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THROUGH THE NUMISMATIC GLASS: WHO WAS HENRY HERING?

Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald

The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines a "numismatist" as: "a student of coins." I dare say, if you asked most numismatists: "who was Henry Hering?" you would get very little information. He is not listed in American Numismatic Biographies, the massive volume authored by Pete Smith. In fact, you could spend considerable time in your local library trying to learn something about the life of Henry Hering. Yet, he played a major role in the creation of two of the most beautiful and admired United States gold coins that were ever struck. Not only was he a sculptor, but also an author. He wrote an article that was published in the August 1949 issue of The Numismatist after his death, titled: "History of the $10 and $20 Gold Coins of 1907 Issue."

Here is the Story!

The motivation of producing United States coins that could be favorably compared to any other country's coins, even Greek coins, would not have come about had neither President Theodore Roosevelt nor Augustus Saint-Gaudens been less than idealists. Both had the great zeal to find the time, support and energy to bring about changes in our coinage.

President Roosevelt first presented his proposal of new coin designs for the gold eagle and double eagle to Saint-Gaudens at a dinner during the winter of 1905. For the next year and a half, the sculptor altered and realtered his basic gold coin designs.

At first, Saint-Gaudens proposed a full-length, winged figure of "liberty" for both gold coins. After many trials, he decided to exhibit the standing liberty concept on the $20 coin while the eagle would carry the profile head of liberty. Saint-Gaudens used Christian Gobrecht's "Flying Eagle" for the reverse of the double eagle. He adopted his "standing eagle" design for the reverse of the $10 eagle from patterns used in a number of his other works. The profile head for the obverse of the $10 gold piece was modeled from his unused head of the "Sherman Victory Monument." At the request of Roosevelt, Saint-Gaudens added an Indian headdress.

Troubles with the Mint

It is important to remember that for the first time in the history of the mint's engravers and the nation's coinage, someone outside of the Mint had been chosen to create coin designs. Consequently, there was much anger and hostility as a result of Roosevelt's decision. First, the Philadelphia Mint officials complained abut the very high relief of Saint-Gauden's models and later about his inscriptions including the use of Roman numerals for the date.

The Task is Turned Over to Henry Hering

As the summer of 1907 approached, Augustus Saint-Gauden's health caused great concern. With the passing of each day, the sculptor was less able to deal with the demands of the mint officials and the alterations to his gold coin designs. At last, he was unable to continue. The work was turned over to Henry Hering, who was Saint-Gauden's pupil and assistant. In Hering's own words: "I executed both coins under his direction, from his designs. Consequently, I was in charge of the work and engineered the proceedings at the Philadelphia Mint." Hering executed both the eagle and double eagle plasters from the master's models. He knew the wishes of Saint-Gaudens and cast the models in extremely high relief. Hering wanted to have a die made so he could determine how many strikes it would take to produce the coin.

When the mint's chief engraver, Charles Barber, saw Hering's high relief plaster model of the $20 gold piece, he rejected it on the grounds that it could not be struck. Hering prepared a second model reducing the relief but it too was rejected. After much discussion, Barber agreed to produce the die using model #1. Hering was notified that the die was completed and, together with Charles Barber, a trial strike was arranged. By using a hydraulic pressure of 172 tons, the first stamping was completed. The result was that slightly more than one-half of the original model was visible. The process was continued, and after the 9th striking, the details of the model were visible.

Hering produced a third plaster model, once again reducing the relief. To his great surprise, his third model was also rejected. Charles Barber and Henry Hering seemed to have reached an impasse. Barber claimed the coins could not be struck. After an investigation, Hering discovered the reducing machine at the Mint was over 40 years old and obsolete but his request for a change of machines was refused. Saint-Gaudens was forced to appeal to President Roosevelt to get the Mint to install and use the new Janvier reducing machine.

By the summer of 1907, Saint-Gauden's health had continued to deteriorate. An alarmed President Roosevelt dispatched an order to the Mint to issue the double eagles "even if it takes the Mint all day to stamp one." Unfortunately, Augustus Saint-Gaudens died on August 3, 1907, before any coins could be produced.

As a result of the order by Roosevelt to issue the coins, the die from Hering's second model was utilized sometime in late November or early December 1907, to strike several hundred pieces by the hydraulic press. These coins probably needed five or more strikes to produce. The banks complained that the coins would not stack. This was undoubtedly true because the number of strikes resulted in a very high fringe on the surface of the rim.

Following the death of Saint-Gaudens, mint engraver Charles Barber produced low relief $20 gold pieces from the third model made by Henry Hering. The date had been changed from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals. These entered circulation in late December 1907 or early January 1908.

Who Was Henry Hering?

This brings us back to the title of this column: Who was Henry Hering? So far, we discussed the very important role he played in the eventual striking of the $10 and $20 gold coins designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Sculptor Henry Hering was born in New York City on February 15, 1874. He studied at the Art Students League in New York, 1894-98, and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and Colorossi Academy in Paris from 1900-1901. This is the same Academy in Paris attended by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1866. He was a pupil and assistant to Saint- Gaudens from 1901 until the death of Saint-Gaudens in 1907. Henry married Elsie Ward in June 1910.

Among his works is a portrait bust of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and many others including one of his father, all completed for Middletown College Library in New York. Hering did the official seal for the Pan Pacific International Exposition in California, and a memorial relief of General Fitzgerald, 71st Armory, New York City. His art may be seen in the Union Station Chicago and Federal Reserve Banks in Dallas, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. Hering created a World War I Memorial for Yale U., the Indiana State War Memorial, and a War Memorial for Ridgewood, New Jersey and also many fountains. The above is only a small listings of his works which include medals and statues.

At the age of 44, Henry Hering served with the 40th Engineers, U.S. Army in 1918. He was appointed to the Art Commission of New York City, from 1937 to 1941 and was elected President of the New York City Art Commission, 1944-1945. His Art Studio was located at 10 W 33rd St. in New York. Henry Hering died on January 15, 1949.

Without his dedication, his knowledge of the wishes of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and his willingness to challenge the United States Mint, the gold pieces may have looked much different.



 
 
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