The Numismatic Bibliomania Society Logo



The E-Sylum: Volume 3, Number 15, April 9, 2000, Article 5


On the subject of Presidential portraits on U.S. coins, NBS Vice President Tom Sheehan correctly notes:

"You mention in the E-Sylum that Lincoln was the first president to show up on a U. S. coin. You need to correct that to a "regular issue" U.S. Coin. Don't we show Washington on the Lafayette Dollar of 1900?"

Former NBS Board member Pete Smith writes:

"I have a little information to expand your explanation of the direction Lincoln is facing on the one-cent coin.

Sculptor Victor D. Brenner prepared a plaque with the image of Lincoln facing right. President Theodore Roosevelt met Brenner, was impressed with Brenner's portrayal of Lincoln, and used his influence to get Brenner the commission to design the Lincoln cent.

If this was an Academy Award nomination, it would be for best coin design based on an earlier work in another medium. We may never know why Brenner chose to have Lincoln facing right on his plaque, but the coin faces right as an adaptation of the earlier design.

As I recall, Laura Gardin Fraser's design for the Washington Quarter has the president facing right while Flanagan had a left-facing president that looks more like Washington on the "Washington Before Boston" medal that was based on the bust by Houdin. A recent article in The Numismatist comments also on the Franklin Half as an adaptation from a Houdin bust. The Lincoln Cent is not the only coin design influenced by earlier designs."

David Lange adds some more details:

"The answer to why Lincoln faces right on the cent is quite simple. V. D. Brenner's bust is a very close copy of Anthony Berger's 1864 profile photograph of Lincoln. This photo was rediscovered in 1906 and provided the inspiration for Brenner's bas relief plaque of 1907. This was then adapted in tondo for both the cent and a series of medals that provided the artist with a good income for some years."

If Ken Lowe were here, he'd be making some crack about The Lone Ranger, but yours truly was moved to consult a dictionary. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary ( lists this definition for tondo: "Etymology: Italian, from tondo round, short for rotondo, from Latin rotundus Date: 1890 1 : a circular painting 2 : a sculptured medallion "

Michael Schmidt also noted the medallic source for the right- facing Lincoln portrait. He went on to note that

"on the Kennedy Half the mint was very rushed to create the design. In order to speed things up the portrait was taken from his inaugural medal on which he faced left. This could be done from the existing hub without having to re-sculpt the bust."

Dick Johnson discusses another dimension of portrait direction:

"There are some unwritten laws about the direction of a portrait on a coin or medal and the symbology this implies. A portrait of a person facing left is looking to past accomplishments. A portrait shown facing right is looking to the future. I haven't checked this but I bet all portrait medals for the American Historical Association face left, and the Futurists of America all face right.

Also in a group picture -- or the layout in an exhibit -- those on the left should face right and those on the right should face left. The attempt is to draw the viewer's attention inward to the other items. You unconsciously look where the person(s) portrayed look (you follow the direction of their eyes, like if one person looks skyward, others will, too). Finally, if you want the reader (or viewer) to turn the page place a portrait facing right in the lower right corner."

Like my Mom always says, "You learn something new every day." E-Sylum subscribers are a living numismatic encyclopedia. Thanks to everyone for your interesting responses.

Wayne Homren, Editor

Google NBS ( Web

Content presented in The E-Sylum is not necessarily researched or independently fact-checked, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

This is a static archive page documenting the originally published content. Links were active at the time of publication but may no longer work. Check subsequent issues for corrections and commentary.

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature.   For more information please see our web site at There is a membership application available on the web site.  To join, print the application and return it with your check to the address printed on the application.  Visit the Membership page. Those wishing to become new E-Sylum subscribers (or wishing to Unsubscribe) can go to the following web page link.

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: E-Sylum Editor



Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS Webmaster
Privacy Policy