William Barber was the fifth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint from 1869 until his death. He succeeded James B. Longacre in the position.
Mr. Barber was born in London, England on May 2, 1807. He learned his profession from his father, John Barber, and was employed on silver plate work, after his emigration to the United States. He resided in Boston for 10 years and was variously employed in his line of work. His skill in this way came to the knowledge of Mr. Longacre, then Engraver of the Mint, and he secured his services as an assistant in 1865. On January 20, 1869, upon the death of Mr. Longacre, he was appointed by President Andrew Johnson as his successor, and continued in that position for the rest of his life.
Barber is best known for his "Britannia"-inspired Trade dollar design, which was produced from 1873 to 1878 for circulation in the Far East, and in proof-only form thereafter until 1883 (the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars were clandestinely made at the mint and are not actually part of the series; they are ultra-rarities, with ten and five coined, respectively, and despite their dubious origin, are highly valued).
When preparations were made to create a new denomination, the double dime (twenty-cent piece), William Barber and Philadelphia Mint Superintendent James Pollock knew that the design needed to be significantly different than the Liberty Seated design used on the quarter dollar. Barber designed a series of patterns that were designed to do just that, including the so-called "Sailor Head" and "Liberty at the Seashore" designs. He also created two different wreath designs and one shield design for the reverse. However, Mint Director H.R. Linderman mandated that Barber instead use the Liberty Seated design with an eagle on the reverse, thus dooming the coin to failure. The double dime saw circulation only in 1875 and 1876, with proofs struck in 1877 and 1878.
Besides much original work on pattern coins, Barber also produced over 40 medals, public and private, the work on all of them very creditable.
William Barber fell ill in Atlantic City in the second half of August, 1879, and died at home on Ellsworth Street in Philadelphia on August 31. He was succeeded in his position by his son, Charles E. Barber.