Tag Archives: medallic art

COAC 2021: The Victor David Brenner Sesquicentennial

Figure 1. Photo of the control room main monitor during one of the talks.

After a hiatus of a dozen years, this last Friday and Saturday (17–18 September) saw the resumption of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) series at the American Numismatic Society. Since the mid-1980s, COACs have been one of the leading venues for the presentation of academic research pertaining to numismatics of the Western Hemisphere. Previous conferences, and their published proceedings, have covered topics on colonial and federal coinages and medallic art in the United States.

Figures 2 and 3. Speaker Christopher Bach presenting his talk, “Victor D. Brenner and the painterly influence of Joaquín Sorolla.”

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Resolute Americana Collection and the Stack Family, ANS Assistant Curator Dr. Jesse Kraft’s efforts to revive the series this year were successful. Along with conference co-organizers Scott Miller (ANS Fellow) and Patrick McMahon (MFA Boston), Dr. Kraft decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Victor David Brenner’s birth with two days of papers devoted to the artist’s life and works.

Figure 4. Speaker and conference co-organizer Patrick McMahon virtually responding to questions following his talk, “Victor David Brenner’s Society of the Cincinnati Medal in Context.”

Born in 1871 in what is now Lithuania, Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with famed French medallic artist Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists working in New York City, the center of US medallic art. Brenner’s most well-known artwork is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, which remains in production today; with over 450 billion examples produced in the 112 years since it was introduced it is the most reproduced piece of art in human history. While it is known that Brenner created a significant body of work beyond the Lincoln cent, much of his other work has been overshadowed by this single piece.

Figure 5. Speaker Taylor Hartley enjoying the exhibit of Brenner’s work organized for the conference in the ANS’s Sage Room by Jesse Kraft and Scott Miller.

Many of the papers in this year’s COAC sought to explore the full range of Brenner’s work, and these efforts were quite informative. By the end of the conference, the trajectory of Brenner’s career, before his life was cut short in 1924 by cancer, came into clearer view. Always pushing himself to obtain greater skills, Brenner explored a number of techniques and styles in medallic art production, more perhaps than many of his contemporaries, designing over 200 medallic works of art throughout his 35-year career. At the same time, towards the end of his career he seemed to have been making an attempt to move decisively away from medallic art towards larger bas-relief and sculpture in the round. His largest artwork, and one of his more successful, is the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Pittsburg, PA, also known as “A Song to Nature”. Significantly, his career path was, in many ways, opposite that of his contemporaries: he began as an engraver of small objects moving towards larger sculpture while others started with larger works before attempting medallic art. Curiously, however, after his success with the 1909 Lincoln cent, Brenner’s career never really took off in the way that those associated with the doyenne of US sculpture Augustus Saint Gaudens did; indeed, Brenner was never part of the Saint Gaudens circle. To the end, Brenner remained something of a struggling artist, designing and producing a number of different sculptural objects, including bookends and wall fountains, many of which were only recently identified and attributed to Brenner by some of the conference speakers. The proceedings of the conference are expected to be published by the ANS in the coming year. In the meantime, a video recording of the conference will soon be available on our YouTube channel. A list of the speakers and their papers can be found here.

Figure 6. Alan Roche and Ben Hiibner manning the newly installed control room during the Zoom broadcast of the conference.

One final note: this year’s COAC also marked a significant change in the way that the ANS will, in the future, host and present conferences. After a substantial investment in new equipment, and thanks to the efforts of Ben Hiibner and Alan Roche, this year’s COAC was a fully hybrid event, simultaneously live and virtual. Those unable to attend in person were able to participate both as speakers and audience members via Zoom. Such hybrid events will continue to allow us to reach a greater proportion of our membership as we resume our usual schedule of events, talks, and conferences.

A Sketch of A Sketch

In late June 2021, Heidi Wastweet led a stellar Long Table discussion about her work as a medallic artist and sculptor. She drew her material primarily from a popular lecture she delivered in 2019 at the Shanghai Coin Design Forum, but adapted the program to the conversational nature of the Long Table. One of her slides led me on a pleasant jaunt of numismatic research, following a line of inquiry about a particular medal’s design. 

After Wastweet’s presentation on the art and processes behind medal design and production, she facilitated a thought-provoking conversation for more than half of our numismatic lunch hour. She covered the unique parameters necessitated by the medallic form, reflecting on how artists navigate the tensions between intuition and intention when incorporating elements of design. The whole conversation was a lively one and, for me, one of the most resonant moments was when Dr. Ira Rezak reflected on how harmonious design is often a product of cultural context as much as anything else: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but the beholder has eyes and tastes derived from broader cultural expectations and aesthetic environments. 

