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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 6, February 5, 2006, Article 16

SELMA BURKE DID NOT CREATE ROOSEVELT DIME

[Featured Web Sites are often a last-minute choice, sometimes
inspired by the subject of one of the week's articles.  The
Roosevelt Dime became the subject last week.  I figured the
Selma Burke reference would generate some discussion, since
it has been a topic of a number of articles in the Numismatic
press.  Many thanks to Dick Johnson for his review of the
subject. -Editor]

Dick writes: "Last week's featured E-Sylum website recycled
the Selma Burke controversy that she - not John R. Sinnock-
designed the Roosevelt Dime portrait. It is time to put this
false claim to rest once and for all.

I have examined enlarged photographs of both FDR portraits.
Both are round, with similar view of the president, both face
the same way and both are in modulated bas-relief. That is
the extent of the similarity. If you examine minor points of
the placement of features, the characteristics of the ear and
hair plus the eyebrows you will learn, as I have, that Sinnock's
design is 100 percent original, that he did the dime model
entirely without any influence of Selma Burke's bas-relief
model.

I must admit I did not do an even more conclusive test -
an overlay of photographic negatives both to the same scale.
That would improve the odds of proving Sinnock's original
creation I'm sure.

Burke was a talented sculptor, educator and her portrait of
the 32nd president is exquisite. But it is NOT the portrait
which was placed on the Roosevelt dime. Burke was a New Year's
baby, born either December 31st or January 1st, she was unsure
of the year (1900 or 1907, sic!). Her study of sculpture had
brought her commissions executed prior to World War II. She
had lectured widely on African art.

Following the war, when the Roosevelt dime first appeared in
1946, Burke began making claims the work was hers. Black
publications ran this as gospel. Art publications were more
skeptical. But numismatic publications continued to flame the
controversy. Breen mentions Burke in his section on the Roosevelt
Dime in his Complete Encyclopedia (p 329-30). Numismatic author,
and KP editor in Iola, Bob Van Ryzin ran a factual account in
Numismatic News, November 30, 1993, two years before Burke's
death in 1995.

The worst account, perhaps, was the book "Notable Black American
Women" by Jesse Carney Smith (published in 1992 by the reference
book house, Gale Research) which gave Burke the entire credit
and did not even mention Sinnock.

Until we read the final word in the numismatic masterwork on
Sinnock's coin and medal creations, by N. Neil Harris (former
editor of The Numismatist), we should stop being politically
correct and nice-nice and hang up this false claim. I couldn't
resist, however, taking a peek at Neil's manuscript to read
that Gilroy Roberts assisted Sinnock in the modeling of this
coin design. The controversy, thus, is not two white men versus
one black woman, it's facts versus false claim."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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