Please settle our argument: Did James Longacre or Franklin Peale design the 3-cent silver coin?
The design for the issued coin was Longacre’s, but Peale is credited with an 1850 pattern copied from the pattern by Gobrecht for an 1836 gold dollar. While checking this, I note that many writers tend to gloss over the differences between patterns and actual issued coins, which may have been the root cause for your difference of opinion.
When was the Commission of Fine Arts formed?
It was created by an Act of Congress, signed by President William Howard Taft on May 17, 1910. The original purpose was to “Advise on the location of statues, fountains and monuments in the public squares, streets and parks in the District of Columbia.” The scope was broadened in the same year by an Executive Order and again in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson. President Harding added coins in 1921, as well as medals and insignia. Congress added more duties for the seven CFA members in 1930.
Is the bust on the Lincoln cent an accurate reproduction?
Brenner took liberties with Lincoln’s hair, giving it the 1909 version of a permanent wave, as all contemporary photos show Lincoln with straight hair. Look at the coin and the hair is curly – especially if you look at a 1909 date. But, look at a photograph, and you’ll note his hair was relatively straight. It was a case of artistic license. Brenner felt the curls would add depth to the design. To prove him right, compare it to the smooth locks of Ben Franklin, and the bald pate of Eisenhower.
Why is it that published pictures of coins sometimes look like the design was incuse, rather than in relief?
You have run afoul of an optical illusion. There are several ways of correcting this, but one of the simplest is to turn the picture upside down. This will usually change the perspective enough so that the design will snap back into place.
Didn’t Ben Franklin once propose a pretty radical idea for the designs of the first U.S. coinage?
Franklin was active in attempts to get the English firm of Bridges and Waller to strike our first coins. In a letter to the company he urged that the new coins should be graced with a variety of different slogans, such as “A penny saved is a penny got,” “Early to bed, early to rise ...” and others of a similar nature, making the point that a single slogan would quickly become boring.
Is there any specific rule or regulation as to which way the bust has to face on U.S. coins?
The facing direction is more a matter of tradition than anything else, based in some small part on the custom in England of reversing direction with each new ruler. There is no law or regulation, so it is strictly a matter of the artist’s choice. Lately, coins follow inauguration medals.
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I’m never sure whether rules governing left and right on a coin refer to the coin’s left or right or the viewer’s left or right. Can you help?
Where possible, coin designs follow the rules of Heraldry, and under those rules the left and right are those of the design, not the viewer. For example, a bust facing to the coin’s right is facing “Dexter,” which is correct under the laws of Heraldry. Facing the other way is facing “Sinister,” which under the oldest European Heraldry rules (those of Spain), is not allowed.
Was the artist’s real name Victor D. Brenner?
Brenner’s original name was Victoras Barnauskas. He was born in Lithuania of Jewish parents. He changed his name when he emigrated to the U.S. in 1890.