and requested that Mr. Fremantle recommend a "first class diesinker" who would be willing to take the Assistant Engraver position at the Philadelphia Mint. Fremantle's first recommendation was Mr. George T. Morgan; he described Morgan as a younger man of 30 who was "personally agreeable & gentleman-like, & particularly modest and quiet in manner, so that he would be likely to make an agreeable colleague." Mr. Fremantle also added that he would feel a loss at Morgan leaving England and the London Mint, but there was no suitable position available for him presently. He believed if Morgan were to receive the position as Assistant Engraver, he would be a "valuable acquisition" to the United States "both officially and as an artist." Fremantle even went so far as to state that he believed Linderman would think Morgan over-qualified for the position, but he hoped Morgan would be hired regardless; he believed it would be a large loss for the Philadelphia Mint if he was not.
Enclosed with Fremantle's response was a letter from George Morgan. Like most letters to a possible employer, Morgan described his experience and made sure to mention his prizes, awards, and knowledge of bronzing (which had been something for which Linderman was looking in a candidate). Morgan was confident enough in his abilities; he wrote to Linderman he would be able to instruct an "apt scholar" in the process of bronzing to the point of a solid success. Morgan's letter was straight forward, humble, but also self-assured and solid in his belief to easily fill the position at the Philadelphia Mint under Linderman.
Mr. Linderman seized the opportunity to have someone like George Morgan in his employment and Morgan boarded the Illinois out of Liverpool on September 27, 1876, arriving at the Philadelphia port only 12 days later. After leaving the Illinois, Morgan made his way to the Philadelphia Mint and was greeted very warmly by James Pollock, the current superintendent, but was not greeted so warmly by the Barbers. William and Charles Barber were, understandably, not thrilled by the new Assistant Engraver's position with the Mint. The Barbers had been using their Mint office for not only government mint work, but also for their own personal engraving ventures. Tax payer's money was paying for them to hold a private office, and the Philadelphia Mint was fully aware of this situation. William Barber retained the position as Chief Engraver of the Mint and was sitting in quite a nice arrangement; Barber's son, Charles, was working with him, they had their own office, and they were allowed to use their offices for private and government work without paying rent or any bills associated with their personal work. With Morgan working underneath him, Barber would be asked to give up office space and would also now have competition that he could not weigh or influence. Additionally, it had more than likely been understood that William's son, Charles, would take over the Chief Engraver's position once William stepped down. The Barbers were originally from England and were a family of engravers who had been privy to how in the Wyons' family (for whom Morgan had worked); the son always succeeded his father. With Morgan being made Assistant Engraver and reporting directly to the Mint Director, Linderman, he immediately posed a threat to maintaining the Barber line of Chief Engravers. Needless to say, when George Morgan enthusiastically showed up at the Mint, the Barbers were civil, but cool in their greeting.
Time In America and Start at the United States Mint
George Morgan's fresh start in America was not off to a smooth start, and as his early time continued, things did not improve for some time. After Morgan's brief introduction to his new work settings, he quickly set off for Washington, D.C. where he spent time with Linderman discussing design options for silver coins. It became clear to Morgan that Linderman would be controlling most of his design moves with the coinage and would ultimately have the last say in what was done and what was not done. After his brief meeting in Washington, the Assistant Engraver returned to Philadelphia where he was informed by William Barber that there was no room for him in the Mint offices and that if he wanted to work he was going to have to find another space. It is a possibility that the Mint was cramped for space at this time, but because Barber was Chief Engraver, if he had wanted to make space for Morgan, he could have easily done so. Eventually, Linderman ordered that Barber make a space for Morgan, but until that was done, Morgan did the majority of his work at a rooming house. He lived in several rooms like his first at 3727 Chestnut Street in his early times in the United States until Barber finally granted him an office space in the Philadelphia Mint building.
Earlier, in Morgan's first meeting with Linderman on American soil, Linderman had told Morgan that he would like for the female head of Liberty to make a return to silver coinage, as well as a strong eagle. So, Morgan entered the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts to expand his knowledge of American art partly to meet others in his field, and partly because he wanted to depict an American woman on the new silver coinage rather than the usual Greek style. Without his immediate knowledge, Morgan was being groomed for a design job that wouldn't arise for another two years.
On February 28, 1878, the Bland-Allison Act was enacted and became law even over President Rutherford B. Hayes' veto. The Act required the United States Treasury to purchase between two and four million dollar's worth of silver each month and then coin it into silver dollars. The Bland-Allison act was named for two politicians; its intentions were to support Western mining states which had taken a hard hit when silver prices plummeted and also to help farmers by inflating the money supply and thereby promoting the food economy. Philadelphia Mint director, Linderman predicted the need for a silver dollar coin and by October of 1877 had led both Morgan and Barber to begin arranging dies for this new possibility. Linderman took a rather large role in Morgan's artistic interpretation of the dollar by choosing one of his existent half-dollar designs and asking him to elaborate on it. However, he gave Barber complete artistic license on his design for the dollar coin. There would only be one accepted design, but by asking both men to create their own, Linderman began not only a competition, but a rivalry.
Anna Williams and the Iconic Morgan Dollar Design
George Morgan had earlier made acquaintance with a Philadelphia artist named Thomas Eakins while attending the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and it was Eakins who suggested that Morgan use a woman named Anna Willess Williams as his model for Lady Liberty. Morgan had wanted, as stated earlier, to design a Lady Liberty that favored the American design over the traditional Greek, and being presented with an American model sent Morgan's creative mind working.
