The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 50, December 9, 2007, Article 11


Author Karl Moulton writes: "Thank you for presenting the
Bill Eckberg review of "Henry Voigt and Others Involved
With America's Early Coinage".

"This book was written as a story primarily to provide
new background information about the people and events
relative to the creation of America's early coinage.  It
was not written as a thesis, dissertation, or historical
novel  -  hence the lack of footnotes.  If every detail
included had to be validated, such as Rittenhouse nearly
fainting after the transit of Venus, the book would never
have been finished.  Williamson didn't say anything about
needing footnotes or a bibliography, and there are plenty
of verbatim quotes and letters used throughout the entire
book.  If one reads what is actually written - opinions,
conjectures, theories, and beliefs are properly defined
as such.

"As it is, the scope of the book covers a great deal of
previously unknown information, which is difficult to
uncover to begin with, let alone prove conclusively (ala
"smoking gun").  However, the assertions come not from
"unsupported guesswork", as was mentioned in the review,
but from extensive research into previously unrecognized
sources (contemporary newspapers, letters, etc.), which
most numismatists have never seen.  Just because no one
has ever heard of something before, doesn't mean it isn't
accurate.  To require documentation in order to be accepted
and believed, especially regarding the activities at the
first U.S. Mint, is totally unrealistic.  The surrounding
context of known situations to extrapolate from is all we
have.  Documentation simply doesn't exist in many cases,
so don't blame the author for the lack thereof.

"To correct a blatant error in the Eckberg review, Wright
is attributed only as the designer of the obverse for the
Libertas Americana medal, not the entire thing.  The others
involved are properly credited.  To be specific (and this
is not meant to be argumentative, only informative), based
on contemporary letters, the Libertas Americana medal was
not designed by Augustin Dupre, even though his name is
found on Liberty's neck as well as on the reverse, which
he did not design either.

"Yes, Dupre did a wonderful job of engraving the dies, of
that there is no doubt.  However, in reviewing the letter
exchanges with Franklin (all are online at,
we find there is no direct communication whatsoever between
Franklin and Dupre regarding the design, engraving,
manufacturing, or distribution of the medal.  That in
itself is a noteworthy discovery.

"Ben Franklin first described the concept for this medal
to Robert Livingston in a May 1782 letter.  Parisian
Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart was a member of the Academie
des Belles - Lettres, a close friend of Jean A. Houdon, and
(at the time) the architect and controller-general of the
Ecole Militare School.  He was also the intermediary who
discussed the proposed designs with Franklin in September
of 1782.  His letter of the 22nd is revealing.  Brongniart
writes (paraphrased translation):  I finally met the sculptor
who had the honor to speak to you and he gave me two large
sketches for medals.  A painter who is an acquaintance will
draw the same subject.  What would be a good day to visit
with you in Passy to discuss these?

"There is no hint of any prior acquaintance of this
"sculpteur" as is mentioned for the painter (Gibelin).
It is presumed he already knew both Duvivier (the chief
engraver) and Dupre (the assistant engraver) at the Paris
Mint, and no such recognition to either one is implied.
The concept for this medal was already in the design stages
with, as we see, two sketches already having been submitted.

"Joseph Wright was known primarily as a sculptor at this
point (like his mother Patience), having been enrolled in
the Royal Academy of Arts in London for the previous six
years.  John Adams (the first to write about Brongniart's
involvement in his 2007 book "Comitia Americana") has argued
that the word sculptor could mean "carver" (engraver); however,
there are few, if any, confirmed works by Dupre known in wax,
plaster, stone, or terra cotta; yet several pieces are known
for Joseph Wright - the plaster mold of George Washington
done in 1783 and the bronze bust ordered by Congress in 1785
being prominent among them.

"Wright arrived in Paris in the spring of 1782 shortly
before his mother left there for England, and became a
frequent guest at the temporary Franklin residence at the
Hotel de Valentinois in Passy.  In an August 1782 letter,
when Joseph was preparing to leave France and return to
America, he writes to Ben Franklin's grandson William about
doing yet another painting of Franklin: ".I may be in some
measure troublesome, and he must be tired of seeing me so
constantly."  So, we find that Wright, the sculptor, painter,
and engraver was there at the time the designs were submitted,
and had extensive contact with Ben Franklin, the person who
was directly responsible for the Libertas Americana medal.

