Community College of Philadelphia’s recent gift of more than $1 million from the Gilroy and Lillian P. Roberts Foundation seeks to preserve a historic Philadelphia collection and the legacy of an engraver whose likeness of John F. Kennedy is recognized around the world.
The gift from the Gilroy and Lillian P. Roberts Foundation, which is the largest, single private gift ever to the College, will be used to display and maintain items from the personal collection of Gilroy Roberts, the ninth Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint (1949-1964), and to make campus improvements. The exhibit, which will be free and open to the public, is slated to open in late fall.
A month after the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Congress authorized a memorial in the form of the Kennedy half dollar. Roberts helped to create the obverse (heads) side of the Kennedy half dollar and kept a personal journal chronicling the process. On Feb. 11, 1964, the first of the new Kennedy half dollars for general circulation were struck at the mints in Philadelphia and Denver.
The extremely popular Kennedy half dollar was designed and minted while Roberts worked at the third U.S. Mint, an architectural jewel at 1700 Spring Garden Street that today is the heart of the College’s bustling Main Campus.
"This collection has found a perfect home at the Mint building," said Community College of Philadelphia President Stephen M. Curtis, Ph.D. "Visitors will get a sense of the time and place, as they walk the same corridor and view the same exquisite architecture as Mr. Roberts. It is also appropriate because the educational and interactive display is in the same building that houses our Art students, who stand to benefit from the scholarship which is being established."
After the U.S. Mint moved to its fourth location, this one near Independence Hall, the landmark would become the first permanent home for Community College of Philadelphia, an institution created to expand educational access.
The Mint Building’s elegant Rotunda currently serves as an exhibit space and gathering area.
The impressive collection assembled by Roberts over his engraving career is to be displayed near the main lobby featuring Italian marble and gold mosaic. The collection includes handmade tools, valuable coins from Roberts’ personal collection, exquisite silver-point drawings, fine sculptures, and more.
Upon Gilroy Roberts’ death, his basement studio was packed up and shipped to the American Numismatics Association, where they first were put on exhibition in Boulder, Colo. As the Association expanded, however, it no longer had space to house the collection, which was brought back to Philadelphia and ultimately ended up at the very site Gilroy Roberts carved his own place his history: The Mint Building.
Though Roberts primarily is known as an engraver, friends say he actually made most of his fortune after Joseph Segel, the founder of The Franklin Mint, recruited him to work for him there. The Gilroy and Lillian Roberts Charitable Foundation disburses more than $400,000 yearly.
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