Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"A Stupid Botch"

The reverse, Mr. Duveneck and the obverse of the Barber 1892 quarter dollar

“I believe the average carpenter could get up a better design for a coin than that on the new twenty-five cent silver piece” said Mr. Frank Duveneck, the eminent artist, as he twirled one of the new pieces in his fingers with a critical eye. “I never saw such a stupid botch. A South Sea Islander could get up a better design with his eyes shut. The figure on the reverse I take to be ‘Agriculture’ but it is a stupid design and the face so sour and the head so bare as to be repulsive. There is nothing artistic, expressive or attractive about it.
I suppose they have designers connected to the U.S. Treasury, but I do not know what they are about. They rarely get up a good design and now they seem to have reached the climax of ugliness and stupidity. We have some very good, strong artists in the country and some who are noted for their very fine relief work and I do not see why some of our coins can not bear the fruits of their competitive work. There is St. Gaudens for instance. He could get out a design for a coin that would be a thing of beauty and a delight forever.
But our government is very peculiar in some respects and not only restricts the sale of works of art, but does not encourage beautiful faces and designs on coins where they would catch the public eye and educate the public taste for art. The new coin, when its brightness is worn away, will be a tough looking object. But we are a progressive people, in art as well as in other things in life, and it may be that the Government will yet get up some very striking and symmetrical designs for its coins.”
“I am surprised at the design, really,” said L. Schwebel, the artist*, as he gazed at the coin with a peculiar expression. “There is no proportion, no beauty, no expression about the head on the reverse. A child could get up such a design. The obverse with the eagle and stars has a clumsy, crowded appearance and is not striking at all. I think the French coins and medallions have the best designs and far outshine the designs on our own coins.
I suppose the Treasury department has its own artists but their last designs certainly do not show up well. I do not see why our coins can not be beautiful as well as valuable. There should be something about them pleasing to the artistic eye and they should not become the butt of the joker and the foreigner. America takes the lead in many things and she might as well have pretty and finely designed coins as not.”

-Cincinnati Times-Star, January 16, 1892

*Schwebel, Louis [Lewis], Jr. Portrait painter and crayon artist, born in France or Prussia about 1832. He came with his family to Cincinnati [Hamilton] around 1850 and remained active there as an artist and musician until at least 1892…He exhibited portraits at the Cincinnati Industrial Expositions of 1873 and 1875 and in 1892 his Shipwrecked Sailor at Dawn was shown at the Cincinnati Art Club.
Artists in Ohio, 1887-1900, Oberlin College Library

Images: Museumsyndicate.com, USacoinbook.com

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