When reviewing other artists’ use of some of the design elements she discussed, Wastweet presented some interesting examples of various medals and medallic designs. Among these included a sketch of an unrealized medal by the American medalist Donald De Lue. This sketch features a male nude squatting low above the capital of an Ionic column. His left fingers clutch a thin pillar while he works with a stylus in his right hand. The prominent arc of the figure’s back and his general titanic proportions take up much of the medal’s foreground. Above, four horses gallop through the heavens towards a radiate sun. In the design’s exergue, three acorns on an oak branch settle under the lettering: PARVA NE PEREANT. Many of us in attendance at the Long Table immediately recognized the Latin phrase, acorns, and oak leaves from the motto and seal of the American Numismatic Society. The image came from a 2020 Doyle auction listed as the third item in lot 30, along with four other Donald De Lue sketches. The description included the motto and its translation, “Let Not the Little Things Perish”, without noting any association with the ANS. 

I was curious to know if this sketch was a proposition for a new membership medal or if it might have been conceived as one of the several award medals given by the ANS, such as the obverse of the J. Sanford Saltus Award seen above. The latter came to mind because the Saltus Award bears thematic resemblance to the sketch. Both feature a nearly-seated nude holding a stylus and both incorporate the Society’s motto and the oak leaves of the ANS seal under a groundline. The ANS has bestowed this medal on artists since 1919 in recognition of “signal achievement” in medallic art and the ANS honored De Lue himself with the Award in 1967.

After inspecting the Doyle auction, I found the above De Lue sketch of the same design from a 2018 Jackson’s International Auction. This Modern & Vintage Masters auction lists Lot 57 as “Three Preparatory Drawings / Donald De Lue”. There are some subtle differences in this sketch from the previous one: the lack of the Ionic capital, the inclusion of an extra toe in the balancing left foot, and the awkward left hand which grips the pillar as if with a broken wrist of a too-long arm. These factors and the overall sketched quality of the drawing indicate it as an obvious earlier version of the design. The auction house described the sketch as an “Art Deco circular drawing inscribed PARVA NE PEREANT, […] 12 inches in diameter,” again, without any reference information indicating that this was a design for the ANS or naming its purpose. It was gifted “To Karen Tortorella / My Friend and Fellow-Artist / With Warmest regards / From Donald De Lue / Sculptor / 1978″. The year listed, 1978, gave me somewhere to start. 

Now that I had a rough date for the design—or, at least, a terminus post quem—I went to Scott Miller’s Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society. Here, Miller notes that the “need for a new member’s medal became apparent by the 1960s as existing stocks of the [Gutzon] Borglum Medal were exhausted” (Miller 2015.27, above). He further explains that, a “competition was held, with Frank Eliscu declared the winner.” The winning Eliscu design would become the third membership medal of the Society (Miller 2015.53, below; Miller, p. 138), after the Borglum and earlier George Hampden Lovett designs. Miller, unsurprisingly, was also in attendance at the Long Table. 

There was no doubt that the De Lue sketches were from a submission proposed for this contest. I turned to the ANS Archives to learn more. The files of ANS curator Jeremiah D. Brady in the ANS Archives include the related material for the competition commissioned by the ANS Council, including notes and correspondence of the artists, judges, and other related parties. Corresponding with Director Leslie Elam, De Lue accepted an invitation in a letter dated Feb. 22, 1977, writing:

Dear Mr. Elam, 

Thank you for the invitation to compete for the Societies [sic] Members Medal. As per my telephone conversation with you, I will enter the competition. When you have the information I would be interested in knowing who the other competitors are. 


Donald De Lue

In addition to De Lue and Eliscu, artists Karen Worth, Gifford Proctor, and Thomas Lo Medico competed. Among T. James Luce, Julius Lauth, Thomas Wilfred, Robert Weinman, Marc Salton, and Jeremiah Brady, Dr. Ira Rezak also served on the jury for the medal competition.

These ANS Archive files also confirmed that the design from the De Lue sketch was, in fact, a medalist making a medal, a particularly fitting image for the topic of Wastweet’s Long Table. In a 1977 COINage article, “Contest for a Medal: Five Top Sculptors and Their Designs for a Major Numismatic Showpiece”, David L. Ganz explained the background for the competition and enumerated the designs these five artists submitted. Included was a final rendering of the De Lue design in the top left, as well as four additional De Lue proposals. In total, he offered two space-age designs as obverses and three ancient medalists as reverses. The article even describes his artistic vision for the reverse that initially piqued my interest. De Lue envisioned the ancient medalist moved to creation after attending a horse race, pausing to sculpt at a Greek temple undergoing construction. Seeing these alternative reverse designs reminded me of another Due Lue design from the 2018 Jackson International auction gifted to Karen Tortorella, a sketch of a medal for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. 

