A Doctor for All Seasons: David Hosack of New York

by Robert Wilson Hoge

Virtually unknown today, David Hosack was one of the most prominent Americans of his time. Widely respected and admired both at home and abroad, he was a man of the arts and sciences too easily overlooked among the movers and shakers of world history. But as sometimes happens, he was memorialized by a numismatic legacy that has helped insure he will continue to find at least a small measure of appreciation as time marches on.

A Scottish Heritage

Along with many of his countrymen, a nineteen-year-old Scot enlisted in the British army in the year 1755, as war clouds darkened over Europe and America. Hailing from the area of the estate of Charles Bruce, fifth earl of Elgin and ninth earl of Kincardine (the father of Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, who is remembered for having acquired the marble sculptures of the Athenian Parthenon for Great Britain), Alexander Hosack was from a respectable Lowland family. The Hosacks had been impoverished by Alexander’s father’s “improvidence” in the aftermath of the bloody uprising and reprisals that had taken place in the days of Charles Edward Stuart—“Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Fig. 1). Probably having felt forced to “take the king’s shilling” to help support his kindred, the lad was sent first to Ireland, and then in 1757 he was ordered with his command to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in preparation for the massive invasion of French Canada planned by William Pitt (Fig. 2), the new British prime minister (Robbins 1964, 5).

Fig. 1. Great Britain. Battle of Culloden AE commemorative medal, 1746, private mint; the defeat of the young pretender Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”). (ANS 1967.225.434, gift of the Wadsworth Athenaeum, J. Coolidge Hills coll.) 42 mm.

Fig. 2. Great Britain. William Pitt silvered brass commemorative medalet, the so-called Pitt halfpenny, 1766, James Smither’s private mint, Philadelphia. Betts 519; Breen 252 (ANS 1941.131.992, gift of George Hubbard Clapp, ex E. P. Robinson) 28 mm.

After nine weeks at sea, the squadron under Admiral Holborne arrived in Halifax on July 7 to join forces with Commander in Chief Lord Loudoun, out of New York, doubling his army to over twelve thousand troops and eight thousand seamen, for a combined assault on the great French fortress of Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. But preparations for the invasion lasted so long and French reinforcements were so impressive that the attack was called off until the coming year, and all but two thousand men embarked for New York City. It may have been at this time, then, that young Sergeant Hosack first arrived at that bustling little island-town that was later to become his home.

In the spring of 1758, Hosack was part of the British force that successfully assailed the vital port of Louisbourg. This battle was the largest in North America until the Civil War, and it was also the largest amphibious assault ever to occur on the continent. It included over 150 vessels carrying about thirty thousand soldiers and sailors under the command of General Jeffrey Amherst, seconded by Vice Admiral Edward Boscawen, called “Old Dreadnaught.” On June 8, the spirited, newly appointed Brigadier General James Wolfe led the landing under fire. Many were killed as their longboats were shot to pieces and their munitions and equipage dragged them to the bottom of Gabarus Bay. The bravery and heroic performance of the Scottish troops in the onslaught received special notice. (Prior to this time, Wolfe had smirkingly regarded Scots as well suited simply to being killed off on behalf of their British masters, they being essentially enemies themselves.) The attack on Louisbourg soon began: by June 19, British siege works were in place and a terrific bombardment commenced. On June 21, a mortar round hit and destroyed the main French vessel in the harbor and the rest of the French fleet was soon eliminated as well. On the June 23, a “hot-shot” round (a cannonball heated red-hot before firing) struck and burned the largest building then standing in North America, the Bastion du Roi. Alexander Hosack served commendably in the artillery, which was ultimately most responsible for the capitulation of the French. It was reported that during the action the British used 1,493 barrels of gunpowder to fire 14,630 cannonballs and 3,390 explosive or canister shot, along with some 750,000 musket rounds—basically expending their entire supply. It is the artillerists’ aspect of the siege that was commemorated on the great medal by Pingo that Boscawen commissioned to be presented to the British expeditionary forces (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Great Britain. Capture of Louisbourg AV commemorative medal, 1758, Royal Mint, by Thomas Pingo. Betts 410. Commissioned by Admiral Boscawen to be presented to the victorious British forces: gold for top commanders, silver for officers, and bronze for enlisted personnel; this looped example of one of the four pieces known in gold belonged to Boscawen. The reverse depicts the bombardment of the fortress and town. Betts 410. (ANS 1966.9.1, gift of Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb) 43 mm.

