Title: Chief Engraver, United States Mint
Birthdate: May 2, 1807
Death Date: August 31, 1879
Plot Location: Section 140, Lot 3

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William Barber and Anna Maria Coultart were born in London and married there in 1830, when they were in their early twenties. Their first child arrived a year later with another seven to follow. It’s not known what William’s occupation was for those first 20 years of marriage, or what motivated him to uproot the family and sail to America.

All eight children and their parents departed Liverpool in 1852. William listed his occupation on the ship’s manifest as “artist.” They arrived in Philadelphia but the place where they eventually settled was Melrose, Massachusetts. The 1860 census shows two of their youngest children must have died in childhood and the oldest had married and moved away. 

William’s artistic skills were put to work as a die sinker, a person who engraves dies for stamping coins or medals. This would be the career he and his son Charles would pursue the rest of their lives. Engraving is a special kind of artistry involving not only design but cutting or inscribing that design into the surface of something, often in minute detail. 

The director of the U.S. Mint must have learned of William’s talent and offered him a position. They moved to Philadelphia where he began working for the Chief Engraver, James B. Longacre, just after the Civil War. When his boss died in 1868, William was officially appointed Chief Engraver by President Andrew Johnson.

His first project was designing and making the dies for a medal to commemorate the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. It featured a profile of President Ulysses S. Grant, and was first struck in November of that year in gold, silver, and copper. Only one medal was struck in gold, however, and William was given the honor of presenting it to the President. He and the Chief Coiner were sent to the White House for the occasion on December 7.

Not long after this, William hired his son Charles as an Assistant Engraver, but William’s work at the Mint came to an end in 1879 as he grew noticeably weaker. His official cause of death was “debility,” meaning physical weakness or exhaustion. Charles was then appointed the sixth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. He went on to create the Liberty Head or “Barber” dime, quarter, and half dollar, which was in circulation for more than 20 years.

Anna Barber died 14 months after William, but he provided for her and their two single daughters in his will, leaving a personal estate of $21,000. All four graves were marked with this horizontal or “ledger” gravestone in the Yeadon side of the cemetery.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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