The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 27, Number 10, March 10 2024, Article 11


Jim Haas submitted this article on Boston engravers Henry Mitchell and Francis Nalder Mitchell. Thanks! -Editor

  A Brief History of Boston's Engravers Mitchell©
By James E. Haas

Henry Mitchell portrait Engraver Henry Mitchell was mentioned in my recent comments on MacNeil's models for the Quarter, but little was said about his life, career and many contributions to the medallic arts. With this piece I will offer more about him and answer one question that has often been asked in his regard.

That sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil was also a gifted medallic artist has been well documented here and elsewhere. It is known that his uncle Henry Mitchell, 1836-1909, had married his mother's sister Elizabeth Pratt in 1864, and that when a young boy, his aunt had invited young Hermon to join their two daughters in their art lessons. Subsequently, and throughout his growing years, Uncle Henry actively supported Hermon's artistic inclinations and talent to the point of funding his second year of studies in Paris where MacNeil's first teacher at the Académie Julian was Henri-Michel-Antoine-Chapu, a master in low relief. Other than Chapu, MacNeil neither commented on nor referenced anyone who might have been his inspiration or mentor in the medallic arts, not his uncle, not even his uncle's friend and fellow engraver, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and at no time did he ever mention Francis Nalder Mitchell, Boston's original engraver named Mitchell. So, who was he and what was Henry Mitchell's connection to him?

  Henry Mitchell

Henry Mitchell's father was Henry Riddle Mitchell the second child, one of ten, born to Laurence and Rachel McCallum on September 18, 1801 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Notably for our purposes, the eighth child born on May 20, 1810 was named Francis Nalder Mitchell. This information confirms, for reasons that follow, that he was Henry Mitchell's uncle, and not, as has been suggested, that he was his brother.

On April 27, 1821, Henry Riddle Mitchell married Janet Sibbald Sinock at Edinburgh's St. Cuthbert's Church of Scotland. Two children were born, Francis in 1832 and Agnes in 1834 before setting sail aboard the ship Glide from Greenock, Scotland, arriving in New York Harbor on July 26, 1836. A third child, a son named for his father, was born in New York City. According to the New England Genealogical and Historical Association, he was born on September 15, 1837. Others say it was 1836.

Henry Riddle Mitchell moved his growing family from New York to Philadelphia around 1847 and became a citizen on July 11, 1849. He died of typhoid fever on May 4, 1850 and was buried in Philadelphia's North Cedar Hill Cemetery. That year's census taken in August shows Janet, enumerated as Jeanette, living in the city's Kensington section with her family. Three additional children have been born, Isabella, George and Norman. Francis the first-born, whose work is plating silver, will take up engraving. Shortly after his father's death, Henry, Jr. relocated to Massachusetts there to join his uncle Francis Nalder Mitchell's engraving company. Jeanette Mitchell remained in Philadelphia until her death on October 26, 1889. She along with daughters Agnes, who died in 1902 and Isabella, in 1927, are also buried in North Cedar Hill Cemetery. Francis and Norman followed in what appeared to be the family's line of work, engraving.

  Henry Mitchell Engraver ad

In a citizenship document executed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and signed by Francis Nalder Mitchell on July 25, 1847, he declared that he arrived in New York harbor on or about October 13, 1839. His memory was excellent, but off by one day. The three-masted packet ship Rocius dropped anchor on October 12th. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Massachusetts, established his business and began paying taxes in 1842. Living with a family in the Boston suburb of Dedham, he is enumerated in the 1850 census and again in the 1855 census of Chelsea; this year with his nephew Henry. Both are engaged in the art of engraving. Sometime in the future on a date unknown, the two men entered into a co-partnership that was called F. N. & H. Mitchell. It was formally dissolved in July 1862, whereupon the business was conducted under the name of Henry Mitchell. Before that happened, and on another date unknown, Francis returned to Scotland, where on April 29, 1862 he married Mary M. Liddell. The ceremony took place in Anderston, an area of Glasgow on the north bank of the River Clyde that forms the south western edge of the city center. Francis died four days shy of their second wedding anniversary and was buried in Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh. Charles Liddell Mitchell was born on July 19, 1863, but did not survive. Mary married Rev. W. M. Dempster on August 3, 1869.

Centennial Commission medal Both Francis Nalder Mitchell and nephew Henry rank high in the pantheon of American medalists. Their output was substantial; their quality superb. Over the course of his career, Henry Nalder Mitchell engraved dies for the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, the Maine State and the United States Agricultural Societies, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and the Commodore Matthew C. Perry Medal among others. His nephew Henry Mitchell's accomplishments, too numerous to catalogue, include being chosen in 1868 as the official engraver of the dies for the stamped envelopes of the U. S. Government. He did this for the next 40 years. 

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  Belmont Town Seal
  State Seals
  Arms of the United States

Great Seal of Wisconsin Throughout this time, Henry Mitchell was also responsible for engraving the seals of the Secretary of the Navy and the Internal Revenue Service from Alaska to Florida and Maine. He also engraved the state seals for Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Outside of state and federal government engraving, Mitchell engraved the seals and coats of arms for many well-known institutions that include Harvard University, the Society of the Cincinnati and the Boston Public Library. He engraved the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition award medal (1876) that was struck in the Philadelphia Mint. Because Mitchell was also a respected designer of Coats of Arms, at the request of Boston-area lithographer Louis Prang, he engraved Coats of Arms for the original Thirteen colonies. His book on the subject was published in concert with the 1876 celebration. As it turned out, it was Prang who encouraged MacNeil to apply for the teaching position at Cornell University which he did following graduation from the Massachusetts Normal Art School in 1886.

  Medal Francis N. Mitchell silver Benjamin Franklin medal
  Treaty of Peace medal
  Royal Hawaiian Agriculture Society medals
  Corcoran Gallery of Arts medal
  Commodore Perry medal
  Massachusetts Horticultural medal

In 1891, Mitchell was invited by the Secretary of the Treasury to join a committee to evaluate the artistic design proposals for a new issue of U.S. silver coins. The two other members were Charles E. Barber, Chief Engraver of the United States Mint and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  Most informed numismatists know how that turned out.

It is safe to say that if Hermon Atkins MacNeil had models in whose footsteps he wanted to follow, he could not have had any finer ones than Francis Nalder Mitchell, whose work he had probably been shown, and his uncle Henry Mitchell, whose works he undoubtedly knew. February 27th marked MacNeil's 148th birthday.

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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