Following the engagement, Hosack’s unit was ordered to the Carolinas, where he fell ill. He was mustered out of the service through the patronage of old family friends of his grandfather and made his way to New York. There, according to tradition, he worked in the sugar industry for the prominent Roosevelt family, eventually marrying Jane Arden, a New York woman of English, French Huguenot, and Dutch descent, who was the daughter of a butcher and sometime merchant in the “Fly-Market,” New York City’s first great produce center (located at the eastern end of Maiden Lane). Hosack and Arden’s prosperity declined with the British military occupation of New York from 1776 to 1783. At this time, Hosack had been recorded as an “un-licensed dealer in liquor in Dey Street” (Robbins 1964, 7). He and his father-in-law were both signatories to the citizens’ petition to Lord Howe, the military governor, to restore civil law. With the war’s end, and the establishment of the new country, the economy began quickly to rebound. New York was on its way to become the commercial center not only of America, but of the world.

The Education of an American

Jane and Alexander Hosack’s son David was born in New York City on August 31, 1769, the first of seven children. The genial father, ever an enterprising man, labored successfully to achieve an affluent home and to give his children the best possible education available at the time. He became the owner of a number of properties, all situated in the neighborhood around the present location of the American Numismatic Society. In 1786, he was listed as a “woolen and linen draper at 72 William Street” (Robbins 1964, 8). Nothing is known of the earliest education of the Hosack children. With the war’s end, David was sent to academies in New Jersey, in Newark and later in Hackensack, where he was taught by Scottish classicists. Other sons were also sent to boarding schools and later to colleges, and a sister, Jane, was privately tutored as befitted a young lady of the time (Robbins 1964, 10-20).

David Hosack matriculated at Columbia College, the renamed King’s College (earlier incarnations of Columbia University), then located at Park Place, just a few blocks from the family’s William Street home, in the fall term of 1786. As it had been before the Revolution, the school was still largely the bastion of the privileged, wealthy heirs of New York’s “best families”—not up-and-coming shopkeepers’ progeny like young Hosack. But the boy excelled there. He was so skilled in oration that his professors tried to convince him to follow a career in law, and he befriended a classmate named DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), the nephew of New York Governor George Clinton, who became like a brother to him until his death (Fig. 4). But although he was officially an arts student, Hosack became fascinated with medicine.

Fig. 4. United States. DeWitt Clinton WM (Pb) personal medal, c. 1812?, Philadelphia mint, by Moritz Fürst. Neuzil 49. Little is known of this rare medal honoring the great New York politician. Clinton was elected to the New York legislature (1797-1802) and appointed to the U.S. Senate, resigning to serve as mayor of New York City (1803-1815); he also served as state senator (1806-1811) and lieutenant governor (1811-1813). Although he had been a member of the Democratic-Republican party, Clinton ran for president in 1812 as a candidate for the Federalists and antiwar Republican faction, being narrowly defeated by James Madison. He served as governor of New York (1817-1823), accomplishing many progressive goals. (ANS 0000.999.8210; probably the gift of Daniel Parish Jr., part of ANS 1887.24) 33.5 mm.

Hosack might have commenced medical studies with Columbia’s principal professor in medicine, the renowned Dr. Samuel Bard (1742-1821). Bard was a founder and chief medical professor of King’s College/Columbia and the founder and principal physician of New York’s first hospital. An expert on midwifery, he was also George Washington’s personal doctor, and was lauded by the president for having saved his life (by removing a cancerous growth from his leg). Hosack’s own later career was to be intimately associated with Bard, even as a partner in practice and successor as professor, but the young would-be medical student engaged himself instead as a medical apprentice to another physician. His master was Dr. Richard Bayley, a noted local surgeon and former student of the great pioneering Scottish doctor William Hunter (1718-1783), who was professor of anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts, in London, from 1769 to 1772. (Hunter, the rediscoverer of the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, is perhaps best known today as the founder of the magnificent Hunterian Museum Collection of the University of Glasgow, which includes one of the foremost cabinets of ancient coins.)

This was an era when medical science was still often very much detached from practical applications, and most actual attention to the afflicted was undertaken by ecclesiastics, apothecaries, barbers, or chirurgeons who may have had only rudimentary training as apprentices, if at all. In spite of his classical erudition, young David Hosack evidently adopted a pragmatic, hands-on approach to this tantalizing field. Nevertheless, in later life as a leading academician himself, Hosack always promoted the value of lectures.

An unfortunate incident occurred early in 1788. Dr. Bayley had been rented a room for private anatomical instruction in the as-yet-vacant New York Hospital. Around the hospital loitered a crowd—an unhappy crowd. Such medical teaching was considered scandalous, odious, and sacrilegious because of the practice of illicitly obtaining human cadavers for study from graveyards. New York City has a famous history of outrages, so it was not surprising that when a medical student taunted the crowd by waving the limb of a corpse out a window, the so-called Doctor’s Mob attacked, invading the dissection area and demolishing Bayley’s laboratory equipment. Trying to defend the doctor’s office, Hosack was hit on the head by a stone (Robbins 1964, 19).