"There is nothing mentioned about the medal for the next
several months.  Presumably, this is when the dies were
being engraved by Dupre.  Then, on 1-23-1783, Brongniart
writes to Franklin stating that he was sending two new
impressions of the medal noting that the head is not yet
at the point of perfection, which will be corrected, and
that the serpents will be larger and more characterized.
He also reminded Franklin that he had promised to tell
him what should be written on both sides at the bottom
of the medal.

"A week later, on 1-31-1783, he writes again reminding
Franklin that he has not yet received the mottos for the
reverse and asking Franklin what he wants engraved at each
side around the head of freedom.  He also returns a sketch
of the head of freedom.  Brongniart mentions that this delay
keeps the engraver, who desires to finish this project, from
doing so.  That the engraving was not yet finished, and
Brongniart asking Franklin what he wants engraved points
strongly to Dupre not being the one who designed the LA medal.
If Dupre actually created this medal, as others (Vermeule, etc.)
have previously written, why would Brongniart be asking
Franklin what he wanted to be engraved on it?

"Interestingly, the January 23 letter reveals there were
two proofing impressions (die trials) sent to Ben Franklin;
one of which he sent to his long-time friend Sir William
Jones, an Englishman who was sympathetic to the American
cause and had suggested the reverse Latin motto ("Not without
the Gods is the infant courageous").  This is confirmed in a
March 17, 1783, letter by Franklin with which he sends the
reverse "Epreuves" (trial) to Jones and thanks him for the
suggestions, which he used.

"The other (obverse trial) was apparently kept by Franklin,
and its whereabouts is being researched at present.  There
is a strong possibility it resides in the New York State
Library collection in Albany (one of the earliest private
numismatic collections in the U.S.), as there is an 1856
description listed after a bronze LA medal that reads:
"Figure of Liberty: Libertas Americana, 1783 - A Figure
representing the American Union, with these words: Communi
consensu - Lead".  In my opinion, it's quite possible that
the reverse seen on this trial was the second image submitted
by the sculptor mentioned in Brongniart's September 1782
letter.  This may be the long lost Franklin piece with
the unfinished obverse and the unaccepted reverse design
from Wright.

"Did Franklin cross paths with Wright when he returned
to America?  I believe he did, even if it was briefly.
The bronze LA medal and lead trial piece in the NYSL
collection may have originally come from the Wright estate.
A perfect opportunity for the transfer from Franklin to
Wright could have been at Joseph's wedding in Philadelphia
in December of 1789.  These two small items would have made
perfect gifts, and afforded Franklin the opportunity to meet
the lady that Joseph had thought so much of.  Franklin had
given the first trial piece to his friend Jones, and wouldn't
have hesitated to give the other to its designer.

"But this was in the 1790's in Philadelphia.  How did it get
in Albany, NY by the 1850's?  In 1853, the NYSL commissioned
Richard Wistar Davids to catalogue their material.  Davids
was from Philadelphia and had a long time interest in collecting
numismatic items.  There are no auction catalogues that list
him as the consignor, so it's possible he either sold or donated
at least part of his collection to the NYSL.  Davids is listed
as the donor of an electrotype 1796 Washington Cent, and Mrs.
Davids even donated two pieces of California Fractional gold.
Unfortunately, the medal section doesn't list the donor/
acquisition information.

"To corroborate this theory, there are at least two other
items in the NY Historical Society Library collection (1600
pieces in 1850) that could have come from the Wright estate.
These would be the two 1792 quarter die trials in white metal.
These items could have been included in the acquisition by the
NYHS of William Dunlap's diary.  Dunlap was the next-door neighbor
of Joseph Wright's on Queen St in NYC during the 1780's and
visited Wright's daughters later in the 1830's when he reported
seeing a drawing of the 1792 quarter, which he believed to be
a "cent".

"Perhaps some future researcher will dig into this more
thoroughly to find out the real stories behind numismatic
items being where they are least expected.

