Joseph Wright

Credited as the first designer of US coin, Joseph Wright, was born July 16, 1756 in Bordentown, New Jersey and lived until September 13, 1793. His career for most of his life was as a portrait painter and Wright was George Washington’s first choice to become the first Chief Engraver of the US Mint, but unfortunately, he died before he could officially take the position. 

There is some controversy about the first US coins ever made and who designed them. Most people believe that Wright was the designer of the original Liberty Cap Large Cent and Liberty Cap Half Cent (head facing left variety), but many others believe that Henry Voigt was the designer. Although most numismatists and historians officially give Wright the credit for designing this coin.

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Portrait of Patience Wright

It is thought that perhaps Wright gained his artistic abilities from his Mother, Patience Wright, who is often regarded as America’s first sculptor. Patience Lovell was born in Oyster Bay, New York, into a Quaker farm family. The family moved to Bordentown, New Jersey when Patience was four years old. At age 16 she left the family home and moved to Philadelphia, where in 1748 she married Joseph Wright, a barrel maker who was many years her senior. She often amused herself and her children by molding faces out of putty, bread dough, and wax.

When Wright’s husband died in 1769, she was pregnant with a fourth child and needed a way to support the family. Working with her sister Rachel Wells, who by then was also a widow, she turned her sculpting hobby into a full-time occupation. The sisters set up a business molding portraits in tinted wax, a popular art form in colonial America, and charged admission to see them. By 1770 they had become successful enough to open a waxworks house in New York City and mount tours of their work to Philadelphia and Charleston.

Wright’s portraits were life-sized figures or busts with real clothing and glass eyes. They were modeled from life and were considered to be very lifelike. They were often placed in tableaux, illustrating the activities the portrayed individual might have undertaken in life.

After many of her sculptures were destroyed in a fire in June 1771, Wright relocated to London, England. Through a relationship with Jane Mecom, sister of Benjamin Franklin, she made her entry into London society. Wright settled in the West End and set up a popular waxworks show of historical tableaux and celebrity wax figures. She was honored with an invitation to model King George III, and would go on to sculpt other members of British royalty and nobility.

Patience Wright became known in London society for her rustic American manners, which were a source of both fascination and scandal. She wore wooden shoes, kissed members of both sexes and all classes in greeting, and in general did not follow the contemporary rules for someone of her class or gender. One rumor held that she had even called the king and queen by their first names, in an outrageous breach of conduct. Her reputation for unruliness led to the nickname “The Promethean Modeler”, and she gained a level of celebrity in 18th-century London. Wright famously offended Abigail Adams with her over-familiarity and lack of modesty about her skills. Adams wrote a disparaging letter home describing their encounter, describing her as “the queen of sluts.”

Wright’s technique for sculpting wax contributed to this public conception of her

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Wright’s statue of William Pitt

character. She used body heat to keep the wax at a temperature where she could shape it, molding it under her apron in a suggestive manner, which scandalized viewers and was even parodied in newspaper cartoons. The medium itself was a form of “low art” and considered unrefined when compared to sculpture in bronze or stone.

Wright is rumored to have worked as a spy during the American Revolution, sending information back to the colonies inside her wax figures. Wright eventually fell from royal favor as a result of her open support for the colonial cause, especially after she reportedly scolded the king and queen after the battles of Lexington and Concord. She was an outspoken patriot, and started a fund to support American prisoners of war held in Britain. A group of pro-American activists, including Lord George Gordon, Benjamin West, and Anthony Pasquin, would meet at her London workshop to discuss their cause.

The fragility of her medium means that few of Wright’s works survive today. A full-length figure of William Pitt, produced after the Earl’s death, still stands in Westminster Abbey Museum. A bas-relief profile of Admiral Richard Howe in the collection of the Newark Museum is attributed to her.

In 1775, Joseph Wright joined his mother in England and became the first American-born student to matriculate in the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where he studied for 6 years. He won a silver medal for “the best model of an Academy figure” in December 1778. In 1780, he caused a scandal at the Royal Academy by exhibiting a portrait of his mother sculpting a wax head of King Charles II, while busts of King George III and Queen Charlotte looked on.

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Frederick Muhlenberg painting by Joseph Wright

In 1781, Wright and his mother traveled to Paris. While there, he painted several portraits of Benjamin Franklin. After 7 years in Europe, Wright returned to America in 1782, where he became the first of just two artists to make a plaster mold of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson judged Wright’s portrait of Washington very highly. “I have no hesitation in pronouncing Wright’s drawing to be a better likeness of the General than Peale’s,” he wrote in 1795.

Early in his Presidency, Washington and Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, diligently sought after talented European engravers to design the first United States coins. However, they failed in this endeavor and ultimately decided that Wright would become the unofficial Engraver at the nascent Philadelphia Mint in the second half of 1792. In August, 1793, Joseph was designated as the Mint’s “First Draughtsman & Diesinker.”

On December 5, 1789, Wright married Sarah Vandervoordt in Philadelphia. They had three children, Sarah, Joseph, and Harriet. Wright and his wife both died, most likely as a result of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Despite his early passing, Joseph Wright, has forever made an impact on American history as the first Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint.