Not long after the “mob scene,” Hosack transferred to the College of New Jersey, in Princeton—later renamed after the town—from which he obtained his baccalaureate in the fall of 1789 (this school had become among the most progressive and enlightened in the new country). Immediately thereafter, back in New York, he enrolled as a student of the polymath Dr. Nicholas Romayne, and started going regularly to the Almshouse for the poor and the Bridewell institution for the insane—the only places where actual clinical instruction was offered. In this manner he was first introduced to Dr. Bard’s lectures on midwifery and diseases of women and children, which Hosack later made an area of his special attention.

Hosack transferred his studies again, in the fall of 1790, to the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, the first in the former British colonies. An outstanding faculty had been developed at Penn, among them Dr. John Morgan, Dr. William Shippen Jr., Dr. Adam Kuhn, and Dr. Benjamin Rush (Fig. 5). Hosack befriended the local scientific luminaries and wrote a doctoral dissertation on the dread disease cholera. He received his MD in the spring of 1791, shortly after marrying Catharine Warner, a girl with whom he had fallen in love while at Princeton. The Hosacks moved at once to Alexandria, Virginia, near the site of the newly proposed national capital, where David set up a medical practice. Their son, Alexander, was born in June 1792, just before the young family returned to New York City.

Fig. 5. United States. Dr. Benjamin Rush AE personal medal, 1808, Philadelphia mint, by Moritz Fürst. Julian PE-30; Neuzil 47. The celebrated Dr. Rush, who gave Meriwether Lewis a “crash course” in medicine prior to his great exploring expedition, is believed to have been Fürst’s first American medallic subject. (ANS 0000.999.6296) 42 mm.

Along with his academic and medical training, David Hosack had learned a painful truth: compared with the cultural resources available in Europe, an American education was largely circumscribed. The foremost physicians and scientists whom he admired had been educated at least in part across the Atlantic, and much was made of their superiority. He decided that he had to travel to Britain to attain the kind of knowledge for which he thirsted. His father agreed and paid his way.

A Natural Historian

The University of Edinburgh was generally considered to offer the finest medical education in Britain, so Hosack determined to complete his schooling there. He regularly attended lectures and applied himself, devoting ten hours every day to medical coursework, but was mortified to discover that his knowledge of taxonomy, of the technical structures of the plant kingdom in particular, was wholly deficient compared with his European contemporaries. This was the age of the Enlightenment, the age of Linnaeus and his great system of classificatory nomenclature, of the beginnings of accurate measurement and careful scientific reporting of the natural world. The young American scholar, enthused and aroused, was welcomed by the professors and the local gentry, and it was in their formal gardens, so popular at the time, that he began to make botanical observations while also studying the systematic classification of diseases.

Following the academic year at Edinburgh, he visited Elgin, his father’s family’s home, where he was kindly received. Then he proceeded to London, where the leading botanical taxonomists and other scientists were making rapid progress in describing and understanding “natural philosophy.” Direct observation was the key. Hosack arranged to study with the leading figures in this movement: William Curtis, who had developed a botanical garden at Brompton and who organized systematic botanical field trips and collecting expeditions in the vicinity of London; and Sir James Edward Smith, the president of the Linnaean Society, whose lectures Hosack enthusiastically attended. Smith took an interest in him and gave him access to the great herbarium assembled by the celebrated Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Linnaeus); he also gave him a collection of Linnaeus’s duplicate specimens and introduced him to many of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, such as Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the scientist of Captain Cook’s South Seas expeditions, who had become the president of the Royal Society; and Thomas Martyn, regius professor of botany at Cambridge University (Fig. 6). With such guidance and by means of his work and study, Hosack became thoroughly knowledgeable in the world of botany, certainly as much so as any American of his time.

Fig. 6. Great Britain. Sir Joseph Banks AE personal medal, 1816, designed by Thomas Wyon Jr. and sculpted by William Wyon. Here recognized by a product of the Royal Mint, the celebrated British naturalist, whose sister was a serious numismatist, aided the careers of aspiring young scientists. David Hosack, who became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1816, was sometimes referred to as “the American Joseph Banks.” (ANS 1940.100.558) 39.7 mm.

