Tag Archives: lincoln

Happy 210th Birthday, Abe!

Fig. 7 - Canceled Lincoln - 1909.45.1.obv.1385
Lincoln Centennial Medal by Jules Édouard Roiné, 1909 (ANS 1909.45.1), King 310. The dies were ceremoniously canceled, donated to the ANS, and used to strike this medal.
Fig. 7 - Canceled Lincoln - 1909.45.1.rev.1385
Lincoln Centennial Medal reverse.

Two hundred and ten years isn’t a milestone we normally celebrate in a special way, but 100 years certainly is, and Lincoln’s 100th birthday in 1909 was a big deal. Cities like New York and Chicago tried to outdo each other with tributes, and big names like Teddy Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan made appearances at his birthplace in Kentucky and at his home in Illinois. Numerous tangible and lasting tributes were issued: ribbons, badges, postcards, calendars. Numismatic items too, of course. There were tokens and medals—even a coin, Victor David Brenner’s iconic cent. Numismatic portrayals of Lincoln were nothing new. The first ones appeared with his presidential campaign of 1860, and they continued through his presidency, only to proliferate after his assassination. The first medal issued by the American Numismatic Society was, in fact, a memorial to him, issued in 1866.

Fig. 5 - Hewitt001 corrected
Robert Hewitt Jr., 1863.

The ANS played a small part in the observation of the centennial. One of the Society’s longest-serving members was Robert Hewitt Jr., who had been collecting presidential medals since at least the time Lincoln was president (his collection of Lincolnalia would go to the Smithsonian in 1918). Hewitt was the force behind a couple of Lincoln medals by the sculptor Jules Édouard Roiné, both of which were issued bound into books. Roiné, Hewitt, and two brothers, Henri and Felix Weil, were all ANS members who played a role in founding the Medallic Art Company (MACO), the private mint that struck the medals. (In 2018, the ANS acquired the medals, dies, galvanos, plaques, paper and digital archives, and other historical materials from the defunct MACO.)

Aluminum medal announcing the planned cancelation of the Lincoln Centennial Medal dies (ANS 1950.106.1), King 347.
The medal’s reverse indicates that the canceled dies were to be deposited at the American Numismatic Society.

The dies for one of the medals were ceremoniously canceled with a cut indicating the centennial date (February 12, 1909). One thousand aluminum medals were issued by MACO announcing the die cancelation and specifying that the dies would be deposited at the ANS on the day of the Lincoln Centennial.

For more on the Lincoln medals, see Robert King, Lincoln in Numismatics, Token and Medal Society, 1966.

For more on Roińe, see David Hill, “Jules Édouard Roiné, Medals in Books, and the Birth of the Medallic Art Company,” ANS Magazine, 2018, issue 4.

Victor David Brenner's Lincoln Plaster

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s (1809-1865) assassination. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre during a performance of Our American Cousin the evening of April 14 and died the following morning.

US Mint
US Mint

Lincoln’s sudden death at a time when the nation was still reeling from the trauma of a bloody war that was only just ending had a lasting impact on the country. Indeed, Lincoln might be the most memorialized figure in American culture. The most common way that we encounter him these days is undoubtedly numismatically, namely in the form of the penny.

During his time in office, Teddy Roosevelt undertook a more or less comprehensive redesign American coinage. As the centenary of Lincoln’s birth approached in 1909, a large number of medals and tokens were being manufactured as souvenirs, and Roosevelt began to consider a way to honor one of his Republican heroes. This would be a departure from precedent as the  first federally-issued coin to feature an actual person (as opposed to an abstract representation of ‘Liberty,’ or an ‘Indian Head,’ etc.). It seems that it was only by chance that the talented Litvak-American sculptor Victor David Brenner (1871-1924) was chosen for the job.

ANS, 1987.147.68
ANS, 1987.147.68

Brenner was commissioned to make a medal to be awarded for service on the ongoing Panama Canal project. In this context the President sat for the artist in late 1908, and it was at this time that he likely encountered a plaque that Brenner had sculpted of Lincoln for the Gorham Manufacturing Company. Roosevelt clearly admired his work, and although the precise details remain unclear, Brenner was engaged to produce a new design featuring Lincoln for the cent. It was a project he worked on through the winter of 1908-1909 and into the spring.

New York Times
New York Times

Both the plaque and the cent are presumed to be based upon a photograph of Lincoln in right profile taken by Anthony Berger of Matthew Brady’s Washington studio in February 1864 (this explains why, contra other American coinage, the bust of the penny faces right). In 1989, the American Numismatic Society received a large plaster portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Victor David Brenner. It was donated by David R. Lit, the nephew of the sculptor’s wife, Ann Reed Brenner. It is undoubtedly one of the plaster models that Brenner made in late 1908 or early 1909 as he was working on the design for what would become the Lincoln cent.

ANS, 1989.17.1
ANS, 1989.17.1

The plaster portrait measures 610 mm or 24 inches in diameter. It was the typical process at the time to produce a large model so that the artist was able to get the desired detail before a machine called a Janvier reducing lathe was used to copy the design onto a coin-sized hub. A comparison of this plaster with the finished cent shows that it was probably not the model used for production, though it remains a possibility as Brenner voiced complaints about the loss of detail when the Mint reduced his large designs. After sorting through some final design and production issues, over 20 million pennies were minted that summer and the new cent was released to the public on August 2, 1909 to wide acclaim.

ANS, 0000.999.4587
ANS, 0000.999.4587

Lincoln of course maintains his position on the cent to this day, and if you look closely you can make out Victor David Brenner’s initials just below Lincoln’s right shoulder. For more information about Lincoln’s legacy in the form of coins, tokens, and medals, see, Robert P. King’s Lincoln in Numismatics (orig. 1924, reprint 1966).

Matthew Wittmann