The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 2, January 12, 2014, Article 7


Bombshell news hit the U.S. numismatic research community Thursday morning with an announcement that auctioneer Bonhams would be offering medals and an archive of papers belonging to coin and medal designer Augustin Dupré. Here's the press release in its entirety. -Editor

Dupre archive Bonhams will sell an archive of rare historical documents, coins and medals created and owned by Augustin Dupré, who was at the heart of the coin and medal design and mint operation for both Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

The collection will be on show at Bonhams in London, Paris and New York prior to a sale in New York on 2nd April 2014. It will be sold as one lot for an estimated $300,000 to $500,000.

Among the fascinating papers in this treasure trove are directions from Jefferson on how he wished General George Washington to appear on a victory coin. This and many other insights will be on offer when Bonhams sells this unique, recently discovered archive of Augustin Dupré, famed for the work he produced for Napoleon and later Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States. For students of French and American history, as well as those who are fascinated by coin and medal design, this sale is a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy a piece of numismatic heritage.

This archive is fresh to the market and comprises a variety of medallions, drawings and sketches and a number of original letters from his sponsors to Augustin Dupré which provide insights into his association with the New America and the part he played in providing the first medals for the newly formed United States. The archive was inherited by his son Narcisse who passed it on to his son who gave it to the family of the current owner.

Among the rarities on sale are sketches for the Morgan Liberty, and Franklin medals among others for military figures. There is also a fascinating insight into the client artist relationship with some of the usual arguments over the cost of producing designs and medals. Thomas Jefferson makes it quite clear that he expects the designer to work to an agreed budget.

One of the most powerful documents is without doubt Jefferson's brief on what he expects the General Washington Medal to look like. Translated from the French it states: "On the one side the head of the General with the text Georgio Washington supremo duci exercitum adsertori libertatis comitia Americana. Reverse, the evacuation of Boston. The American army advancing in good form towards the city which one perceives in the distance, while the English army hurries toward the shore to get aboard the ships which fill the harbor. In front appears General Washington, on horseback, amongst a group of officers to whom he is pointing out the flight of the enemy."

It is believed that Augustin was also partly responsible for the design of one of the most powerful and internationally recognized symbols – the American eagle used on coins, medals and government buildings - which he created to his American clients specification.

John Millenstead, Director of Bonhams Coins and Medals Department, comments: "This is an amazing archive of huge historical importance, particularly to French and American collectors, both private and public institutions. But its importance is truly international, so buyers could come from any one of a dozen countries. It casts a fascinating light on the relationship between leading figures of the time as well as offering insights into the history surrounding some of the most iconic coins and medals from the period."

Augustin Dupré came from a family that included several artists and engravers and he studied as the pupil of the sculptor David. His career really took off with the French Revolution, as he became "Graveur General des Monnaies" in 1791. He successfully reinvented the look of the whole French monetary system which remained in use till the introduction of the Euro in 2000. Many of his papers are in the French national archive.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw this. Here's what others had to say. -Editor

Joel Orosz writes:

Wow! And double wow! What a remarkable archive--John W. Adams will want to come out with a second edition of Comitia Americana once he sees this! Clearly, it contains a lot of Comitia material, including that Jefferson letter specifying what the Washington Before Boston medal should look like. Although the article doesn't say, I presume it will also have materials on the Libertas Americana medal that will prove once and for all that it was Dupre' who designed it. What a remarkable trove of historical material! I hope that it can be purchased by someone or by some institution who will make it available to scholars like John--it will certainly have much to teach us about the dawn of American numismatics.

It's a good thing that I have some self control, for I am tempted to go to Bonham's and lock my right arm into an elevated position for as long as it takes to win this lot. But that's where the self-control comes in, for I'm pretty certain my wife would object to my selling our cars, house, and maybe some of our kids to reel this one in.

John Bolger writes [in the Yahoo Colonial Coins Group]:

I don’t mean to step on toes or ignite a bitter philosophical debate regarding individuals versus institutions harboring artifacts, but this lot seems to be a very good fit for the American Numismatic Society. I suppose one could argue that an equivalent French institution would be more appropriate but there are limits to my willingness to allow such a treasure to stray too far.

Deep within each of us very likely lurks an inner ruthless collector as Kasper Gutman, the Fatman in search of the Maltese Falcon. Isn’t it ironic that the lead Falcon that so disappointed Kasper sold also at Bonhams for over four million dollars. The Dupre lot is indeed a thing that dreams are made of.

Tony Lopez writes:

Holy Moly! Very cool. The real question is, does it come with that 20th century John Paul Jones medal? The Heraldic eagle was designed in 1782 for use on the Great Seal of the United States (see Adams-Bentley pg.201-202), and not by Dupré.

I spoke to the folks at Bonham’s here in Los Angeles where the coin department resides, They said the lot came out of France, and is now in London being catalogued. They are selling it in New York believing (correctly) that the U.S. is the correct market for this.

I mentioned the silly photo with a restrike JPJ medal (which was done in France), and the mistaken credit given Dupré for the Heraldic Eagle design. Despite the fact that Dupré did not create the design, I explained the importance of that drawing as the design of the Diplomatic medal.

Some are holding judgment on the lot while awaiting further details. In a subsequent exchange with Joel, I worried that the archive might have been looted from some library or museum, as there has been an epidemic of such thefts in Europe recently. Bonham's description of the pedigree is meaningless if the current owner is not identified. The modern restrike medal is a puzzlement. The press release says the "coins and medals [were] created and owned by Augustin Dupré", and a restrike couldn't have been. So where did it come from? We'll look forward to more details and images from the cataloguers. -Editor

To read the complete press release, see: HISTORIC ARCHIVE OF AUGUSTIN DUPRÉ (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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