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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 49, December 2, 2007, Article 9

THE BENEZIT INTERNATIONAL DIRECTORY OF WORLD ARTISTS

Dick Johnson writes: "Two boxes of books arrived the day
before Thanksgiving. Eagerly I opened the packages to
retrieve the books inside. I had ordered a complete set of
Benezit, the international directory of world artists. But
you might ask: What would they have to do with numismatics?

"Two friends had encouraged me to return to work on my
directory of coin and medal artists, Sam Pennington of
Maine Antique Digest and collector Donald Scarinci, fellow
medal enthusiasts all. Obtaining the Benezit had long been
on my list of desiderata for this project.

"Previously, I had to travel to look up an artist in this
work of 200,000 world artists. I had done so at the Wadsworth
Athenaeum in Hartford Connecticut, Yale University library
in New Haven, or Clark Art Institute in Williamstown,
Massachusetts (my favorite art library). I had even tapped
into the set at ANS in Manhattan. Benezit had been compiled
and published in Paris in eight editions from 1911 through
1999. ANS had a dusty brown binding set of an early, third
edition. Benezit was entirely in French, but I could
extract some desired details without knowledge of the
French language.

"I knew where to buy a set at discount price of $800.
But when I went to order it I found the price was now $1500.
But that is good! It is now available entirely in English!
It had been translated by an army of worker ants who had
laboriously converted all 20,608 pages into English. I could
order from the publisher's American distributor, Omnigraphics
in Detroit, with a telephone call and a credit card.

"I did take time out for Thanksgiving dinner with family,
but ever since placing that set on my work shelves I have
been pouring over the tiny print in Benezit's 1462-page
volumes. I am checking my 3,356 artists -- diesinkers, engravers,
medallists and sculptors of known American coins and medals --
with those listed in Benezit. I am seeking verification of
several items: correct name, dates and places of birth and
death (if known), and now with English text, biographical
details that have to do with the creation of numismatic items.

"Foreign artists who did coins or medals of American interest
-- like John F. Kennedy or Apollo 11 space medals -- are of
particular interest to search for in Benezit. For me, this
is a labor of nine parts discovery and one part drudgery.

"It is somewhat serendipitous, however, because not all my
artists are listed in Benezit. I would sometimes go for 70
pages without a hit. And several pages later have three
desired artists on two pages. Thus the discovery element;
I do emit a silent 'hooray!' every time I find a name that
matches one in my databank.

"Benezit's criteria for inclusion, like every directory, is
uneven. A famous American sculptor, like a Frank Eliscu,
past president of National Sculpture Society, creator of
America's first two-part medal and sculptor of the Heisman
Trophy, is not listed. Yet someone who did a centennial medal
for a small New England town is.

"Surprisingly, not all mint engravers -- even chief engravers
at France's own Monnaie de Paris -- are not listed. Neither
are commercial artists, factory artists at medal plants, even
art educators. The editors at Benezit over the years tend to
favor highly productive artists, those who create many works
of art. Auction sales are an important factor, as well as
their work in museums, and artists' publicity. If an artist
has books and articles written about him, that seems to be
taken into consideration by the editors as well.

"Perhaps the unspoken criteria:  Is there a need for anyone
to reference this artist or his work?

"Anyway, ten days into this checking of one set of artists
against another I have finished four volumes. I am up to the
initial E.  It might take me a month. But I am doing this
so you won't have to. When it is published you can look up
any artist in my 'American Forrer' and find the details
on the artist of interest to you."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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