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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 49, December 2, 2007, Article 6

REVIEW: HENRY VOIGT AND OTHERS INVOLVED WITH AMERICA’S EARLY COINAGE

[Bill Eckberg published this review of Karl Moulton's new
book in the November 2007 issue of Penny-Wise, the official
publication of Early American Coppers, Inc. (page 231).
With permission we're reprinting it here in its entirety
with some minor corrections by the author.  -Editor]

Review: 'Henry Voigt and Others Involved With America’s
Early Coinage' by Karl Moulton.

This book, published in 2007 by the Cardinal Collection
Educational Foundation, Sunnyvale, CA, is not, strictly
speaking, about early American copper coins, but rather
addresses general issues related to the people involved
in the establishment of the Mint and the striking of the
earliest United States coins. To an extent, the book replows
ground that has been earlier tilled by Frank H. Stewart in
his book The First United States Mint, Its People and Its
Operations (privately published in 1924 after Stewart
purchased the first Mint building and had it demolished),
and Don Taxay in The U.S. Mint and Coinage, an illustrated
History from 1776 to the Present (Arco Publishing, New York,
1966). Moulton does refer to both authors and repeats some
of Taxay’s discussion of the politics of the early Mint.
He dedicates the book the Stewart, though he is highly
critical of Taxay and his work.

Moulton tells us in his Introduction that his book is really
about people, and most of it is. Henry Voigt, the first Chief
Coiner of the United States Mint, is the central character.
His story ties much of the book together, and the information
about his life and work was frequently new to me and interesting.
Among many other nuggets, Moulton reveals that Voigt had a
business relationship with David Rittenhouse, the first Director
of the Mint, that dated at least to 1771, when Voigt helped
Rittenhouse construct a mechanical model of the solar system.
Voigt subsequently was involved in the development and promotion
of early steamboats, though this venture was ultimately not
profitable.

He applied for a job at the Mint in 1792, claiming to be “well
acquainted with all the different parts for Coining of Money
– that he in his Younger days, for several Years, worked in
the Mint of Saxe Gotha in Germany.” He was hired as Chief Coiner,
a position he held until his death in 1814, having survived
charges made by a former employee in 1803 that he had
misappropriated Mint equipment for personal purposes. This
is just a small taste of what is in the book; the reader
will learn a lot about Voigt.

Indeed, the book’s greatest strength is the personal and
professional information it gives about Voigt, who was in
charge of the striking of all of the earliest coppers that
we love so much, and all that he did to develop and support
the fledgling Mint. He made equipment, procured copper for
minting and was right there, supervising the striking of
the Chain, Wreath, Liberty Cap, Draped Bust and many of
the Classic Head coppers (and the contemporaneous gold and
silver coins, of course). The book puts something of a
“face” on Voigt, to the extent that this can be done for
a person of whom there are no known portraits. The book
also does the same for Joseph Wright, the first Chief
Engraver of the Mint, even illustrating a portrait Wright
painted of himself and his family during the year of his
employment at the Mint.

Another feature that should be of great interest to EACers
consists of 26 facsimile pages from Voigt’s daily ledger.
This book is in the National Archives and the pages reproduced
show who did what in the coining room from April 2, 1793
until the Mint closed that September for the yellow fever
epidemic. This is the time during which all of the Wreath
and 1793 Liberty Cap and half cents were coined. Do you want
to know who actually coined the 1793 large and half cents?
Much of it’s in there, except for the Chains, which is an
unfortunate omission from the perspective of a large cent
collector.

Moulton does err a bit in claiming that this is “never
before published information,” as that is only partly true.
The document was found in the archives a number of years ago
by Craig Sholley, who gave a copy of it to this reviewer at
EAC in 2000. I, in turn, published an article in P-W that
included a facsimile of the page identifying those who struck
the first half cents and a report on everything related to
half cent production during that year. Moulton can probably
be forgiven for this error, since he is not a member of EAC;
he is a dealer in numismatic literature. Sholley’s planned
article on the Chain, Wreath and Liberty Cap cents has not
materialized. In any case, Moulton’s book provides much
more from Voigt’s ledger than has been previously shown.

There are some shortcomings to the book that should be
mentioned. The second half of it meanders away from Voigt
and Wright to a lengthy chapter on the history of the 1796
quarters (which was interesting but which would have been
much stronger had there been photos of the coins and die
damage that he discusses), another on the 1804 dollars which
seems to be there only as a means to criticize Taxay, and
TWO chapters on the 1815 and 1825 quarters that are
counterstamped with “E” and “L”. Moulton speculates that
they were counterstamped at the Mint; the “E” standing for
“Extra” and the “L” for “Louisiana.” While that may be true,
he provides only the most circumstantial evidence for his
notion, and he does not address why the Mint would have
used two different counterstamps for the same purpose at
the same time. In my opinion, this issue remains very much
unresolved.