While the curvature of the central seated figure’s spine and the shading of the musculature of the abdomen closely resemble the sketch for the ANS medal, the modeling of the seated figure clearly derives from one of the other submissions for the ANS medal competition. Note the submission on the upper right of the COINage scan. The figure was kept more or less the same, given a fuller beard, and his stylus and medal reimagined as a contemplative pose. The winged spirit of medallic inspiration crowning the medalist with a laurel became a spangled muse inspiring the pensive sculptor-philosopher. Unlike the ANS design; however, an altered version of this design did come to fruition. With a few adjustments between sketch and final form, such as the removal of the winged horse in the muse’s left hand and the leaf from the exergue, an example of this Brookgreen Garden medal is housed in the Society’s collection, ANS 1980.157.1.

Seeing this medal in the ANS collection brought the story around full-circle. A nature haven for sculptures and sculptors alike, Brookgreen Gardens was founded by early twentieth century benefactors of the ANS, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Not only that, but Heidi Wastweet herself has trained medalists as a teaching artist at Brookgreen Gardens for years—and also produced a medal for the institution in 2017, one which she showcased during her Long Table (2017 Brookgreen Medal)

During this jaunt, I learned more about some of the processes that went into producing these medals, as well as how different institutions like the ANS and Brookgreen Gardens have gone about commissioning works through the years. Heidi Wastweet’s Long Table discussion, along with those recently hosted by Eugene Daub and Mashiko, was a fantastic glimpse into artistic perspectives on numismatic topics and I’m looking forward to more to come. For me, the best sorts of programs are ones like these, where further inquiry emerges and the conversation continues. 

The Centennial of the J. Sanford Saltus Award

Mashiko receives the J. Sanford Saltus Award from Donald Scarinci, chair of the Award Committee.
Mashiko receives the J. Sanford Saltus Award from Donald Scarinci, chair of the Award Committee.

The eponymous J. Sanford Saltus Award was initiated in 1913 by J. Sanford Saltus, who donated $5,000 (roughly the equivalent of $120,000 today) to the ANS to establish a permanent fund for the striking of a medal to reward and recognize sculptors “for distinguished achievement in the field of the art of the medal.” Since 1919, when the first Saltus Award was given, the Society has selected 58 outstanding medallic artists to receive what has become one of the most coveted and prestigious awards in the field. On December 12, we honored our 59th recipient, the New York City-based artist, Mashiko. Examples of the work of all of our Saltus award recipients over the last century can be viewed in an exhibit in our Member’s Lounge, which was assembled by Elena Stolyarik, Scott Miller, and Peter van Alfen.

The centennial exhibit of J. Sanford Saltus' medals is currently on display in the ANS Members' Lounge.
The  exhibit of medallic art from present and past recipients of the  J. Sanford Saltus Award is currently on display in the ANS Members’ Lounge.

Saltus, like many of his peers on the Society’s Council at the time, was a strong supporter of contemporary medallic artists, who sought as well to encourage greater appreciation for their work among the Society’s members. This same initiative continues to this day. The ANS is firmly committed to supporting the medallic arts not just through the prestigious Saltus Award, but also through our own commissions of medallic art, our teaching, and our publications, which feature a medallic art series. The latest volume in this series, in fact, just appeared last week: Michael Ross’s study of Jacques Wiener’s architectural medals.  Most significantly, the ANS purchased the archives of the Medallic Arts Company in 2018, including 50,000 individual items such as medals, dies, galvanos, plaques, and paper and digital archives, that we aim to publish and make available to the public.

Mashiko, ANS Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg, and Donald Scarinci
Mashiko, ANS Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg, and Donald Scarinci

It had been intended that the Saltus Award would be given on an annual basis, but already in the 1920s and 1930s there were years when there was no award, included the nine-year gap between 1937 and 1946 roughly coinciding with the Second World War. In more recent years, the Award has been given every 2–3 years with the delays caused in part by the cumbersome arrangement of the Saltus Award Committee itself consisting of more than a dozen voting members, and in part by a persistent lack of supporting funds. In 2017, the Society’s then-Executive Director, Ute Wartenberg, and the Committee’s secretary, Peter van Alfen, proposed to the Board of Trustees a new arrangement for the Committee, which it was hoped would help speed the selection process and allow for the Award to be given once again on an annual basis. With the Board’s approval, the Award Committee was pared down to five voting members consisting of Donald Scarinci as chair (replacing Stephen Scher, whose nearly two decades of service as chair is most appreciated), Ute Wartenberg, Peter van Alfen (secretary), Gwen Pier (Executive Director, National Sculpture Society), and until recently, Luke Syson (then Curator in Charge of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art). In addition, the Committee now has an Advisory Board, chaired by Philip Attwood (Keeper of Coins and Medals, British Museum), to help form a pool of suitable candidates from which the Committee then selects a winner. This Board is comprised of curators and other individuals particularly well versed in contemporary medallic art including: Marjan Scharloo (Director of the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands); Maria Rosa Figueiredo (Curator, Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal); Gunnel Sievers (Past President of the Guild of the Medal in Finland); Erika Grniakova (Curator, Coin and Medal Museum, Kremnica, Slovakia); Bernhard Weisser (Director of the Münzkabinett, Berlin, Germany); Alan Stahl (Curator, Firestone Library, Princeton University); and Mashiko, who was kept unaware of her nomination for the Award. This new arrangement went into effect in the summer of 2017 and since then the ANS has again been presenting the Saltus award on an annual basis.

