The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 31, August 2, 2015, Article 30


Dick Johnson submitted this great update on his research into the sculptor responsible for the famous "Pickett Head" portrait of President Lincoln. Thanks! -Editor

Dick Johnson with Pickett Lincoln plaque This is a saga about an unknown sculptor named Pickett. Prior to 1970 I cataloged an oval medal for the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company made by Medallic Art Company. It bore a stunning high-relief portrait of Abraham Lincoln. That is the oval medal I am holding in the picture adjacent.

Company policy requires identity of the sculptor of any medal they strike. The piece is signed “Pickett” and the date 1873. No first name. I hit the art reference books. Everyone called it the “Pickett Head” but nowhere could I find a full name.

One day in August 1972 I walked the five blocks to the New York Public Library from MACO's NYC office and perused the card file in the Art Department. I took a chance and searched for “Pickett.” I found a reference to a Byron M. Pickett in an 1873 auction catalog. I called for the catalog.

Bless some cataloger at the New York Public Library years ago who made reference to two artists in this slim 3-page catalog. Two lots by Pickett, one of a Lincoln portrait relief were among the 24 lots listed. Could this be the obscure Pickett that the Lincoln Medallic Art had recently replicated? The creator of the Pickett Head?

The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company had built a collection of all things Lincoln beginning in 1928, and moved this growing collection to its own building in 1930. Its director in 1972 was R. Gerald McMurtry. I sent him all the documentation I had found. He concurred this was the correct Pickett who had created the Lincoln portrait.

McMurty’s predecessor, Dr. Louis A. Warren, had written a full-page history of this plaque in the May 1955 issue of Lincoln Lore, the museum’s newsletter. This article revealed the fact the insurance company had acquired a large 25 x 19-inch oval plaque in 1922 from L.G. Muller of Chicago.

Muller had acquired Pickett’s Lincoln in 1893 and made prints of the design. He had sent a print to the U.S. Post Office in 1909.The Post Office used the design on a one-cent post card in 1911 (Scott UX23), flipping the portrait to face left. It reissued the design in a different color in 1913 (Scott UX26).

In 1963 Lincoln Life commissioned Medallic Art Company to issue a 3-inch oval medal using Lincoln Life's Pickett Head relief. The medal was issued in bronze, silver – shown -- and goldplate. At the time of issue numismatist Ken Hallenbeck, later president of the American Numismatic Association, was an employee of Lincoln Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Ken had the presence of mind to order a Process Set – a set of medals withdrawn from production illustrating each step of manufacture– of this Lincoln medal made for his company. Process sets can only be made while the medal is in production. Further, he acquired one each of the bronze, silver and goldplate.

Fast forward now to 2013. Fred Reed’s first book on Lincoln Images (2009), had mentioned one of these Lincoln plaques by Pickett made by a firm in Cleveland. But Fred had misspelled the firm’s name. It took me two years to track down the correct spelling and address of the Cleveland firm.

A letter and two emails went unanswered, I called and talked to the proprietor. He had been travelling in Italy. He recognized my description of the Pickett Head relief and even volunteered he had two “castings” of it in storage. “Would these be for sale?” I cautiously asked. “Why yes,” and he gave more details which I was so elated I didn’t hear. Maybe it was that he was glad to dispose of them, they are only taking up room.

“I’ll buy them both,” I said without asking any details, as size, composition, cost. I was glad to add another item to my Pickett collection. “I’ll have to color them,” he said, they were unfinished. We chatted about patinas, I subject I am fond of.

For several years I had been corresponding with Ron Haney of Rochester, New York who is the great grand-nephew of artist Pickett. We learned Byron M. Pickett had a statue of Samuel F.B. Morse in New York’s Central Park and a few other sculptures, but Pickett never sought publicity, making later research difficult. I offered the second plaque to Ron. He was as elated at the prospect of owning a Pickett Head as was I.

I expected these castings would have been the same size as the 9-inch pattern from which Medallic Art had made the 1963 medal but that was not the case. Both Ron and I had the same reaction when we received the Lincoln Plaques from Cleveland:

“Holy Cow!” It was the original 25 x 19-inch size! And the patina was beautiful as shown in the photo above.

That’s still not the end of the story. I had learned that Ken Hallenbeck was selling his 1963 Lincoln Life Medals and the Process Set. It took a bit of negotiating, but we finally agreed on a price. With these two acquisitions my Pickett collection had expanded immensely.

If you would like to read a more detailed saga of Pickett Head history click on:

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