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The E-Sylum:  Volume 3, Number 15, April 9, 2000, Article 5

LEFT VS RIGHT 

   On the subject of Presidential portraits on U.S. coins, NBS 
   Vice President  Tom Sheehan correctly notes: "You mention 
   in the E-Sylum that Lincoln was the first president to show up 
   on a U. S. coin.  You need to correct that to a "regular issue" 
   U.S. Coin.  Don't we show Washington on the Lafayette Dollar 
   of 1900?" 

   Former NBS Board member Pete Smith writes: "I have a little 
   information to expand your explanation of the direction Lincoln 
   is facing on the one-cent coin. 

   Sculptor Victor D. Brenner prepared a plaque with the image of 
   Lincoln facing right.  President Theodore Roosevelt met Brenner, 
   was impressed with Brenner's portrayal of Lincoln, and used his 
   influence to get Brenner the commission to design the Lincoln cent. 

   If this was an Academy Award nomination, it would be for best 
   coin design based on an earlier work in another medium. We may 
   never know why Brenner chose to have Lincoln facing right on his 
   plaque, but the coin faces right as an adaptation of the earlier 
   design. 

   As I recall, Laura Gardin Fraser's design for the Washington 
   Quarter has the president facing right while Flanagan had a 
   left-facing president that looks more like Washington on the 
   "Washington Before Boston" medal that was based on the bust 
   by Houdin.  A recent article in The Numismatist comments also 
   on the Franklin Half as an adaptation from a Houdin bust. The 
   Lincoln Cent is not the only coin design influenced by earlier 
   designs." 

   David Lange adds some more details: "The answer to why Lincoln 
   faces right on the cent is quite simple. V. D. Brenner's bust is a 
   very close copy of Anthony Berger's 1864 profile photograph of 
   Lincoln. This photo was rediscovered in 1906 and provided the 
   inspiration for Brenner's bas relief plaque of 1907. This was then 
   adapted in tondo for both the cent and a series of medals that 
   provided the artist with a good income for some years." 

   If Ken Lowe were here, he'd be making some crack about The 
   Lone Ranger, but yours truly was moved to consult a dictionary. 
   The online Merriam-Webster dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/) 
   lists this definition for tondo:   "Etymology: Italian, from tondo 
   round, short for rotondo, from Latin rotundus Date: 1890 
        1 : a circular painting 
        2 : a sculptured medallion " 

   Michael Schmidt also noted the medallic source for the right- 
   facing Lincoln portrait.  He went on to note that "on the 
   Kennedy Half the mint was very rushed to create the design. 
   In order to speed things up the portrait was taken from his 
   inaugural medal on which he faced left.  This could be done 
   from the existing hub without having to re-sculpt the bust." 

   Dick Johnson discusses another dimension of portrait direction: 
   "There are some unwritten laws about the direction of a 
   portrait on a coin or medal and the symbology this implies. A 
   portrait of a person facing left is looking to past 
   accomplishments. A portrait shown facing right is looking to 
   the future.  I haven't checked this but I bet all portrait medals 
   for the American Historical Association face left, and the 
   Futurists of America all face right. 

   Also in a group picture -- or the layout in an exhibit -- those 
   on the left should face right and those on the right should face 
   left.  The attempt is to draw the viewer's attention inward to 
   the other items.  You unconsciously look where the person(s) 
   portrayed look (you follow the direction of their eyes, like if 
   one person looks skyward, others will, too).   Finally, if you 
   want the reader (or viewer) to turn the page place a portrait 
   facing right in the lower right corner." 

   Like my Mom always says, "You learn something new 
   every day."   E-Sylum subscribers are a living numismatic 
   encyclopedia.  Thanks to everyone for your interesting 
   responses. 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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