Frank Gasparro was the tenth Chief Sculptor and Engraver of the United States Mint. Gasparro held the position from 1965 until his retirement in 1981. During his tenure at the Mint, Gasparro proved to be incredibly talented, creating more coins in circulation than any other artist in history.
Gasparro was born in Philadelphia in 1909. From an early age, he displayed a natural aptitude for the arts. Despite his initial disapproval, Gasparro’s father sent him to study at the Graphic Sketch Club in Philadelphia, which later became the Samuel S. Fleischer Art Memorial. After completing his training, Gasparro apprenticed under sculptor Giuseppe Donato, who had been foreman of Auguste Rodin’s Paris studio. Donato and Fleischer later sponsored him at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There, he earned two prestigious scholarships that allowed him to travel to Europe to refine his craft. In Europe, Gasparro became fascinated by Greek Art, a distinctive style that was later reflected in many of his designs.
After returning to the United States, Gasparro worked for the Works’ Progress Administration (WPA) and then as a freelance artist. In 1942, he was hired as a junior engraver at the U.S. Mint under Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock. Then, in 1942, Gasparro rose to become the Mint’s Chief Engraver.
Gasparro’s first major coin design at the Mint was his redesign of the reverse of the Lincoln Cent. For the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday, the Mint was seeking a new design to replace the wheat ears that had been on the reverse for 50 years. Inspired by classical Greek sculpture, Gasparro chose a head-on view of the Lincoln Memorial. His design was selected from a group of 23 designs prepared by other artists to replace the sheaf of wheat.
One of the most challenging feats in Gasparro’s career was creating a design for the Susan B. Anthony Dollar. He was able to locate two photographs of the famous Suffragette—one at age 28 and the other at age 84. His first design focused on the younger Anthony, but feminist groups complained that the design made her look too pretty. Gasparro switched to the older photo, but Anthony’s grandniece felt the new image made her grandmother look too old and feeble. Gasparro’s final design featured a middle-aged Anthony. She appears focused and resolute. Mint staff were thrilled with this design, and Gasparro had become the only living artist to have designed both the obverse and reverse of a general-circulation coin.
Gasparro had a highly prolific and successful career. In addition to the Lincoln Cent and the Anthony Dollar, he also designed the reverse of the John F. Kennedy Half Dollar, both sides of the Eisenhower Dollar, the John Wayne Commemorative Medal (which was the Mint’s all-time best seller), and the obverse of both the 1995 and 1996 five-dollar Gold Olympic Commemoratives, as well as presidential medals for every president from Eisenhower to Jimmy Carter.
With a distinctive style rooted in classical sculpture, Gasparro brought a new standard to the art of engraving. His timeless designs have become an inherent part of American history, not merely for their popularity, but for their resounding impact as well. Gasparro passed away at the age of 92 in September of 2001, but his legacy lives on through his beautiful work
Find out more about this week’s Engraver of The Week: Frank Gasparro, and see the coins he engraved featured on The Coin Show Spectacular this Saturday, March 31st, at 10pm EST / 7pm PST on DirecTV channel 223, Dish channel 224 or watch live online at www.ArtAndCoinTV.com