Auctions | January 8, 2014

Historic Archive of Coin & Medal Designer to Louis XVI, Napoleon, Jefferson & Franklin at Bonhams

Bonhams will sell an archive of rare historical documents, coins and medals created and owned by Augustin Dupré, who was at the heart of the coin and medal design and mint operation for both Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  

The collection will be on show at Bonhams in London, Paris and New York prior to a sale in New York on 2nd April 2014. It will be sold as one lot for an estimated $300,000 to $500,000.

Among the fascinating papers in this treasure trove are directions from Jefferson on how he wished General George Washington to appear on a victory coin. This and many other insights will be on offer when Bonhams sells this unique, recently discovered archive of Augustin Dupré, famed for the work he produced for Napoleon and later Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States. For students of French and American history, as well as those who are fascinated by coin and medal design, this sale is a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy a piece of numismatic heritage.

This archive is fresh to the market and comprises a variety of medallions, drawings and sketches and a number of original letters from his sponsors to Augustin Dupré which provide insights into his association with the New America and the part he played in providing the first medals for the newly formed United States. The archive was inherited by his son Narcisse who passed it on to his son who gave it to the family of the current owner.

Among the rarities on sale are sketches for the Morgan Liberty, and Franklin medals among others for military figures. There is also a fascinating insight into the client artist relationship with some of the usual arguments over the cost of producing designs and medals. Thomas Jefferson makes it quite clear that he expects the designer to work to an agreed budget.

One of the most powerful documents is without doubt Jefferson’s brief on what he expects the General Washington Medal to look like. Translated from the French it states: “On the one side the head of the General with the text Georgio Washington supremo duci exercitum adsertori libertatis  comitia Americana. Reverse, the evacuation of Boston. The American army advancing in good form towards the city which one perceives in the distance, while the English army hurries toward the shore to get aboard the ships which fill the harbour. In front appears General Washington, on horseback, amongst a group of officers to whom he is pointing out the flight of the enemy.”

It is believed that Augustin was also partly responsible for the design of one of the most powerful and internationally recognized symbols—the American eagle used on coins, medals and government buildings—which he created to his American clients specification.

John Millenstead, Director of Bonhams Coins and Medals Department, comments: “This is an amazing archive of huge historical importance, particularly to French and American collectors, both private and public institutions. But its importance is truly international, so buyers could come from any one of a dozen countries. It casts a fascinating light on the relationship between leading figures of the time as well as offering insights into the history surrounding some of the most iconic coins and medals from the period.”

Augustin Dupré came from a family that included several artists and engravers and he studied as the pupil of the sculptor David.  His career really took off with the French Revolution, as he became "Graveur General des Monnaies" in 1791. He successfully reinvented the look of the whole French monetary system which remained in use till the introduction of the Euro in 2000. Many of his papers are in the French national archive.