The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser
1922 Coin





Coin Details

Origin/Country: United States
Item Description: 50C 1922 GRANT
Full Grade: PCGS MS 64
Owner: coinsbygary

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser
Competitive Sets: Garys Old Commemoratives   Score: 551
Research: NGC Coin Explorer NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

The Grant Memorial Gold Dollar and Half Dollar were struck to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ulysses S. Grant. The obverse of both coins feature a right profile bust of General Grant as adapted by Laura Gardin Fraser from a photograph by Civil War Photographer Matthew Brady. [1] The reverses, also adapted from a photograph, portray the clapboard home birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio surrounded by several very large maple trees. Interestingly, these coins are very similar to a medal struck for the occasion by Whitehead & Hoag (manufacturer of political buttons, badges, banners, and medals). However, the obverse of the medal features a three-quarter right facing view of Grant’s bust while the reverse displays a full view of the house without the trees. [2]

Like most early commemoratives, the Grant Memorial commemoratives had their share of detractors. On top of the usual complaints, (die varieties and misappropriation of funds) the editor of “The Numismatist” Frank G. Duffield had this to say about the artistic merits of the Grant commemorative coins, “The head of Grant on the coins is in profile and shows him as he probably appeared in the later years of his life, with closely cropped beard, not withstanding he is wearing a military coat. This head is not as suitable or life-like for a coin portrait as the head on the small medallet issued for the occasion, illustrated last month, if it was the intention to show him as he appeared during the days of the Civil War, when he was under 45. On the reverse of the coins is shown his cabin birthplace, on each side of which are trees of such a height that the cabin appears dwarfed. The surroundings of the cabin at the time of his birth may have been such as are pictured on the coins, but for the sake of better effect a little realism might have been sacrificed without detracting from historic interest.” [3] Nevertheless, Frank G Duffield sums up the Grant Memorial commemoratives as such, “In design and execution they are the equal of any of our recent commemorative issues, all of which have proved exceedingly popular with collectors”.

Famous numismatic art critic Cornelius Vermeule had this to say about the design features of the 1922 Grant Memorial; “Her trees, her little wooden house, and her rail fence are modeled and carved with a gem cutters precision. The texture of the leaves is one of the most subtle yet lively experiences on any surface of an American coin. Grant is his gruff self, and in sum it can be said that a superlative beginning was made to the iconography of the Civil War in US commemorative coinage. The only possible criticism of the design, that the large lettering is too large, fades when the curvatures of actual flans are studied. What seems potentially large and flat in photographs falls into harmonious beauty in actuality”. [4]

The problems with this coin as described by Mr. Duffield are not only artistic but also technical. From a technical standpoint there is obverse weakness in the strike that is apparent in Grant’s hair above his ear that interestingly is not as apparent on the gold coin. Furthermore, there may have been problems with the dies used to strike the half-dollar since most of the coins display die finish lines. [1] These raised lines are typically the result of repairing and/or cleaning the dies to extend their life. The magnified obverse picture I took clearly shows those lines. Still there are those who contend that the polish lines were deliberately made to give the coin a rougher look. This “look” by the way, perfectly correlates to Grant’s gruff personality. [5] Incidentally, I find the many different finishes on early commemorative halves to be intriguing.

Artistically, there are design constraints placed on coins that are not necessarily applicable to medals. Coins are mass produced while medals generally aren’t. Thus, reducing the stress on the dies during striking is crucial to extending the usefulness of the dies and keeping production costs lower. Next, the relief on coins is much lower than medals due in part to coin stacking and vending machine considerations. Finally, and maybe most significant are the political constraints that determine which designs are to be used. Sculptors are very creative in their art, and design restrictions oftentimes limit their creativity. For instance, Mr. Duffield complained about using a profile bust as a model. However, most, if not all of the coins featuring a bust in that day were all done in profile. Today if you were to compare the nearly full faced bust on the Grant presidential dollar to the 1922 Grant memorial half dollar, you would most likely agree that the profile on the presidential dollar is artistically superior to that of the half dollar.

In spite of all this going against her, I believe that Laura Gardin Fraser made the most of the hand she had been dealt and the proof is in the details. From my macro picture detailing the lower obverse of my coin you will notice how Mrs. Fraser adds texture to the collar of General Grants coat by engraving crisscrossing lines into the collar. This gives the illusion of depth and realism to the bust as does the level of detail given to General Grant’s necktie. When viewed in the hand without magnification it is amazing how much difference the little details make in the overall look of the coin.

Finally, of interest to me is the diverse monograms Laura Gardin Fraser employed in her many works of numismatic art. Because of its size and strike on the half dollar just underneath Grant’s bust, many people confuse her LGF monogram with the letter G for her maiden name. That the monogram LGF is clearer on the dollar coin shows that the half dollar is not the letter G but the monogram LGF.

1 Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8
2 The Numismatist, April 1922, pg. 188
3 The Numismatist, May 1922, pg. 228-229
4 Numismatic Art in America by Cornelius Vermeule, pg. 153-154
5 Ira & Larry Goldberg auctioneers

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