Check out coins designed by Wright and other famous Chief Engravers at our Ebay Shop

Learn More about other Chief Engravers:
James Longacre
John R. Sinnock

An Engravers Story… Feat. Jerry Morales

 

 

 

27073032_556199321405762_5310278992521876335_n.jpgJerry Morales, a man of music and creativity; a talented  engraver and family man. His career in engraving all began while teaching guitar in a music store and working part time in an instrument repair shop in downtown San Antonio. He had many tasks there from restringing instruments, set ups to repairing electronics. Having access to various shop tools and learning about sharpening the edge of blades, chisels and scrapers slowly by hand from head of guitar tech, Casey Jones; Jerry began to familiarize himself with said tools. Having devotion for music, Jerry became curious, only to begin creating picks out of coins in his down time…

 

30738449_596142180744809_2870257589432614912_n.jpgAs a guitar player and new husband, priorities and employment changed. Time went on, responsibilities and obligations grew, pushing Jerry to start creating more guitar picks to sell on eBay, rather than keeping them all for his personal use. He would make coin picks from coinage all around the world, but one day stumbled upon something incredible… Skull engravings on coins! In his mild astonishment, he realized that others were literally defacing coinage to skeletonize their facial features. It was mind-bending to him that some artists were replacing the minted images with their very own. Thanks to the wealth of information available on Facebook in previous posts from the coin carving and engraving communities, he was able to increase his appreciation for the skill of tooling and it added fuel to the dimly lit flame inside him for pursuing coin carving and he fell in love with the skeleton style himself. Seeing the vast selection of skull carvings in the eBay market, it almost seemed  to be the cliche thing to do to make money quickly, but that did not hinder his joy for engraving. Jerry is continuously experimenting and sharpening his skills, he is currently starting to dabble in more than just skull influenced carvings, he has branched out to different subjects such as different objects and faces.

 

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An engraving he created of Tim Rathjen, CEO of The Stamp and Coin Place

 

“With a little research and digging on the Internet, I’m sure I ended up where all eager newbies end up, the YouTube videos of the great Shaun Hughes; full of tips, tricks and DIY how-to goodness.” – Jerry Morales

“ I am very grateful for everything Shaun Hughes has freely shared as well as the experienced carvers/engravers on Facebook, without them I would probably given up after a handful more crude skull carvings.” – Jerry Morales

 

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42425538_716389752053384_3484543577546031104_nLate at night when his family sleeps, Jerry will spend his time doing all of his coin related tasks. Typically, a few hours after that he will wake up and head off to his day job at the county medical examiner’s office. (The morgue) His commitment to the hobby is very clear, and by the immense skill that he possess it is only excitement we feel to see what he will create next. Jerry Morales started taking progress photos so anyone interested in this hobby can see the steps it takes to make one of his coins. He was influenced greatly by Shaun Hughes’s how-to/DIY attitude to share with everyone interested. Jerry welcomes questions about carving on his Facebook posts and is more than happy to help out those in need. There are many active carvers  also producing skull conversions or skull/death related themed coins, so there is plenty of knowledge and tips to go around. Support is a huge part of this hobby, and like anything else in life… The more support and familiarity you have in something, the better you become.

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Thank you for sharing your story Jerry, your work is inspiring!

The First Photography

The 19th century saw the invention of, at the time, an incredibly new and exciting media: photography.

The first surviving photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce with a camera obscura in 1826 or 1827, titled View from the Window at Le Gras. He had made a heliograph from an engraving of Pope Pius VII in 1822, but when he tried to duplicate it years later it was destroyed, making his later photograph the one that was remembered.

The view from the upstairs window of Niecpes estate -- the first permanent photograph.

The view from the upstairs window of Niécpe’s estate: the first surviving photograph.

 

The camera obscura is a simple device that uses a light projection box to project the image of its surroundings on a screen, which can then be traced or engraved onto material.

The first camera obscura was used to watch a solar eclipse in 1544. Of course, it took a few centuries after that to discover all that the camera obscura could be used for – most notably photography.

The first accessible method of photography came from Niécpe and Louis Daguerre, though Niécpe died before the invention was complete. Called the daguerrotype, this method used a copper plate coated with silver treated with iodine vapor for light sensitivity. Mercury vapor was used for development and salt fixed the image.

The Susse Fréres Daguerrotype camera from 1939.

The Susse Fréres Daguerrotype camera from 1939.

Daguerrotype cameras were large and boxy, but compared to former photography methods, they were quite streamlined (check out our article about the photo cousin of the daguerrotype: the tintype.)

George Eastman’s 1885 invention of film led to much smaller and more accessible cameras: his Kodak film was made to be sent by the customer to be developed at a factory.

And you probably know how successful that turned out to be.

Stay tuned for part II of the history of photography!

Rare Stamps of the Cape of Good Hope

A square is not the only shape that stamps take.

Triangle stamps also exist – and the first triangle stamps came from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

The 1853 stamps marked the first triangular stamps in issue. Messrs Perkins, Bacon & Co in London, famous book, stamp, and banknote printers, printed them. Engraver William Humphrys cut their original die.

The 4d Cape of Good Hope Triangular

The 4d Cape Triangular

The stamps took this unique shape so that Post Office workers could recognize stamps from the Cape. Anyone who was illiterate could also still recognize them.

The one penny stamps were colored in red and the four pence stamps in blue, and the image on the stamps featured a woman sitting on an anchor on a rock to represent the Cape.

In 1864 the design was replaced with the figure of Hope sitting with a ram and vines. Slight changes continued to be made to the image, but the Hope designs continued in issues until 1898.

The Cape of Good Hope.

The Cape of Good Hope.

Later, in 1900, a 1d stamp showed Table Mountain and the Arms of the Colony. Finally, the last issue of the stamp between 1902 and 1904 showed King Edward VII.

Many triangle stamps have come after these, probably inspired by these notable first issues. Today, the estimated value of an original issue Cape of Good Hope stamp is not up to the value of some of the stamps we’ve written about, but still holds the hefty value of about $40,000.