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The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 35, August 21, 2011, Article 2

IRWIN STOFF'S BRENNER COLLECTION

Dick Johnson submitted these thoughts inspired by last week's mention of the Stoff collection of works by Victor David Brenner. Thanks! -Editor

Brenner's Beardless Lincoln Bust David Hirt mentions the catalog of Irwin Stoff's Brenner collection in last week's E-Sylum. Stoff's Brenner collection was a major part in a celebration tribute to Victor David Brenner. As the date of the centennial of the famed engraver's birth -- June 12, 1871 -- approached, Stoff and I wondered what we could do to celebrate the event. We both collected Brenner medals so we merged our kindred interests and came up with the concept of a massive Brenner medal exhibition. Little did we realize the acceptance of that idea.

First I suggested to my boss Bill Louth to issue a Brenner Centennial Medal. "Good idea," he said, "propose the idea to Presidential Art Medals who can sell the medal to collectors." I came up with the idea of using the Brenner's Lincoln portrait on one side -- Medallic Art Company owned this design and had the existing model -- with a self-portrait of Brenner on the other. Brenner had modeled his self portrait in a pallet-shaped medal in 1898 under guidance of Louis Oscar Roty as one of his early modeled designs.

I presented the idea to Jim Harper of Presidential Art. He liked the idea, gave us the green light to proceed. I gave a photo of that self-portrait to Julius Lauth, art director of Medallic Art who commissioned sculptor Rolf Beck to make the model.

Next Irwin and I gather a list of what we could exhibit. His collection was extensive. I was able to add to it what he lacked. I took plaques off the wall at Medallic Art, medals out of exhibit cases, a couple medals out of the storeroom and even had a couple new pieces made from galvano molds and dies we had on hand. I wrote a catalog of the sixty most important pieces by Brenner.

Then Irwin and I had to find a secure place to exhibit it. What would be the best place we could think of in New York City? At that time the Chase Bank had their Money Museum across the street from Rockefeller Center at street level (1254 Avenue of the Americas). This would be our number one choice. We contacted Gene Hessler, curator at the time. HE like the idea as well. We were hitting home runs at every turn. He would empty an entire wall behind glass at the far end of their exhibition display.

With the dimensions of that wall, Irwin and I bought three pieces of plywood to fill the wall. Irwin had his own firm in the garment district. "Can we cover those boards with cloth," I asked him. "Leave that to me," he replied.

On the Saturday before we were to install the exhibit, I laid out the boards on the floor of Medallic Art's showroom. Irwin had acquired (wholesale, of course) an entire bolt of purple velveteen. We cut and fastened this to the boards. We laid out where the medals and plaques were to be located and put nails under these to support the medallic items. A week later we took the prepared boards to the Chase Bank. Set the cloth covered boards in position and placed the medallic items in place.

Meanwhile, I had sent a letter on Medallic Art Company stationery to Eva Adams, Director of the Mint, with my best language making an appeal that we are honoring the U.S. Mint's most famous sculptor on the centennial of his birth. It would be very secure and protected exhibition. Is there anything the Mint would care to exhibit at that time?

Eva Adams and my boss Bill Louth were on extremely good terms (Bill even named her a director of the firm when she retired from the Mint). SHE liked our idea as well. Home run again!

She agreed to send Brenner's original models from the Philadelphia Mint's vault, but also the original galvanos made from his models. These had not been on public exhibition since 1910 when the American Numismatic Society mounted their fame International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals.

But that's not all! She also sent chief engraver Frank Gasparro for opening day! And he brought his original models and galvanos of his 1959 reverse which replaced that year Brenner's original wheat reverse!

Wow! We had no idea such an exhibit of Brenner medallic art would have such an appeal! And that everyone we contacted wanted to assist and aid in the exhibition. Everyone felt the tribute to Brenner was justified.

But that's not all! Before opening day I went into Bill Louth's office and took off the shelf behind his desk a small bust of Abraham Lincoln. It was created by Brenner and bore his signature on the back. I took this to the Chase Bank and got Gene Hessler to open a circular citrine to place the Lincoln bust in the center of the exhibition area.

(There is more to the history to that Lincoln bust. In 1972 new owners of Medallic Art consigned 105 pieces of sculpture for sale at Sotheby's in New York City. I attended that sale and purchased that very Brenner Lincoln. It is on the shelf above my computer as I type this article.)

Opening Day was planned for June 12, 1971 -- the actual centennial day! -- On Sunday, June 6th we had publicity in the New York Times. Tom Haney devoted nearly his entire weekly coin column to this exhibition.

But it was Irwin Stoff's interest in Brenner, and his Brenner medal collection that was the start of all this. He ultimately consigned his Brenner collection to NASCA for sale in their December 6, 1978 auction sale (#16) with a follow-up in sale #19, May 2, 1979.

Question of the week: What do you remember of NASCA? What do the initials stand for, and what about the two principals, Douglas Ball and Herbert Melnick?

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: MORE ON BRENNER'S FOOTBALL MEDAL (coinbooks.org/esylum_v14n34a17.html)

WINNER: 2011 “BOOK OF THE YEAR”!

Congratulations to Joel Orosz and Leonard Augsburger: their Secret History of the First U.S. Mint: How Frank H. Stewart Destroyed—And Then Saved—A National Treasure won the Numismatic Literary Guild’s prestigious “Book of the Year” award. If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, visit www.WhitmanBooks.com or call 1-800-546-2995. Entertainingly written, richly detailed, and profusely illustrated in full color. Hardcover, 336 pages, $24.95.


Wayne Homren, Editor

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