“A Handheld History”—An Exhibit of Medallic Art at Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Curators of "A Handheld History" (l. to r.), Benjamin Wu, Amber Orosco, and Stephen Pastoriza.
Curators of “A Handheld History” (l. to r.), Benjamin Wu, Amber Orosco, and Stephen Pastoriza.

Before Thanksgiving I had the great pleasure of participating in “Holding History in the Palm of One’s Hand: Contemporary Perspectives on Medals and Coins from Antiquity to the Recent Past,” an event at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, celebrating the exhibit “A Handheld History: Five Centuries of Medals from the Molinari Collection at Bowdoin College.” Three speakers, myself, Dr. Stephen K. Scher, and Prof. Susan Wegner, presented different aspects of medallic art and its history from its inception in the Italian Renaissance to the twenty-first century. We were then joined on stage by the curators of the exhibit, Amber Orosco, Stephen Pastoriza, and Benjamin Wu, for a panel discussion. Significantly, all three of the curators are currently undergraduate students at Bowdoin, which makes their achievement in curating this exhibit all the more remarkable.

In 1966, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art received from Amanda Marchesa Molinari a gift of a collection of approximately 1,500 art medals and 200 related books—including numerous rare volumes from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries— that she and her late husband, Cesare Molinari d’Incisa, had assembled over the course of several decades. The collection is rather astonishing for the large number of important medals of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries from Italy and Northern Europe especially, some of which, in fact, are lacking in the ANS’s collection, such as the John VIII Palaeologos medal by Pisanello. Curators at Bowdoin in the 1960s were certainly aware of the importance of this collection; a partial catalogue of the collection by Andrea Norris and Ingrid Weber was soon published and an exhibit of some of the highlights was put on display. In the decades since, however, this collection had not received the attention it rightly deserves.

Case containing medals pictured in the accompanying folio volume, the Histoire Métallique.
Case containing medals pictured in the accompanying folio volume, the Histoire Métallique.

In the summer of 2017, Museum Co-Director Dr. Anne Collins Goodyear and the student curators paid me a visit at the ANS and also spoke with Stephen Scher at The Frick Collection. Dr. Scher introduced them to highlights from the collection he had recently donated to the museum, then on view in the exhibition “The Pursuit of Immortality: Masterpieces from the Scher Collection of Portrait Medals.” Their purpose was to discuss the history of the medal, the Molinari collection, and their intent to put on a new exhibit of this outstanding collection. The results of their efforts, “A Handheld History,” are truly impressive. In eight cases, the exhibit not only displays some of the most important pieces from the Molinari collection, but also focuses on various aspects of medal production, metallurgical analysis in the study of medals, and the evolution of medallic art over the centuries. Two of the cases are particularly noteworthy. One includes a 1723 edition of the folio volume accompanying the Histoire Métallique documenting the reign of Louis XIV of France along with a selection of the medals illustrated in the volume; another includes a volume of Gerard van Loon’s 1732 folio Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen along with medals depicting the ill-fated de Witt brothers, Johan and Cornelis. Rarely indeed are these two important early volumes exhibited side-by-side along with some of the actual medals illustrated on their pages.

Case containing medals of the de Witt brothers and the folio Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen.
Case containing medals of the de Witt brothers and the folio Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen.

The exhibit will be on display at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art through January 20, 2019. A video of the panel discussion will be made available on the Museum’s website.

Seige of Louisbourg Medals, 1758

During the summer of 1758, British and colonial forces captured the fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, which marked a turning point in the Seven Years’ War. Louisbourg was a strategically important stronghold that provided a safe harbor for the French navy and protected access to the St. Lawrence River, which was the outlet for the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean and the critical waterway connecting the colonies of New France to the outside world.

Robert de Vaugondy Nouvelle France ou le Canada, 1755 David Rumsey Historical Maps
Robert de Vaugondy, ‘Nouvelle France ou le Canada,’ 1755
David Rumsey Historical Maps

The war originated in an ongoing and complex struggle over control of the Ohio River Valley between varied local agents (colonists, soldiers, missionaries, traders, etc.) representing Britain and France and the assorted Indian tribes that either inhabited the region or exerted power there. The flashpoint occurred in the course of competing efforts to establish a fort at the so-called “Forks” where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers met. In the spring of 1754, French forces arrived at the Forks, knocked down a small British fort that had been established there, and built Fort Duquesne. In retaliation, a company of colonial militia under the command of the young Lieutenant Colonel George Washington and some Indian allies ambushed a French patrol in late May. This seemingly minor but bloody skirmish kicked off a conflict that lasted almost a decade and spanned the globe.