This section of the book is highly speculative and therefore
weak, and this weakness points up a more significant problem
with many parts of the book. Moulton excoriates Breen and
Taxay for stating unsubstantiated conclusions as facts (and,
unnecessarily, for aspects of their personal lives). His
Introduction quotes R.H. Williamson from the April 1951
issue of The Numismatist as follows: “[g]reat care should
be exercised in separating the facts from the probabilities,
and the probabilities from the conjectures. In any case
verbatim quotations from the source material are desirable,
either in the text or in an appendix...” This is excellent
advice, but Moulton does not take it. His book has no
bibliography and no footnotes (there are a small number
of citations within the text), and none of the sources of
the photos and illustrations are given, though they are
not original to this work. This is a major omission and
the ad hominem personal attacks should have been omitted.

Among many points that are likely to generate controversy,
he claims Bob Birch as the designer of the Chain cents based
on a supposed similarity to the Birch cents of 1792, a
similarity that is quite superficial. Worse, he attributes
ALL of the following to Joseph Wright: the Libertas Americana
medal, 1792 Disme, Wreath cent, 1793 half cent and 1794 dollar,
despite the fact that Wright was not employed by the Paris
Mint that made the Libertas medals, nor was he employed by
the United States Mint until after the Wreath cents were made
he was paid piece rate for producing the “quarter” pattern
in 1792), and he died before the end of September in 1793.

These remarkable attributions come about as the result of
the discovery of a 1777 charcoal portrait in the British
Museum of Wright’s mother, Patience, holding a Phrygian cap
on a pole and a 1793 portrait Wright painted of himself,
his wife, Sarah and their children. Moulton claims Sarah
Wright as the model for all of these coins based on the
portrait. Such evidence is tenuous at best, and this writer
has seen many paintings of fashionable western European
ladies of that period, painted by many artists, who look
equally like the images on the coins. Ms. Liberty, as seen
on the early U.S. coins, is an archetype, not intended to
be a real person.

Most importantly, this writer sees no stylistic similarity
of any of the other designs to that of Wright’s Liberty Cap
and 1792 “quarter” pattern that would support Moulton’s
conclusion. Authoritative researchers have attributed the
design of the Libertas Americana medal to its engraver,
Augustin Dupré and the French artist, Esprit-Antoine Gibelin.
Additionally, the 1792 Lyon Convention medal uses the same
obverse motif as the Libertas Americana; it seems highly
unlikely that the French would have used an American-designed
motif to commemorate their own liberty, whereas the Americans
routinely used the French to design their medals; indeed
all of the Revolutionary War medals made at the Paris Mint
are believed to have been designed and executed by Paris
Mint professionals.

No documentation has ever been reported to demonstrate who
designed and engraved the first coins from the Philadelphia
Mint, so the identities of the designers and engravers has
been problematic and controversial for many years, but this
does not justify putting further unsupported guesswork
forward under the guise of information. This section of
the book cries out for the missing supporting documentation.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, but
Moulton does not provide it.

I also have a complaint about the way the book is bound.
The binding is unlike that of any other hard cover book I
have ever read. It does not allow the book to lie flat,
and it requires physical effort at all times to keep the
book open to the page one is reading. I found this very
annoying and a bit distracting.

Despite these criticisms, I think this is a book that most
EACers would enjoy reading and from which they would learn
something worthwhile. Any of us should find Voigt’s and
Wright’s stories interesting. The maps of Philadelphia in
the 1790s showing where people lived and worked are also
interesting and useful. To this resident of the Washington
DC area, it is hard to imagine how small a footprint our
government had when it was in Philadelphia.

You should find something rewarding in reading the facsimiles
of Voigt’s and Mint Treasurer Tristram Dalton’s account books;
much of the latter was previously reported in Stewart, but
not in facsimile form. You might, however, want to use your
coin loupe to read these, as they are reproduced in rather
small format. Finally, read this book carefully, just like
you would read any other that purports to report facts, and
make up your own mind as to whether Moulton has made the case
for some of his claims.

In his Forward to the book, Dave Bowers talks about the book
having “gems of information” that gave him pleasure. That is
a good description of much of what is there. When it sticks
to the facts, Henry Voigt and Others Involved With America’s
Early Coinage is a worthwhile addition to the library of
anyone interested in early American coins. It takes its place
on my bookshelf next to Stewart’s and Taxay’s books.

To access the Early American Coppers web site, see:
Early American Coppers

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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