The young Hosack was so highly regarded by his British associates that before he left London, he was invited to present a theoretical paper on optical anatomy. (Twenty years later, he would be elected a fellow of the Society.) Vision and eye care were among the subjects Hosack was to address extensively in his career, but Hosack’s explanation of how vision accommodates to close objects, changing focus from far to near, was not correct. He wrongly postulated that it was by squeezing and elongating the globes that the eyes increased their focal length. It remained for the technical genius Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, inventor of the ophthalmoscope, to identify the correct physiology (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. United States. Von Helmholtz 150th anniversary of the ophthalmoscope, Cogan Ophthalmic History Society, AR commemorative plaquette, 2000 (copied from a nineteenth-century Austrian medal by Tautenhayn). (ANS 2002.14.1, gift of Dr. Jay M. Galst) 41 x 59 mm.

When he returned home to New York in 1794, Hosack brought back with him the first scientific collection of minerals to be introduced into the United States. His collections, especially his Linnaean duplicates, became the basis of the collections of the Lyceum of Natural History in the City of New York (now the illustrious New York Academy of Sciences), but were misplaced in the 1830s and never seen again. In addition to studies of plants and animals, Hosack developed an interest in earth sciences and among his student protégés were young men who would lead the way in advancing geology well into the nineteenth century. Hosack also became an early advocate of museum collecting and preserving and had some relation with members of the Peale family, American museological pioneers.

A Medical Man Par Excellence

While Hosack was studying in Britain, his infant son Alexander died. In early 1796, his wife Catharine died giving birth to another child, who also died. Yellow fever struck Philadelphia in 1793 and thereafter and in New York in 1795 and 1798. The young doctor was surrounded by what may be euphemistically termed “opportunities.” It may be considered little wonder that much of the rest of his life was shaped by a devotion to expanding medical care and education, training physicians in the treatment of women and children, and an appreciation for the medicinal value of plants and herbs. Hosack became an early advocate for improved conditions for the poor and was a founder of the Humane Society. He served as physician to the New York Hospital and the Bloomingdale Asylum and helped found New York City’s Bellevue Hospital.

The component of Hosack’s medical career for which he is best remembered today, when he is remembered at all, is his service as an attending physician in connection with the most famous duel in American history, that between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804 (Fig. 8). Hosack was the Hamilton family doctor; he had also attended the death of Hamilton’s son, fatally wounded in a duel at the same place in 1801. In the collection of the New-York Historical Society is the bill submitted by Hosack to Hamilton’s estate for services rendered in connection with what he referred to as the man’s “last illness” (Newland 2004, 53). In fact, family practice was a primary part of Hosack’s activities. He was recognized for his care and concern for his patients and their families, offering pediatric and obstetric attention as required in addition to general internal medicine.

Fig. 8. United States. Alexander Hamilton AE Treasury medal, 1795, Philadelphia mint, by Moritz Fürst. Neuzil 46. The striking of this medal may have had something to do with the rechartering of the Bank of the United States in the period 1811-1816; the date is that of Hamilton’s relinquishment of office as secretary of the Treasury. (ANS 0000.999.4517) 48.4 mm.

Hosack preferred to leave most surgery to others, yet he performed the first successful ligature of an aneurism of the femoral artery. He was also the first to introduce the operation for hydrocele by injection, was one of the first physicians to use a stethoscope, and was a strong, early advocate of smallpox vaccination. He made a particular study of yellow fever, and was the first to prepare an accurate scientific description of the symptomatology of that frightful disease, which he himself contracted while caring for his patients. His treatment regimen, in the contemporary absence of an understanding of infection and insect vectors, was probably the most enlightened of his time—much in opposition to (and to the consternation of!) other prominent medical men, such as his friend Dr. Rush (Robbins 1964).

A prolific author, from 1810 to 1814 Hosack co-edited the American Medical and Philosophical Monthly. His paper on “Contagious Disorders” and his treatise on “Vision” were republished by the Royal Society of London (1794), and other publications included many of his medical, scientific, and scholarly papers, among them “Memoir of Hugh Williamson, M.D.” (1820), “Essays on Various Subjects of Medical Science” (1824-1830), “System of Practical Nosology” (1829), and “Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Medicine” (published posthumously, in 1838).

Beyond his numerous accomplishments, it seems likely that Hosack may have regarded himself most as a teacher. He was appointed professor of natural history at Columbia College in 1795, and in 1797 succeeded to the chair of materia medica. In 1807 he was named professor of midwifery and surgery in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, later occupying the chairs of the “Theory and Practice of Medicine” and of “Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women and Children.” He helped organize the short-lived medical department of Rutgers College in 1826, and even offered his own private medical school as a course in training. He was so well versed in his subject matter that he was able to teach classes in a variety of fields, and may even have had his greatest influence not in medicine but in “natural philosophy.”