While the ins and outs of the war are invariably interesting, the most important thing to understand in the context of the North American theater was that things did not go particularly well for Britain and its colonial proxies during the early years of the conflict. This string of setbacks and defeats culminated in the summer of 1757 with the loss of Fort William Henry at the southern edge of Lake George and a failed expedition to capture Louisbourg. These failures led to wholesale changes in the British military leadership and saw the energetic William Pitt emerge to direct the overall war effort. Because Louisbourg played such a key role in protecting the lines of supply that sustained French forces, it became the primary target of Pitt’s ambitious strategy for the 1758 campaign in North America.

Edward Boscawen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1755. National Portrait Gallery
Edward Boscawen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1755
National Portrait Gallery

Major General Jeffrey Amherst and Admiral Edward Boscawen were placed in charge of the land and naval forces, which ultimately comprised some 14,000 soldiers and 200 ships, including twenty-three ships of the line. The prior year’s expedition failed in part because the French navy was able to concentrate enough warships at Louisbourg to make a direct assault on the fortress difficult, but by 1758 it no longer had that capability. The tightening of the blockade of French ports by the Royal Navy made resupply challenging, and the main relief fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Cartagena in February. A sally from the main French Navy port at Brest was likewise turned back in April, leaving the defenders at Louisbourg with just five ships of the line and no hope of resupply for the summer.

Despite a brief but determined resistance from entrenched defenders at Gabarus Bay, British troops were landed on June 8 and the formal siège une forme commenced. Vauban’s famed treatise De l’attaque et de la défense des places (“On the Attack and Defense of Fortified Places”) laid out a strategy for overcoming the defenses at Louisbourg that Amherst followed to the letter.

J. Rocque, A Set of Plans and Forts in America (1765)
from J. Rocque, ‘A Set of Plans and Forts in America,’ 1765

The illustration above shows the impressive landward defenses and bastions of the fortress, as well as the network of trenches dug by its attackers. The comparatively vulnerable fortifications facing the harbor were buttressed by the French warships, which rode at anchor just offshore and prevented Admiral Boscawen’s fleet from forcing an entrance into the harbor. Still, with any kind of relief made impossible by the Royal Navy, it was only a matter of time before the fortress fell. The British soldiers set to work digging, slowly hauled their cannon forward, and soon began shelling the French into submission. By July 6, the attackers were within 600 yards of the walls and red hot cannon shots were raining on the city. Six-weeks of constant shelling, mounting casualties, and frequent fires taxed Louisbourg’s defenders to the breaking point. Boscawen’s marines delivered the coup de grâce on July 25, sneaking into the harbor under the cover of fog and burning or capturing the remaining French warships.

The Burning of the 'Prudent' and the Taking of the 'Bienfaisant' in Louisbourg Harbour, 1758
The Burning of the ‘Prudent’ and the Taking of the ‘Bienfaisant’ in Louisbourg Harbour, 1758
Toronto Public Library

With the city now surrounded and the shelling set to intensify, the chevalier de Drucour surrendered Louisbourg the next day. Although generous terms might have been expected given the precepts of contemporary warfare and the vigorous defense mounted, Amherst was unforgiving. Honors were denied to the garrison, and all who bore arms were made prisoners of war and transported to England. The entire civilian population of Cape Breton was deported back to France and many of the Indians allied with the French, primarily Micmacs and Abenakis, were slaughtered by British soldiers and American rangers in revenge for the massacre that followed the surrender of Fort William Henry in 1757.

ANS, 2006.33.5
ANS, 2006.33.5

The Siege of Louisbourg was a brutal and decisive victory that paved the way for the successful invasion of Canada and the larger Annus Mirabalis of 1759 that left France and its allies reeling. Its capture and the humiliating terms of the defeat were quickly commemorated in medallic form. At least in terms of the numismatic legacy of the siege, it was Boscawen, not Amherst, who figures much more prominently, despite the latter’s ostensibly more significant role in the fall of the fortress. In C. Wyllys Betts’ catalog of American colonial medals, Boscawen is listed as gracing eight of the twelve Louisbourg medals. The medal above depicts and celebrates the moment of French capitulation, and its obverse features a bust wreathed with the legend: TO BRAVE ADM. BOSCAWEN

ANS, 1964.254.2
ANS, 1964.254.2

A number of medals feature the same rather crudely executed bust of Boscawen on the obverse. The most interesting of the varied reverses depicts the scene in Louisbourg harbor on July 26, 1758. By far the most notable and elaborate medal in the series was one Boscawen commissioned from the distinguished medallist Thomas Pingo (1692-1776).