Anna Williams was a school teacher in the Philadelphia area and was very reluctant to model for Morgan. At the time, being an art model was not something a respectable woman would have been involved in, and Williams feared she could lose her job for participating in such an activity. However, after Morgan consistently asked Williams to be the model for his dollar coin and promised a strict secrecy, she eventually gave in to his wishes and became the Goddess of Liberty model we now see on the Morgan Silver Dollar. The story goes that Anna sat for George Morgan a total of five times, presumably at Thomas Eakins' home, while he recorded her image; he is said to have commented that Anna's profile was the most perfect profile he had ever seen. Unfortunately, years after the production of the coin, Anna did lose her job after a local newspaper reporter discovered her identity as the Goddess of Liberty on the dollar. Thankfully, Anna did find another teaching job in the Philadelphia area and continued to live there until her death in 1925.
After Barber and Morgan had completed their designs, a decision had to be made. Numismatists contemporary to the time are said to have preferred Barber's new Liberty head and entire design over Morgan's, however, Linderman had taken a specific liking to Morgan and since he was the Director of the Philadelphia Mint, his word was final. Morgan's design featuring Anna Williams as the Goddess of Liberty was chosen as winner of the competition.
After Linderman suggested a few changes, the first Proofs of the new dollar coin were quickly struck on March 12, less than two weeks after the coin had been authorized to go to minting. Ironically, the first "acceptable" strike was given to President Rutherford B. Hayes even though he had vetoed the bill that made this coin's production possible; the second strike went to the Secretary of the Treasury, John Sherman, and the third went to Henry Linderman himself. All of these were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
However, the first dollar dies were not up to par and did not strike well. There is also a story that contemporary ornithologists took issue with the image of the eagle on the reverse that had eight tail feathers; this was not consistent with the fact that eagles in nature always have an odd number of tail feathers. In hopes of creating a better relief for the coin, new hubs were made showing seven tail feathers for the eagle on the reverse, but the original eight feathers could still be seen through the new imprint of the seven. However, the new hubs were still in too low of a relief and a third and final set of hubs had to be made toward the end of the year in 1878.
The Morgan dollar was met with mixed reviews. The coin was nearly ignored completely in the northern and eastern United States, but popular in the South as well as the West, especially among recently freed slaves of the time. The emancipated slaves felt more comfortable carrying around money that had weight to it, rather than the typical paper money so frequently used in east coast transactions. Meanwhile, the populations of the north and the east thought the dollars were too bulky and too heavy to carry for daily payment and use.
It would seem natural that Morgan's career would begin to open up after designing what was said to be such an important coin; unfortunately, Morgan's luck remained decent at best. His patron and biggest supporter in the Philadelphia Mint, Linderman, left the Mint in 1878 due to grave health conditions, and William Barber stayed as the Chief Engraver. However, after Barber's death in 1879, his son stepped up and took over his father's position until his own death in February of 1917. This entire time, George Morgan stayed behind as Assistant Engraver even though his talents and work should have easily placed him as the Chief Engraver or Director of the Philadelphia Mint. Only after Charles Barber's death and 41 years of service to the Mint, was Morgan finally named Chief Engraver. It was regrettable that by the time Morgan was named Chief Engraver his glory years had passed and he was 72 years old.
The Legacy of George T. Morgan's Silver Dollar
The Morgan dollar ceased production in 1904 due to the immense surplus of Silver Dollars on hand. However, the United States Treasury melted approximately 270 million silver dollars in 1918 to loan to Great Britain. Because there was now depletion in the supply, the Treasury brought the Morgan Silver Dollar back in 1921. Production began, but was then halted to begin the minting of the Peace Dollar half way through 1921 to commemorate the end of the First World War. The Peace Dollar was an extremely popular coin, and so the Treasury kept those in production as a regular issue starting in 1922. The Morgan Dollar's minting life then came to a final close.
On January 4, 1925, George T. Morgan suddenly died in his Germantown home at 6320 McCallum Street at the age of 79. His obituary was extremely favorable, and tells us things about him that we otherwise might not have known. Even though Mr. Morgan was employed by the Philadelphia Mint for 48 years, he had several extracurricular activities, one of which was being an avid cricket player. He helped found the Belmont Cricket Club in West Philadelphia, along with being an active member of the Germantown Cricket Club. Morgan was also the superintendent of his churches, Christ Protestant Episcopal's, Sunday School and was a vestryman. He also maintained membership within the Philadelphia Academy of Arts and the Sketch Club. Morgan was a man who had several interests even though his life seemingly revolved around the Mint and his work there. Despite Morgan's struggle for promotion within the Mint, he was still immensely successful as an engraver. His obituary stated, "Mr. Morgan had made the models for and engraved medals commemorating the administration of every president since Rutherford B. Hayes. He collaborated with the country's noted sculptors in designing the country's coinage and, to a considerable extent, in adapting such models to use on postage stamps of all denominations. His work made him personally known to all the presidents of recent times." Morgan's other popular work included the Bland Dollar, and medals such as: "David Roberts 1796-1864", "Thomas Carlyle on his 80th Birthday," and "Railway Exhibition at Chicago 1883."