Gardening on a Grand Scale

Keenly aware of his countrymen’s lack of knowledge and resources in botany, and believing the understanding of plants and their properties to be crucial for advances in medicine, Hosack took it upon himself to create the nation’s first botanical garden, modeled on ones he had observed in England. Mostly intended for the instruction and benefit of medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia College, in 1801 Hosack purchased from the municipality a twenty-acre $4,800 parcel of vacant land situated in the “commons” far north of the city. He called this creation the Elgin Botanical Garden, named for his father’s Scottish home. With scientific friends and colleagues from around the world contributing seeds and cuttings, Hosack developed well-planned grounds with differing environmental conditions and also built a splendid greenhouse. The ambitious project greatly outstripped Hosack’s personal resources, however, and in 1810 his medical colleagues petitioned the State Legislature to purchase the garden from him. The reluctant lawmakers eventually did, paying Hosack many thousands of dollars less than he had put into the land. They then turned it over to Columbia College, which at the time had no interest in maintaining this costly project, the New York medical world having gone through a series of personal and professional upheavals (Robbins 1964). Hosack’s legacy was not maintained, but by retaining ownership the school reaped a whopping reward for its dereliction. The property was leased out to become Rockefeller Center in the 1930s, and in 1985 it was sold for $400,000,000 to relieve Columbia’s chronic budgetary problems (Fig. 9). Though the garden was not a long-term success, Hosack’s Hortus Elginensis, a scientific catalogue of the collection, was a valuable contribution to America’s beginnings in agronomy. Indeed, education in natural history in America—in geology and botany in particular—owed a great deal to his efforts.

Fig. 9. United States. Rockefeller Center AE commemorative medal, 1933 (after Lee Lawrie). Hoge (2006, Fig. 52). (ANS 0000.999.8282) 69 mm.

Among the most prominent of Hosack’s protégés was scientist and educator Amos Eaton (1776-1842). A 1799 graduate of Williams College, Eaton became a lawyer in New York until 1811, when he was falsely imprisoned for fraud. While in prison, he studied botany and geology and tutored the prison officials’ sons. Following his release, he studied at Yale, returning to New York in 1817 to deliver a series of lectures at the behest of Hosack’s friend DeWitt Clinton. These were lectures on the state’s geology, intended to further Clinton’s grand design to construct a canal, with a series of locks, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes via the Hudson River. Among the legislators in the audience was Stephen Van Rensselaer III, patroon of Rensselaerwyck, who proceeded to hire Eaton to produce A Geological Survey of the County of Albany, which was followed by geological surveys of much of the area through which the canal was finally built (Fig. 10). In 1824, with Rensselaer’s help, Eaton cofounded the Rensselaer School (now known as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) in Troy, New York, building this town into a rival to London as a center for geological studies in the first part of the nineteenth century.

Fig. 10. United States. Erie Canal WM commemorative medal, 1826, by C. C. Wright, Maltby Pedetreau mint. Brainchild of the great DeWitt Clinton, the marvelous canal was first commemorated with a medallion by Edward Thomason, copied by Wright. (ANS 0000.999.2287) 43.8 mm.

Another important student of Hosack’s was the prison warden’s son John Torrey (1796-1873), who was tutored by Amos Eaton during the years he was incarcerated. Torrey began his studies with Dr. Hosack at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1815, receiving his degree in 1818. He soon published a Catalogue of Plants Growing Spontaneously Within Thirty Miles of the City of New York (1819) and a volume called Flora of the Northern and Middle States (1824). Torrey served as a professor of chemistry and geology at the United States Military Academy, at West Point, and of chemistry and botany in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York City, and was appointed botanist to the state of New York in 1836. From 1853 he was the Chief Assayer of the United States.

An Eminent Man of Distinction

Close to two years after his wife Catharine died, Hosack married again, to Mary Eddy of Philadelphia, with whom he had nine children—seven of whom survived to adulthood. A confirmed family man, Hosack gained a reputation as one who enjoyed living well. Becoming a very popular medical practitioner and professor in the years to come, ever a visionary and liberal spender willing to sacrifice his wealth to his interests, he became quite the paterfamilias. Hosack’s son, Alexander Eddy Hosack (1805-1871), became a physician of note like his father, also obtaining his MD at the University of Pennsylvania. After spending the years 1825 to 1827 studying in Paris, the younger Dr. Hosack, unlike his father, devoted himself especially to surgery upon returning to New York, and became the first practitioner in the city to administer ether as an anesthetic.

