Famous American artist Gilbert Stuart painted many of our founding fathers and their wives, and his works have been copied onto American currency, commemorative coins, presidential dollars, first spouse coins, and state quarters. I am trying to document these colorful connections for publication. Yet one of his finest impacts is possibly the most difficult to verify, since the artwork in question has not survived.
Numismatic scholars have debated Stuart's involvement in the introduction of the Draped Bust design that graced seven denominations of our early coins, starting with the 1795 silver dollar. I have found long descriptions of Anne Bingham's life (including an 1787 portrait and 1785 sketch of her by Stuart), but only bits and pieces of her connection to our coinage:
Former Mint Director John Ross Snowden in his 1861 work A Description of the Medals of Washington stated “The head of Liberty on the dollar of 1795 was designed by Stuart, the celebrated portrait painter, at the request of the Director (Henry DeSaussure), as we learn from a relation of the (Stuart) family…”
Some scholars declare that most early mint history is speculation and lore; because little was officially recorded. David Bullowa argued in The Numismatist in March 1942 that “In the course of the years since Snowden's work was published there is apparently no other mention of the Stuart connection with our coinage… (it) does not appear to be factually substantiated.”
In his 1966 book The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Don Taxay also cites Snowden's passage, and then adds “Mint Director De Saussure … engaged Gilbert Stuart, the renowned portrait painter, to redesign the Liberty head...”
Walter Breen expands on Snowden's description above in his 1988 Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins to add that Mint Director DeSaussure “induced the illustrious portraitist Gilbert Stuart to furnish a sketch of Ms. Liberty; this drawing (completed about Aug. 1795, in Newport, R.I., but now lost) was modeled after Mrs. William Bingham, nee Anne Willing.”
Other writers hedge their bets. Cornelius Vermeule reports that “Scot produced a new concept under the inspiration, it is said, of Gilbert Stuart.” (Numismatic Art in America, 1971.) David Lange writes “the design for this (draped bust) coin was reportedly furnished by famed American painter Gilbert Stuart, ... Unfortunately, no correspondence exists to confirm this appealing tale.” (History of the United States Mint and Its Coinage, 2005.)
Collector Reid Goldsborough maintains a website on draped bust coins and their connection to Anne Bingham at http://home.comcast.net/~reidgold/draped_busts/intro.html. He cites many of the same references above, and reports that Q. David Bowers has taken a neutral position on this issue. In his 1993 book Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, Bowers says that Robert Scot "may well" have had Anne Bingham in mind when designing the Draped Bust Liberty, but this can't be proven with the documentary materials known today, and the discovery of further documentary materials is "highly unlikely."
R. W. Julian writes that “Not long into DeSaussure's tenure as director, the decision was made, almost certainly by the President, to change Liberty's head on the obverse. According to a later account, famed American artist Gilbert Stuart offered to execute sketches. (“All About the Dollar,” The Numismatist, December 2007.)
Red Henry strongly supported the Bingham links to Draped Bust coinage in his “The Girl on the Penny” article in Pennywise, January 15, 2000. His article was described in the Feb. 6, 2000 E-Sylum, but also claims that Henry was a distant relative of Anne Bingham!
Is there more to this story somewhere? Can an E-Sylum reader provide any other references?
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