india on card
engraving approx 4” x 2.5”
Vignette die proof sunk on card, “Clasped Hands” by G.F.C. Smillie, by The American Bank Note Co, 1885. Card has been cut down to within approx .25″ outside die sunk area.
Intaglio engraving and printing can produce some of the most exacting and lifelike portraits and landscapes. The skill and artistry that these engravers have is proof of the time spent learning and honing their craft. In addition to proving artistry, to become a portrait engraver at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing the apprentice engraver must work with a master engraver for ten years. The 1900’s saw tremendous growth in the art of engraving. This growth led to many advancements in mechanics but also the discovery of artist engravers who would become legends. One of these engravers is GFC Smillie who created a legacy that continues to this day.
GFC Smillie was not the only Smillie to work in the field of engraving. Most of the family were artists and engravers. The family’s journey into currency began with Fred’s uncle James Smillie in 1829 when he began work at Durand, Perkins & Company, which specialized in engraving and printing banknotes. George Fredrick Cumming Smillie was born November 22,1854 in New York City, the son of David Smillie, a dentist. Fred, as he was known, did his early engraving training with his uncle James Smillie, famous for his landscape engravings, and Alfred Jones, known for the 1890 postage stamp honoring Thomas Jefferson.
At the age of 17, Fred was already employed at the American Banknote Co. and finishing his first solo engraving project, The Reapers. Continuing to hone his craft, there were fewer than eight engravings notated in Fred’s journal until 1874. Fred’s career accelerated rapidly after that bringing increases in pay. In 1887, Fred left the American Banknote Co. to work for his uncle William Cumming Smillie at the Canada Bank Note Company. In 1888, he returned to New York and worked for a variety of firms: Homer Lee Banknote Company, Western Bank Note Company, and Hamilton Bank Note Company. On March 18, 1894, Fred began his journey as Chief Engraver with the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Within the first two years, he would engrave what would become one of his most well-known engravings, “Electricity, the Dominant Force.”
Fred was also extremely well known for his portrait engraving. Fred engraved portraits of Washington, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and Lincoln, as well as countless other historical figures. His work both independently or in a collaborative environment of notes was impeccable. He was a participant in the design and engraving of some of the most beloved bills of all time including the $5 1899 Silver Certificate and the $1 1899 Silver Certificate. Fred retired from the BEP in March 1922 and returned to work at the American Banknote Co. for a brief period of time before he passed away on January 21, 1924.
Smillie’s contribution to the world of numismatics has continued long past his death. One example of this is the GFC Smillie engraved portrait of George Washington on the $1 Federal Reserve Note which not been changed since its inception in 1963. He had a role in the creation of more than one of the greatest notes. An extremely talented man from a very talented family, GFC Smillie’s legacy is one that continues today and beyond.