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Private Tour of "Capping Liberty" Numismatic exhibit at Firestone Library.

PA3 members are invited to a private curatorial tour of the upcoming exhibit at Firestone Library, on Wednesday 4 April 2012, from 5:30 to 7:00 PM at the Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library.  Tour begins at 6; wine will be served.  Cost:  Free to PA3 members. 
RSVP to PrincetonAreaAlumni@gmail.com to reserve a spot.

Capping Liberty:
The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic

An Exhibition of Coins, Medals, Banknotes, and Related Books, Manuscripts,
and Graphic Arts from Princeton University Collections
Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library, March 3, 2012, to July 8, 2012


The exhibit highlights the Library's rich collection of Revolutionary-War coinage including the first coin issued under the US Constitution, the 1792 half-disme (sic; they used the French spelling).
Other important coins from the Princeton University Numismatic Collection in
the exhibition are four issues of the seventeenth-century Massachusetts silver shilling
coinage, two examples of the tin "Continental dollar" patterns of 1776, and a 1794 (14
star) silver dollar.

The "poster piece" of the exhibition is the gilt bronze striking of Augustin Dupré's
1783 Libertas Americana medal, a gift of Rodman Wanamaker, Class of 1886, which is
believed it have been the basis for the depiction of Liberty on the early United States
coinage. It is accompanied by a selection of ancient coins that inspired it, including a
Sicilian dekadrachm and a series of denarii of the Roman Republic and sestertii of the
Empire that show the goddess Libertas and her distinctive cap. Other important medals in
the exhibition are an original bronze striking of Dupré's Diplomatic Medal of 1791 (one
of only three known), a gift of the scholar of ancient and American coinage Cornelius
Vermeule III, and a hand-engraved medal believed to have been given to Henry “Light-
Horse Harry” Lee (Princeton Class of 1773). Also on display are three unique plaster
moulds made by Jean-Baptiste Nini as preparatory models for his famous terra-cotta
medallions of Benjamin Franklin.

Complementing the coins and medals from the Numismatic Collection are many
items from other divisions of Princeton’s Special Collection, including books formerly in
the libraries of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Among
the depictions of Liberty from colonial publications is the portrait of John Hancock
engraved in 1774 by Paul Revere, where the patriot is flanked by a knight with a copy of
the Magna Charta and Liberty with her cap. In manuscript letters George Washington
voices support for Jefferson's "Propositions Respecting the Coinage of Gold, Silver and
Copper," and John Adams asks Mint Director Benjamin Rush (Princeton Class of 1760)
for examples of United States coinage for his son John Quincy Adams to send to Russia.
A 1778 print attributed to the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicts Benjamin Franklin
crowned by the goddess Liberty, and a large piece of Toile de Jouy fabric printed around
1785 has the image of George Washington in a gold chariot drawn by cheetahs.
When the founders of the American Republic declared independence from Great
Britain on July 4, 1776, one of the major tasks they took on was the creation of a coinage
for the new nation. There were few precedents to guide them in choosing specific images
to represent the ideals of their republican form of government as most existing coinage
bore the image of a monarch. The leading figures in the process of selecting the
numismatic imagery of the American Republic were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas
Jefferson, and George Washington, each of whom made contributions that reflected
personal background, attitudes, and ideals. Following a rancorous dispute between the
Senate and the House of Representatives, the ultimate choice for the main image for the
new coinage was "an impression emblematic of Liberty," which took the form of the head
of a beautiful woman, sometimes accompanied by a cap derived from classical attributes
of the Roman goddess Libertas. Together with the complementary attributes of an eagle
and a wreath, this symbol came to exemplify the United States of America.
The rich resources of Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books
and Special Collections serve as the basis of an exhibition entitled "Capping Liberty,"
which illustrates the search for imagery and the selection and adoption of symbols for a
national coinage.
"The star of the show will undoubtedly be the Princeton specimen of the 1792
'half disme'," predicts Alan Stahl, the exhibition's curator. This is a superb example of the
first coin minted by the United States government under the Constitution. Delays in
passing the Mint Act of 1792 left little time to strike coins that year, so a very small issue
of half dismes (the old French spelling was used on the piece) was minted in a temporary
facility, reputedly from silver supplied by George Washington for the purpose. Fewer
than 2,000 examples are believed to have been struck. The Princeton specimen was
purchased by Charles A. Cass, Class of 1904, from an auction in 1917, by Thomas Elder
where it was described as "the finest known specimen of this exceedingly rare coin." It
came to Princeton with the impressive Cass numismatic collection by bequest in 1958.
The specimen has been characterized by Roger Siboni, president of the American
Numismatic Society, as "perhaps the finest, or one of the finest 1792 half dismes in
existence" in an article in Coin World (Sept. 1, 2008).
Other important coins from the Princeton University Numismatic Collection in
the exhibition are four issues of the seventeenth-century Massachusetts silver shilling
coinage, two examples of the tin "Continental dollar" patterns of 1776, and a 1794 (14
star) silver dollar.
The "poster piece" of the exhibition is the gilt bronze striking of Augustin Dupré's
1783 Libertas Americana medal, a gift of Rodman Wanamaker, Class of 1886, which is
believed it have been the basis for the depiction of Liberty on the early United States
coinage. It is accompanied by a selection of ancient coins that inspired it, including a
Sicilian dekadrachm and a series of denarii of the Roman Republic and sestertii of the
Empire that show the goddess Libertas and her distinctive cap. Other important medals in
the exhibition are an original bronze striking of Dupré's Diplomatic Medal of 1791 (one
of only three known), a gift of the scholar of ancient and American coinage Cornelius
Vermeule III, and a hand-engraved medal believed to have been given to Henry “Light-
Horse Harry” Lee (Princeton Class of 1773). Also on display are three unique plaster
moulds made by Jean-Baptiste Nini as preparatory models for his famous terra-cotta
medallions of Benjamin Franklin.
Complementing the coins and medals from the Numismatic Collection are many
items from other divisions of Princeton’s Special Collection, including books formerly in
the libraries of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Among
the depictions of Liberty from colonial publications is the portrait of John Hancock
engraved in 1774 by Paul Revere, where the patriot is flanked by a knight with a copy of
the Magna Charta and Liberty with her cap. In manuscript letters George Washington
voices support for Jefferson's "Propositions Respecting the Coinage of Gold, Silver and
Copper," and John Adams asks Mint Director Benjamin Rush (Princeton Class of 1760)
for examples of United States coinage for his son John Quincy Adams to send to Russia.
A 1778 print attributed to the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicts Benjamin Franklin
crowned by the goddess Liberty, and a large piece of Toile de Jouy fabric printed around
1785 has the image of George Washington in a gold chariot drawn by cheetahs.

Cap-lib
Related Events

Private tour of Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic Exhibit ( Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM )

A private tour by Firestone Library's Curator of Numismatics, Alan Stahl, for PA3 members.

Exhibit will be open from 5:30 to 7 pm on Wednesday 4 April 2012.
Curatorial tour begins at 6.
Wine will be served.
R.S.V.P. to PrincetonAreaAlumni@gmail.com


Location: Milberg Gallery; Firestone Library
Cost: No charge to PA3 members
Organized by: PA3 and Firestone Library

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