Longacre’s problems increased in 1849 when the Mint was authorized to create designs for two new gold coins, a dollar and a double eagle (a twenty-dollar coin). Peale was making heavy use of the Mint’s Contamin portrait lathe as part of his private medal business, but Longacre needed to use that piece of equipment to create the dies for the new coins. Peale became very resentful and began claiming that Longacre’s work at the Mint was substandard. Patterson denied Longacre’s request to hire temporary help for the coin design job, but he did offer to contract out all the Mint’s engraving jobs to an outside firm (thereby bypassing Longacre and eliminating his job as Chief Engraver). Longacre refused this “offer” and worked very long hours to do all the engraving work himself.
In 1834 Longacre partnered with another artist, James Herring, to create a new work, The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, which was published in four volumes from 1834 to 1839. To create his engravings, Longacre met with and sketched many important political leaders, including President Andrew Jackson and Senator John C. Calhoun (who had been Jackson’s first Vice President). Calhoun was especially impressed with Longacre and later became a strong advocate for him in the Senate during Longacre’s years at the U.S. Mint.
James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint and the designer of many well-known U.S. coins (including the three-cent silver, the three-cent nickel, and the Indian cent), was born in Pennsylvania in 1794. His mother died when he was very young, and he did not get along well with his stepmother, so when he was twelve years old he ran away and traveled to Philadelphia to find work. He apprenticed himself at the bookstore of John E. Watson and was eventually accepted into Watson’s home as part of the family. Watson soon discovered that Longacre possessed a substantial artistic talent and realized that a bookstore was not the place to develop it, and he released Longacre from his apprenticeship so he could search out a different, more appropriate line of work.
James Earle Fraser, the sculptor who designed the Buffalo Nickel, was born on November 4, 1876 in Minnesota. His father, who worked as an engineer for the railroad, was one of the group who retrieved the remains of the Seventh Cavalry after the Battle of Little Big Horn. Fraser’s early exposure to Native Americans and his life in the American West obviously shaped his later artistic style.