Not surprisingly, Hosack was the founder and first president of the New York Horticultural Society, the first such organization in America. As honorary members, he brought in his old friend Sir James Edward Smith as well as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Marquis de Lafayette (Robbins 1964, 174-175). He was president of the Literary Society and the Philosophical Society and one of the founders of the New-York Historical Society—and its fourth president (1820-1827). In the latter capacity, it was he who welcomed Lafayette (Fig. 11) to the city on his visit in 1824, remarking: “Long, long, Sir, may you live to enjoy the homage so justly due and spontaneously offered from the hearts of a free and grateful People for the service you have rendered to this Nation, to the World, to Liberty…” (Jeffe 2004, 58).

Fig. 11. United States: Cu cent, 1823, with Washington and Lafayette countermarks on obv. and rev., respectively, executed at the time of Lafayette’s visit to the United States, in 1824. (ANS 1944.56.1, gift of John F. Jones, through Sidney P. Noe) 28.4 mm.

After Mary died in 1824, he married Magdalena Coster, a widow of one of his friends and a mother with seven children of her own. The families were combined with rare success, living in a house on Chambers Street and maintaining a country estate for summer getaways on Kip’s Bay—both part of the Coster inheritance. Every Saturday, the Hosacks hosted a salon remarkable for the leading artists and intellectuals as well as other medical men who attended, and they became well-known as social leaders in the city (Robbins 1964, 166). Hosack befriended the poet William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) and was a patron of American artists including Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of telegraphy, and Thomas Cole.

In later life, with his third wife’s family assets to assist in his enterprises, David Hosack was able to purchase the famous Hudson River estate of Hyde Park, former home of his old teacher and sometime partner in medical practice Dr. Samuel Bard, and he recommenced developing a fine botanical garden. The Hosack’s opulent “retreat” became a popular haunt of visitors who enjoyed the mystique of the Hudson River valley, including not only painters and naturalists but the writer Washington Irving.

A Medallic Tribute

It was as a leader in the cultural community that Hosack must have become acquainted with the talented immigrant Slovakian Jewish engraver Moritz Fürst. Hosack clearly had an interest in and appreciation of numismatics, which he spoke of at an address before the New-York Historical Society in 1821 (Orosz 2007). Although almost nothing is known about this, Fürst is reported to have requested examples of medal strikings from the U.S. Mint on his behalf (Julian 1977, 211). And it is to Fürst that we are indebted for a remarkable medal struck in Hosack’s honor at the Mint circa 1830-1835.

Moritz Fürst’s medal honoring David Hosack was a handsome example of the work that brought the artist to the forefront of American medallic sculpture in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Born in March 1782, near Bratislava, in what was at the time part of the kingdom of Hungary under the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian empire, Fürst had had the opportunity to study in Vienna as a pupil of Johann Nepomuk Würth (sometimes written as Würt, Wirt, or Wirth, 1750-1811), chief engraver at the Vienna Mint and medallist to the Imperial Court, who served as director of the Academy of Engraving there (Forrer 1916, 567; Neuzil 1999, 18). He also seems to have studied later in Milan, and thereby achieved notice on the part of Thomas Appleton, the American Consul at Livorno (Leghorn, the important port city on the west coast of Italy), in 1807. Seemingly in the belief that he had been offered a contract, as a result Fürst subsequently traveled to the United States to work as an engraver, settling in Philadelphia (Neuzil 1999, 18-20).

In Philadelphia, Fürst went into business as a seal maker, engraver in steel, and die-sinker, and was indeed given commissions for die-engraving by the fifteen-year-old United States Mint, but he was not given the post of chief engraver, which he had evidently expected. For the Mint, Fürst was to craft “a large number of medals some of which exhibit fair workmanship, according to Dr. P. F. Weber’s opinion” (Forrer 1904, 172). Among the most popular and best-known of Fürst’s patriotic commemoratives, portraits, and other U.S. Mint creations are the series of some twenty-seven medals honoring naval and military heroes of the War of 1812—including classic pieces still issued by the U.S. Mint today (Fig. 12). Fürst executed the official medallic presidential portraits of James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren (Fig. 13). He also sculpted the first known Jewish American medal, commemorating the patriot and religious leader Gershom Seixas upon his death in 1816.

Fig. 12. United States. President Andrew Jackson AR award medal, 1829, Philadelphia mint, by Moritz Fürst. This interesting specimen documents two dies not otherwise known in combination: the Fürst obverse die of Neuzil US-9, that of the Jackson small-sized Indian Peace medal (normally paired with the small-sized “Peace and Friendship” Indian Peace medal reverse by John Reich), and an attractive dedication/presentation medal die reading REWARD OF SKILL AND INGENUITY above a wreath formed by a palm and an oak branch; a small G. below the bow may indicate Christian Gobrecht as the designer/sculptor of this die. (ANS 0000.999.30341) 50.2 mm.

