Exhibits of numismatic interest at the Smithsonian

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by Joe Esposito

December 17, 2015 – In recent months The E-Sylum newsletter has presented information on the new National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. This magnificent collection, housed at the National Museum of American History, is the most extensive numismatic exhibition in Washington, D.C. But there are, from time to time, other exhibitions at Smithsonian museums that are worth visiting when you are in the US capital.

Smithsonian Indian Peace Medal exhibit. Image courtesy Joe Esposito.

Indian Peace Medals
Currently the National Portrait Gallery has a small alcove highlighting Indian Peace Medals. Included are medals featuring the first seven U.S. presidents. Among the medals, in silver and bronze, are those designed by John Reich and Moritz Furst.

Indian Peace Medal. Image courtesy Joe Esposito.

Accompanying these medals are eleven tinted lithographs from the 1830s done by James Hall and earlier commissioned by Indian affairs government official Thomas L. McKenney. In each lithograph a Native American is wearing a peace medal.

Smithsonian Indian Peace Medal exhibit; Seneca chief Sagoyewatha or Red Jacket. Image courtesy Joe Esposito.

Perhaps the most stunning is an enormous medal worn by the Seneca chief Sagoyewatha or Red Jacket. The medal was given to him by President Washington.

Indian Peace Medal. Image courtesy Joe Esposito.

McKenney understood the importance of such medals, saying that “without medals any plan of operations among the Indians…is essentially enfeebled. This comes of the high value which the Indians set upon these tokens of Friendship.” 

Bronze Reliefs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Across the hall from “From Token to Ornament: Indian Peace Medals and the McKenney-Hall Portraits” are several bronze reliefs done by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. These are of the writer William Dean Howells, architect Charles McKim, Pennsylvania political figure Wayne McVeigh and painter Kenyon Cox.

Busts by Sculptor Jo Davidson
While at the National Portrait Gallery you can also see some of the sixty busts by sculptor Jo Davidson in the collection. Fourteen of them are in a room entitled “Jo Davidson: Biographer in Bronze.” Perhaps the most well-known work is a small white medal bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1934. Davidson also designed the 1945 inaugural medal.

The Indian Peace Medal collection runs through June 2016 and the Davidson exhibit is permanent.

For more on Red Jacket and to see a copy of this lithograph, see on The Erastus Granger Papers website.

The Smithsonian also produced a video on Davidson: FDR by sculptor Jo Davidson

To learn more about Saint-Gaudens and one of his masterpieces, the legendary Double Eagle, watch this entertaining podcast.

This article appeared in the E-Sylum newsletter no. 48 (2015) of 29 November 2015.

We would like to thank editor Wayne Homren and Joe Esposito for the kind permission to republish it in CoinsWeekly.