ANS, 1966.9.1
ANS, 1966.9.1

The medal was struck in gold, silver, and copper. The ANS holds examples of each, but the gold specimen (ex-Norweb) is the prize as it is supposed to have been Boscawen’s own, with the few other gold medals having been awarded to trusted officers. It is a masterpiece of medallic propaganda that depicts a prostrate female figure in the foreground seemingly being crushed by a globe and forlornly pointing at a falling fleur-de-lis. Standing triumphantly above her are a soldier and a sailor with the legend PARITER IN BELLA (“equally brave in war”) stretching between them. Above, Fame holds a laurel wreath in one hand and blows on a trumpet, announcing the British victory to the world. 1966.9.1.rev.noscale

The reverse shows the events of July 25, when Boscawen’s sailors burned the Prudent and stole the Bienfaisant in a daring raid. This well-engraved scene shows the ships of the Royal Navy preparing to enter the harbor in the background while a British battery shells the fortified town in the foreground. One of the remarkable details is the dotted line of a cannon shot that tracks across the face of the medal from the lower left corner to the ball just bellow the V in the date (click to enlarge). As the plethora of Louisbourg medals held by the ANS suggests, it marked a significant turning point in the Seven Years’ War.

British engineers  systemically destroyed Louisbourg’s fortifications after the battle, but a garrison was maintained at the site until 1768. history2The present-day town of Louisbourg is located on the north side of the harbor, some distance away from the original fortress to its southwest. The historical town and fortress was the subject of a fascinating government-sponsored research and reconstruction project in the 1960s and 1970s. The site today stands as a wonderful example of effective cultural and heritage work, and it is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Those wishing to learn more about the history of Louisbourg and the larger conflict in which it played such a pivotal role are in luck! Christopher Moore’s masterful Louisbourg Portraits (1982) follows the varied experiences of an accused thief, a young bride, and a Swiss mercenary, among others, to give readers a vivid impression of what life was like in the eighteenth-century French outpost. Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War (2000) focuses on the participation and perspective of British North American colonists in the conflict and highlights how the legacy of the war led to the Revolution. It is quite simply one of the best history books published in recent years.

Matthew Wittmann

Medallic Art of the ANS

Medallic Art of the ANS

The American Numismatic Society is proud to now offer a new and much anticipated publication for sale, Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society, 1865-2014, by Scott H. Miller. This is the second volume in our Studies in Medallic Art series, and it looks at the history of medals issued by and for the ANS. The hardcover book features full-color photography and comprehensive histories of 60 medals, and includes discussions of additional  medals that have been both rightly or wrongly attributed to the ANS.

Treaty of Versailles medal in bronze (ANS 1985.81.7)
Treaty of Versailles medal (1919) in bronze (ANS 1985.81.7)

The entries are supplemented with artist sketches, archival photos, and contemporary sources that bring the stories behind these medals to life. Four appendixes note the recipients of many of the medals, and provide a list of dies, hubs, galvanos, and casts of the medals in the ANS’s own collection.

Commenting on the new book, Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications, said “The ANS has been a leader in the publication of art medals in the U.S. for the past 150 years. The issuance of medals has been at the forefront of out mission since its inception, and they are as important as coinage in terms of history and beauty. Working with Scott Miller to produce the book was a rewarding experience, and we are all very happy that it is now available to the public.”

Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society, 1865-2014, is available for purchase on the ANS website or by calling Catherine DiTuri at 212-571-4470, ext. 117. List price is $100; ANS member may purchase it for $70.

Charles Lindbergh's Congressional Gold Medal

Charles_Lindbergh_and_the_Spirit_of_Saint_Louis_(Crisco_restoration,_with_wings)This week in 1925, Charles Lindbergh completed the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic in his custom-built plane the Spirit of St. Louis. He took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island and landed at the Le Bourget airfield near Paris 33.5 hours later, having flown over 3600 miles.  A crowd of 150,000 spectators greeted his arrival, and the feat brought Lindbergh fame and fortune, if not lasting happiness. In recognition of his bold endeavor, a joint resolution of Congress (45 Stat. 490) providing $1500 for a commemorative medal was passed and signed by President Calvin Coolidge on May 12, 1928.

Collectors Society

The commission was awarded to sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966), who was a particularly good and prolific medallic artist. The photograph to the right shows her at work in the studio she shared with her husband, sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876-1953). [Note that she is working on this medal for the monthly magazine Woman’s Home Companion.] After some back and forth with Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon over the design, it was finally approved in April 1930. This was not the last battle between the two as a few years later Mellon infamously overlooked her design for the US quarter in favor of John Flanagan’s oft-derided bust of Washington that still graces the coin today. The United States Mint cast one gold medal and many more bronze duplicates, which were sold to the public for $1 plus 10 cents postage. The singular gold medal was awarded to Lindbergh by President Hebert Hoover in a simple ceremony held at the White House on August 15, 1930.