Fig. 13. United States. President John Quincy Adams WM inaugural medal, Philadelphia mint, 1825, by Moritz Fürst. Julian PR-5; Neuzil 45. (ANS 0000.999.39665) 50.8 mm.

Although Fürst left in disappointment after having held his post at the Mint into 1838, appreciation and recognition were eventually forthcoming. Today, his medals are cherished, and many have been restruck by the Mint in modern editions. The artist, however, died in obscurity in Europe, probably in about 1847. On his medal honoring Dr. Hosack can be clearly seen the wonderfully personalized features captured by Fürst’s gift: the Doctor’s characteristic top-knot tuft, his bristly arching eyebrows, his little chin wattle…

In the ANS collection are three examples of the David Hosack medal by Fürst. The accession history database indicates that the Society’s collection actually may have included at least five examples, of which only these three appear to be extant today. Very likely, two duplicate pieces were deaccessioned long ago and sold or traded for other acquisitions (or, it is possible they might still be in the cabinet somewhere, awaiting future attention). The issue is a medal on which scant information exists, so a full description of the features of the elusive piece is in order, as well as descriptions of the different aspects of the individual specimens (Figs. 14a, 14b, 14c):

Medal of the United States Mint, Philadelphia: Dr. David Hosack, by Moritz Fürst, n.d. (circa 1830-1835); 34 mm. Obv.: Hosack’s nude bust to right, truncated just below the neck, with the legend DAVID HOSACK M.D. above; in smaller letters, reading outwardly from the point of the bust truncation, is FURST F. Rev.: the legend ARTS AND SCIENCES above a vignette of objects (Julian refers to them as “scientific implements”) symbolizing various fields of endeavor, including, from left to right, a short-handled spade, for gardening; a classical lyre on a pedestal, to indicate musical appreciation; leaning against the pedestal, a classical caduceus (a snake writhing around a staff), the emblem of Apollo as a healer and thus a representative of medicine; at the foot of the pedestal, a set of dividers or calipers and a drawing square, to indicate mathematics, architecture, or measurement; in the central foreground, a book, manuscript, painter’s palette, and brushes, sculpted bust of a man, and a sculptor’s mallet to represent the liberal arts; and on the right, a terrestrial globe on a stand, to signify geographical knowledge and exploration. In the exergue is the attribution FURST F. (References: Brettauer 1989, no. 507; Freeman 1964, no. 248; Julian 1977, no. PE-15; Neuzil 1999, no. 53; Storer 1931, no. 1604.)

Fig. 14. United States Mint, David Hosack medal, Philadelphia mint, n.d. (c. 1830-1835). By Moritz Fürst. Julian PE-15. (a) Struck in silver, weight 22.503 g; thickness 3.8 mm. This beautiful specimen, formerly incorrectly accessioned provisionally as ANS 0000.999.45756, is very sharp and proof-like. Another example, belonging to a correspondent and weighing 21.643 g, was confirmed as being silver by the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC). (ANS 1887.24.1, gift of Daniel Parish Jr.) 33.5 mm.

(b) Struck in copper, weight 22.144 g; thickness 3.9 mm. The piece is very sharp and proof-like and has a beautiful old red-chocolate finish. (ANS 0000.999.45762, evidently the gift of either J. N. T. Levick in 1867 or Herbert Valentine in 1906) 33.8 mm.

(c) Struck in unknown WM, weight 25.618 g; thickness 4.5 mm. Quite dark and with light areas of a grayish color, this specimen is probably a somewhat later, thicker, base-metal restrike. It features mint sharpness but dull surfaces. (ANS 1940.100.489, bequest of R. J. Eidlitz and gift of Mrs. R. J. Eidlitz) 33.6 mm.

The Hosack medal stands rather apart from many of Fürst’s other mint products and miscellaneous American works. For one thing, its subject is neither a political nor military figure, nor a celebrity in the normal sense. For another, it is smaller in size and more modest in character. Perhaps Fürst was aware of the close friendship that existed between David Hosack and DeWitt Clinton and chose to make this medal a companion piece to his Clinton medal. Julian stated: “No reason for the striking of this medal has ever been published, so far as is known to the author. It is known from letters in the archives, however, that Hosack and Moritz Fürst were both professional and personal friends… it is the opinion of the author that Hosack’s friends paid Fürst to execute the dies while Hosack was still living, possibly in the early 1830s” (1977, 211).

