Numismatic artwork is a small but interesting genre.
A new painting commissioned by researcher and author Joel Orosz commemorates the moment when Thomas Jefferson recorded the first-ever transaction of coins produced by the United States mint. Thanks to Joel and Steve Roach of Coin World for this account.
Paintings of scenes from American numismatic history have been created now for more than a century, but most artists have struggled to paint works of art that also get the history right. Steve Roach contributed a feature story, "Your Own Numismatic Masterpiece," to the July 16, 2018 issue of Coin
World, telling how a newly-created painting has combined artistry with known historical facts. Author
Joel J. Orosz commissioned artist Carlton Eddy of Helotes, Texas to paint a different kind of numismatic
artwork, recreating, both aesthetically and accurately, an actual pivotal moment in the history of
Dunsmore: Washington Inspecting the First Money
Coined by the United States
The most familiar American numismatic historical painting is "Washington Inspecting the First Money
Coined by the United States," painted in 1914 by artist John Ward Dunsmore on a commission from
Frank H. Stewart, who had owned the last three remaining buildings of the first United States Mint.
Dunsmore was a first-rate artist, and "Washington Inspecting" is a beautiful work of art. As history,
however, the painting is pure bunk, depicting, as it does, a group of people who mostly never visited the
Mint, attending a ceremony that never occurred, all set in a Mint building that did not exist in 1792.
In the course of research for 1792: Birth of a Nation's Coinage, Orosz and co-authors Len Augsburger
and Pete Smith discovered that Thomas Jefferson's Memorandum Book, a ledger of his personal
household expenses, contained an extensive record of Jefferson's involvement with the creation and
distribution of the first coin minted under the authority of the United States Constitution: the 1792 half
The Memorandum Book detailed how Jefferson delivered $75 worth of silver to the Philadelphia
Mint on July 11, 1792, and received 1,500 half dismes on July 13, just before leaving for his summer
vacation at Monticello. The first overnight stay on the 10-day journey was at an Inn located in Chester,
Pennsylvania, about 15 miles southwest of center city Philadelphia, where, as Jefferson noted in his
Memorandum Book, he paid 30 cents to "servts" in tips.
This was the first unambiguously decimal
transaction recorded in the Memorandum Book, and it means that these six 1792 half dismes Jefferson
tendered comprised the first transaction using coins struck by the U.S. Mint: the first of many billions to
Co-author Pete Smith captured the moment of that first transaction, when Jefferson tipped the Inn's
porter those six half dismes, with Jefferson's daughter Maria looking on. Smith's oil painting, which
combines artistry and historical accuracy, is the cover art for 1792: Birth of a Nation's Coinage,
published by the Ivy Press, Inc. (a subsidiary of Heritage Auctions) in 2017. After the book appeared,
inspired by Smith's example, Orosz began a collaborative process with artist Carlton Eddy to recreate
the moment later in the evening of July 13, 1792, when Jefferson recorded the first transaction in his
Eddy's oil painting depicts Jefferson seated in his room at the Inn, recording the day's events by glowing
candlelight. Nearly every detail in the painting is modeled upon late 1790s originals, including
Jefferson's travel box containing a set of coin scales. Jefferson's hand is visible making entries in the
Memorandum Book, and Jefferson himself appears in the mirror on top of the table, where he is literally
reflected, and also symbolically reflecting, on the significance of the day's momentous events. Half
dismes spill from a pouch, and two have landed, obverse and reverse, on the open page of the
Memorandum Book. More details about the Eddy painting, and on the process by which Orosz and Eddy
co-created it, can be found in Steve Roach's July 16, 2018 Coin World feature story.
Eddy: Thomas Jefferson, Evening, July 13, 1792, Chester, Pennsylvania
Carlton Eddy has been an official Coast Guard artist since 1988, and regularly paints aviation subjects for
the U.S. Navy. Over the past few years, his artistic ambit has expanded to include numismatics,
depicting coins, especially in historical settings. Eddy's clients have included Heritage Galleries and
professional numismatists around the nation. His work is on display at, among other museums, those of
the U.S. Naval Academy, and the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola. He may be reached
The co-authors have created a new edition of 1792: Birth of a Nation's Coinage, limited to only 14
copies, featuring the Eddy painting, "Thomas Jefferson, Evening, July 13, 1792, Chester, Pennsylvania"
as the cover art, with the Smith painting, "The First U.S. Coin Enters Commerce, Chester, Pennsylvania,
July 13, 1792," as the book's frontispiece. Thirteen numbered copies have been distributed to the co-authors and to those who were especially helpful with the book's research and publication. One numbered copy will be offered as part of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society Benefit Auction, to be held
on August 17, 2018, at the NBS annual meeting during the 2018 ANA Convention.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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