New York Times
New York Times

Lindbergh was typically modest, with the New York Times going so far as to note his “embarrassment” at the pomp of the occasion. The medal itself is a fine example of Laura Gardin Fraser’s skill, as you can see in this bronze copy, which is one of six held by the ANS.

ANS, 1984.97.78
ANS, 1984.97.78


The reverse appears to have been inspired by one of Lindbergh’s nicknames, “The Lone Eagle.” The Congressional Gold Medal is but one of dozens of numismatic tributes to Charles Lindbergh’s achievement, and we will take a look at another one around this time next year.

For more on Laura Hardin Fraser’s numismatic career, see the James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers at Syracuse University.

Matthew Wittmann

The Pulitzer Medal

The Pulitzer Prize(s) have been awarded annually since 1917 for excellence in journalism, arts, and letters. They are the legacy of the Hungarian-born American newspaper publisher Joseph Pulizter (1847-1911), and the 2015 winners were announced yesterday for what are now twenty-one separate categories. Although the Pulitzer medal has come to symbolize the program, the only winner that actually receives a medal is the organization that receives the award for “disinterested and meritorious” Public Service, which this year went to Charleston’s The Post and Courier newspaper. The other awardees receive a certificate and ten-thousand dollars, which must be some consolation.

The medal was designed by the noted American sculptors Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) and Augustus Lukeman (1872-1935), who were both better-known for their monumental work. As the awards were being organized in line with Pulitzer’s will, Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler commissioned French to make a medal with an image of the most celebrated newsman in American history, Benjamin Franklin.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The model for the obverse is presumed to be a marble bust by the French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Daniel Chester French was a trustee. The reverse was originally intended to simply be text, but as they were modeling it French and Lukeman thought that too plain and added an image of a man working an early printing press. Although this touch was welcomed, the design went through several revisions before an  image of a bare-chested printer straining at the press was chosen. DCF-AL-monogramsThe artists’ respective monograms were engraved on the base of the right leg of the press. The slow design process meant that the first medals were not struck by the Medallic Art Co. of New York until 1918. The New York Times, which had won the initial Public Service award in 1917, thus received their medal late. Despite its lustrous appearance, the medal was not solid gold but silver plated with gold.

ANS, 1940.100.2142
ANS, 1940.100.2142

Done in the reigning Beaux-Arts style, it is a very well-executed design and fitting for a journalism award. The American Numismatic Society’s medal is obviously an un-awarded example. There are blank spaces where the name of the winning organization would be inscribed in the exergue on the obverse and for the date above the printing bed on the reverse. The legend HONORIS CAUSA simply means “for the sake of the honor,” while the descriptive text on the back is the language from the citation. The Joseph Pulitzer medal is a truly wonderful example of American medallic art, and one undoubtedly appropriate for what has become the most prestigious honor in journalism.

For more on this golden era of medal-making in the United States, see Barbara Baxter’s ANS catalogue The Beaux-Arts Medal in America (1989).

Matthew Wittmann

Postscript: I would remiss not to acknowledge Elizabeth Fenn, who teaches at my alma mater and won the 2015 award for History. Her book Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People is a fascinating study of the American Indians who inhabited the plains along the Upper Missouri River. It is a great read that deserves a hearty congratulations!

Chinese Junk Keying Medals

The Chinese Junk Keying Hand-colored Lithograph N. Currier, 1847 MCNY
The Chinese Junk “Keying” (N. Currier, 1847)
Hand-colored Lithograph | MCNY

The Keying was a three-masted Chinese trading junk that sailed from Hong Kong in December 1847 with a mixed crew of Chinese and British sailors. The vessel had been purchased surreptitiously by a conglomerate of enterprising English businessmen. It was placed under the command of Captain Alfred Kellett with the intention of carrying curiosities and merchandise to England and thereafter serving as a kind of floating museum. The avaricious Kellett neglected to tell the Chinese crew members that they were embarking on such an extended journey, and by the time the Keying rounded the Cape of Good Hope, they were more or less mutinous. After some bad weather and with supplies running short, the vessel was forced to make an unscheduled stopover in New York City. When the Keying sailed into the harbor on July 9, 1847, it created a sensation. Since at least the late eighteenth-century, Americans had exhibited a fascination with China that only increased as trade relations expanded in the nineteenth century. Tea was of course the most coveted commodity, but Chinese porcelain, silk, and other luxury goods were also much sought after. The Keying brought the “romance of China”  to New York City, and the public lined up to pay fifty cents to tour the vessel and peruse its displays.

