In previous issues we discussed a clay model by James Earle Fraser that was to be displayed in Woodbridge, NJ. The model was said to be a prototype for the U.S. buffalo nickel. E-Sylum readers had a lot to say about Fraser's models. I was curious to see the piece in question and luckily, this week a newspaper published an article about the exhibit which includes an image of the model.The original clay mold used to mint the first 1913 Indian Head Buffalo nickel designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser has found its way back home after approximately 80 years.
Yoi! - This is what people think is a Fraser original for the Buffalo nickel?? Here are some excerpts from the article. -Editor
The thick, clay nickel made of terra cotta was unveiled in front of township officials and members of the Historical Association of Woodbridge Township and the township Historical Preservation Commission earlier this month.
The owner of the historic nickel, Gordon Henderson, let the township borrow the piece to allow township residents and visitors to observe a piece of history.
"It's still my piece," Gordon Henderson reminded township officials at the unveiling.
Henderson, a third-generation stained-glass artist, said he could have sold the piece along the way, but had realized the importance of the terra cotta industry in Woodbridge.
Henderson, who will turn 90 years old in January, said he remembers seeing the original 1913 Indian Head Buffalo nickel, which he has held onto all these years, when he was a young boy.
"It was always around the house on the shelves," said Henderson, who grew up in Rutherford. "My father had acquired it around 1929 and I have kept it in storage all these years."
Henderson said he became a collector like his father.
"I displayed my work and the coin at the [Jane Voorhees] Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick," he said.
Click on the image to see a larger version. Now that I can see the piece in question, it sure doesn't look like a coin study to me. I asked Roger Burdette, author of Renaissance of American Coinage, and he submitted the following thoughts. -EditorAlthough it is not unusual for local color articles to include a bit of exaggeration in promoting area history and events, the Sentinel article seems to have leapt off a precipice. The article says nothing about the terra cotta piece being signed by Buffalo nickel designer James E. Fraser, nor does it indicate any link between the piece and the U.S. Mint. Rather, it leaps to a conclusion with no factual basis.
The oblique angle photo accompanying the article shows a left-facing Indian portrait in exaggerated relief, compared to the nickel’s right-facing, low relief portrait. Additionally, the photo shows the manufacturer’s name “S.I. Terra Cotta L. Co. Woodbridge” along the lower bevel of the piece. The portrait is crudely modeled and certainly not intended for close examination, let alone use on a coin.
Left: terracotta decorative medallion;
Right: model for the Buffalo nickel by James Fraser.
There is no connection between the crude clay medallion and the Buffalo nickel.
A non-numismatic writer can be excused minor liberties, however it is amazing that no Woodbridge-area coin collectors were consulted who could have helped avoid an embarrassing situation for the town.
What the Sentinel article claims is the “…original clay mold used to mint the first 1913 Indian Head Buffalo nickel” is actually a terra cotta ornamental medallion. These were made for use as decoration on the façade of buildings, particularly banks and financial companies.
There are several similar ornamental medallions on the U.S. Mint headquarters building in Washington, DC. They are, of course, much better done and closely resemble several real coins.
To read the complete article, see: Town celebrates antique coin mold (http://ws.gmnews.com/news/2008/1223/front_page/004.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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