"Also, in the March 1783 letter from Franklin to Jones he
mentions that none of the LA medals had been struck in hard
metal.  A lead trial was commonly used because it was quite
soft, and would be similar to other lead trial pieces seen
in proposed American coinage designs (ref. Gobrecht obverse
of 1836 Liberty Head half dollar in the National Numismatic
Collection, and Peale's obverse of 1837 Seated Liberty half
in the recent 2004 ANA sale by Heritage).

"As for Dupre designing the new French Republic Liberty
coinage in 1792-4, he could have easily utilized the concepts
from the LA medal, which would have been quite appropriate.
In Dupre's new designs, now that he had become the chief
engraver, we see the Phrygian Cap on the copper issues,
along with Hercules depicted on the silver 5 Franc coinage.

"Using Williamson's outline for the "suggested" Wright
attribution for many of America's first coins (not stated
as being fact, as Breen and Taxay did with Eckfeldt and
Voigt doing the engraving), it's easy to notice a strong
similarity to the LA medal theme - and why not?  Wright
was an American in London during the Revolutionary War;
and at the beginning of the peace process, he was in France.
His mother was a true patriot who acted as a spy by sending
notes of British plans to Franklin in small wax figurines.
Joseph was trying to convey this theme of Liberty in his
designs for America's new coinage.  Dupre was doing the
same thing at the same time in France.  It's obvious that
one copied the other, and in my opinion, based on the
evidence presented here, Wright should receive the credit
for the original designs.

"Wright had been inspired by his mother's actions and
1777 portrait "The Personification of Liberty", which I
did not discover as noted in the review.  It had been
printed in the 1965 book about Patience Wright by Sellers,
and reprinted in the 1985 book about Joseph Wright by Fabian
(both of which have been in my library for years).  It took
real courage for Patience to openly defy the British monarchy
while she was in London during the occupation of Philadelphia.

"The visual similarity, as seen in the Wright family portrait,
of Sarah being the model for the LA medal, dismes, half cents,
large cents, and quarters is the closest link we have for
validation of Wright's coin and medal creations.  Sarah
Vandervoort was never in Paris, so Dupre never met her; and
it's extremely doubtful Dupre knew about the sketch of Patience
Wright.  Only Joseph Wright knew both.

"The longstanding doubt about who engraved America's earliest
coinage comes from the lack of payment records from Rittenhouse
and Voigt, who probably referred the various coinage commissions
to Congress to be included in the 1792 governmental contingency
account mentioned in the Voigt book, page 57.  This had been
done by Jefferson in 1792 when he authorized Wright to engrave
the Henry Lee medal.  The fact that Bob Birch and Joseph Wright
were both in Philadelphia in 1792-3, and they were both engravers
and die sinkers who had worked on coinage and medal designs and
dies, makes them the only ones in the overall picture, other
than the brief visit by Jacob Perkins in the summer of 1792.

"Mention is also made in the review that Craig Sholley found
Voigt's 1793 daily ledger.  To be accurate, it was seen long
ago, and one page was reprinted in a 1962 Numismatic Scrapbook
article by R.W. Julian.

"It is hoped the reader of the "Henry Voigt and Others" book
will not easily discount what is presented based upon prior
accepted knowledge from "authoritative researchers" who didn't
check below the surface, but merely copied from previous
writings.  It is further hoped that readers will be inspired
to do their own research, eventually adding to the numismatic
pool of knowledge.

"What has been presented here and now about the Libertas
Americana medal is solid evidence of qualified research,
which has sought out the true background for this historic

"All numismatic knowledge is acquired, and I respect everyone's
opinions.  I also respect an open mind. In my opinion, Q. David
Bowers, who wrote the foreword, is one of the most knowledgeable,
positive, and open-minded researchers ever to appear in
American numismatics."

Karl adds that "The Brongniart letters definitely need to be
properly translated to English.  The Google language tools
translation is not simply precise enough to make a correct
interpretation one way or the other.    That's why I used the
'paraphrased translation' clause for the Brongniart letters
which are written in French."  Could one of our readers offer
assistance in translation?  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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