"The Bay and Harbor of New York" by Samuel Waugh | MCNY
“The Bay and Harbor of New York” by Samuel Waugh | MCNY

This watercolor by Samuel Waugh shows the Keying anchored just offshore from Castle Garden, where it remained for several months in 1847. Kellett was coining money, but the Chinese crew used the opportunity to take him to court for his duplicity and general meanness. Although they received a favorable ruling and many of the crew elected to head back to China, Kellett skipped town to escape his obligations, making first for Boston and then crossing the Atlantic the following spring.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.37.14 PM
Google Books

In late March 1848, the Keying arrived in London to great fanfare, and several different medals were struck to commemorate its appearance and to sell to the public as souvenirs. If anything, the Chinese junk created an even bigger sensation in England, where it was visited by the Queen, Charles Dickens, and other luminaries. The Keying remained a popular attraction for several years, but later fell into disrepair and it was eventually dismantled. For a description of the vessel, the voyage, and the objects it contained, click on the image at left to page through the promotional pamphlet that Kettell published in London.  The slideshow below reproduces some of the plates from the same:

Of course, the reason we are noting it here is that its story lives on in medallic form. And to that end, the American Numismatic Society holds five Keying medals or medallions. Laurence Brown’s British Historical Medals (1987) lists eleven different types, but a casual look through auction catalogs at the ANS suggests there are even a few more than that about. Broadly speaking, there is not much variation in their design, with the obverses generally featuring an image of the Keying at sea, the only exception being a medal that has a bust of “MANDERIN [sic] HESING.” The reverses simply consist of as much descriptive text as size allowed. Four of the medals held by the ANS and the balance of the series were produced in Birmingham. They were engraved by either Thomas Halliday or his former apprentice Joseph Moore, who had formed his own firm as Allen & Moore. The large size white metal type struck by Halliday is probably the most technically accomplished of the series.

ANS, 1932.999.738
ANS, 1932.999.738


The ANS has another of this same type in bronze. The other large-sized medal in the collection is one by Allen & Moore with a slightly different view of the Keying and a more precise descriptive legend about the vessel itself on the reverse. The smaller (27mm) Allen & Moore medal is a reduced version of the former with an abbreviated legend on the reverse. The smallest of our Keying medals (24mm) is a bronze type of unknown origin (BHM 2243):

ANS, 1918.999.238
ANS, 1918.999.238

As far as I know, there were no similar numismatic souvenirs struck on this side of the Atlantic. For more about the Keying‘s compelling history, see Stephen Davies’ new book East Sails West: The Voyage of the Keying 1846-1855 (2014). There is a surfeit of excellent scholarship on the history of relations between the United States and China. John Haddad’s The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture: 1776-1876 (2008) is notable for being freely available online and for devoting a chapter to the Keying episode. For an engaging and deeply researched look at the history of Chinese people in New York City, see John Kuo Wei Tchen’s New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882 (2001). I should also note that there is presently an exhibition exploring this very subject at the New-York Historical Society. Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion closes April 19 so make a plan to see it soon if you haven’t already.

Matthew Wittmann

Postscript: One of the many fascinating objects on display at the NYHS is this beautiful decorative fan on loan from the Atwater Kent Collection. It commemorates the 1784-1785 voyage by the Empress of China from Philadelphia to Canton that inaugurated the Old China Trade.



Vincent van Gogh Centenary Medal

Self-Portrait (1887) Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on this date in 1853 near Breda in the southern part of the Netherlands. It was not until his late twenties that he began to paint in earnest. Before taking his own life at the age of thirty-seven, Van Gogh produced a huge volume of drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings. Many of the latter have of course come to be regarded as iconic works of modern art, even though his work was largely overlooked during his lifetime. The American Numismatic Society holds a fine medal commemorating the centenary of his birth by the Dutch artist J. B. Gutterswijk (1924-1987).

ANS, 1957.24.4
ANS, 1957.24.4

The portrait of Van Gogh on the obverse I think captures something of his troubled brilliance, and seems to be based on the famed self-portrait now at the Art Institute of Chicago. The reverse features a field of wheat, alluding to the many compostions of his in which they featured, along with two quotations.

ANS, 1957.24.4
ANS, 1957.24.4

The prominent legend, LONG ARS VITA BREVIS, is a Latin version of the first lines of Hippocrates Aphorisms, which is usually translated as “Art is long, life is short.” The smaller inscription below the field reads | mon travail à moi, j’y risque ma vie | “my very own work, I’m risking my life for it.” This is a quote from a letter that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in late July 1890 just days before his untimely death. For a fascinating look at Van Gogh’s life and art, check out the wealth of wonderful materials made available via the website of the Van Gogh Museum here.

Matthew Wittmann