Another great (and topical) post on Matthew Wittman's ANS Pocket Change blog concerns the Society's Brenner plaster for
the Lincoln Cent. I remember the time I walked into the ANS and saw this hanging on a wall. As the Brits would say, I was gobsmacked. I
couldn't believe my eyes - what a Holy Grail of American numismatics. I'll say again what I said then - "Wow!" -Editor
During his time in office, Teddy Roosevelt undertook a more or less comprehensive redesign American coinage. As the centenary of
Lincoln’s birth approached in 1909, a large number of medals and tokens were being manufactured as souvenirs, and Roosevelt began to
consider a way to honor one of his Republican heroes. This would be a departure from precedent as the first federally-issued coin to
feature an actual person (as opposed to an abstract representation of ‘Liberty,’ or an ‘Indian Head,’ etc.). It seems that it was only by
chance that the talented Litvak-American sculptor Victor David Brenner (1871-1924) was chosen for the job.
Brenner was commissioned to make a medal to be awarded for service on the ongoing Panama Canal project. In this context the President
sat for the artist in late 1908, and it was at this time that he likely encountered a plaque that Brenner had sculpted of Lincoln for the
Gorham Manufacturing Company. Roosevelt clearly admired his work, and although the precise details remain unclear, Brenner was engaged to
produce a new design featuring Lincoln for the cent. It was a project he worked on through the winter of 1908-1909 and into the spring.
In 1989, the American Numismatic Society received a large plaster portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Victor David Brenner. It was donated by
David R. Lit, the nephew of the sculptor’s wife, Ann Reed Brenner. It is undoubtedly one of the plaster models that Brenner made in late
1908 or early 1909 as he was working on the design for what would become the Lincoln cent.
The plaster portrait measures 610 mm or 24 inches in diameter. It was the typical process at the time to produce a large model so that
the artist was able to get the desired detail before a machine called a Janvier reducing lathe was used to copy the design onto a
coin-sized hub. A comparison of this plaster with the finished cent shows that it was probably not the model used for production, though it
remains a possibility as Brenner voiced complaints about the loss of detail when the Mint reduced his large designs. After sorting through
some final design and production issues, over 20 million pennies were minted that summer and the new cent was released to the public on
August 2, 1909 to wide acclaim.
To read the complete article, see:
VICTOR DAVID BRENNER’S LINCOLN PLASTER
THE BOOK BAZARRE
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Wayne Homren, Editor
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