The mintage figures provided for the Hosack medal by Julian, covering the period from 1855 to 1892, list only one silver piece struck, under fiscal year 1876/77. Hartzog (1986) repeats that information, and reports two auction listings of silver examples in the past 150 years. The provisionally numbered silver medal in the Society’s cabinet is accounted for by the record of a donation by the great ANS president and benefactor Daniel Parish Jr., in 1887. It is satisfying to be able to make this correction and give due credit to that wonderfully generous man (Fig. 15). The Hosack medal, along with several other Fürst portraits, was restruck by the U.S. Mint in the 1980s using the original dies; the modern examples use a thinner planchet (2.6 mm vs. about 3.6 mm) and have a lighter bronze coloring.

Fig. 15. United States. American Numismatic Society AV medal honoring Daniel Parish Jr., 1890, by Lea Ahlborn. One of the greatest numismatists who has ever lived, Parish worked to establish the ANS as the foremost numismatic resource in the country; among his vast donations was the rare silver David Hosack medal. The Society honored him with a magnificent portrait medal by the outstanding medallic artist Lea Ahlborn, chief engraver of the Stockholm mint. (ANS 0000.999.3366) 45.9 mm.

At the time of his acquaintance with Fürst in his later years, Dr. Hosack was an illustrious man but, like Fürst’s, his fame has vanished over the years. “It is one of the vagaries of historical remembrance that certain individuals who are extraordinarily well known and well connected during their lifetimes can become largely forgotten over time. Such appears to be the case with David Hosack” (Jeffe 2004, 54). Clearly responsible both directly and indirectly for many progressive developments of his time, Hosack died in New York City on December 22, 1835. His papers are housed in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in the library of Princeton University (Fig. 16).

Fig. 16. Dr. David Hosack, by Rembrandt Peale, circa 1826. Columbia University (used with permission).


Betts, C. Wyllys. 1894. American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals. Glendale, NY: Benchmark, 1970 (repr. 1894).

(Brettauer) Holzmair, Eduard. 1989. Medicina in Nummis: Sammlung Dr. Josef Brettauer (unvernderter Nachdruck des Katalogs von Dr. Eduard Holzmair; mit einem Vorwort von Robert Göbl), Verffentlichungen der Numismatischen Kommission; Bd. 222nd, unvernderte Aufl. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 2nd edition of work (facsimile) originally published: Vienna: Kuratorium der Dr. Josef Brettauer-Stiftung, 1937.

Forrer, Leonard. 1904. Biographical Dictionary of Medalists: Coin-, Gem-, and Seal-Engravers, Mint-masters, etc., Ancient and Modern, with References to Their Works, B.C. 50 to A.D. 1900, vol. 2. London: Spink & Son, Ltd.

Forrer, Leonard. 1916. Biographical Dictionary of Medalists: Coin-, Gem-, and Seal-Engravers, Mint-masters, etc., Ancient and Modern, with References to Their Works, B.C. 50 to A.D. 1900, vol. 6. London: Spink & Son, Ltd.

Freeman, Sarah Elizabeth. 1964. Medals Relating to Medicine and Allied Sciences in the Numismatic Collection of the Johns Hopkins University: A Catalogue. Baltimore, Md.: Evergreen House Foundation.

Hartzog, Rich. 1986. Medals of the United States Mint: Price Guide. (Rich Hartzog’s 1986 Price Guide for Medals of the United States Mint, the First Century, 1792-1892, by R. W. Julian. Includes articles reprinted from the Numismatist, the Token, and Medal Society Journal, and from Bowers and Merena Galleries). Rockford, Ill.: R. Hartzog, World Exonumia.

Hoge, Robert Wilson. 2006. “Current Cabinet Activities.” American Numismatic Society Magazine 5, no. 1: 31-43.

Jeffe, Elizabeth Rohn. 2004. “Hamilton’s Physician: David Hosack, Renaissance Man of Early New York.” New York Journal of American History 65, no. 3: 54-58.

Julian, Robert W. 1977. Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century, 1792-1892. El Cajon, Calif.: Token and Medal Society.

Neuzil, Chris. 1999. “A Reckoning of Moritz Fürst’s American Medals.” Proceedings of the Coinage of the Americas Conference, No. 13: The Medal in America, 2:17-118. New York: American Numismatic Society.

Newland, Sherwin B. 2004. “Hamilton’s Last Hours.” New York Journal of American History 65, no. 3: 50-53.

Orosz, Joel. 2007. Personal communication, referencing Hosack, David, “Address upon being elected President of the New-York Historical Society, delivered on the Second Tuesday of February, 1820,” in Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 3 (1820): 269-280. Hosack’s brief for the NYHS collecting coins and medals is found on 275-276.

Robbins, Christine Chapman. 1964. David Hosack, Citizen of New York; Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 62. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Storer, Horatio Robinson. 1931. Medicina in Nummis: A Descriptive List of the Coins, Medals, and Jetons Relating to Medicine, Surgery, and the Allied Sciences. Boston: Wright and Potter.