The US Dollar Coin: 500 Years in the Making

Liberty, Eagle, Morgan, Peace, Eisenhower and Sacagawea are a few of the better-known US dollar coins. Most are silver, but some are gold, while others are just “golden” in color. But to trace the origin of dollar coins, we must go back 500 years to a small town in Bohemia.

First, there was the Joachimsthaler …

By 1518, the Counts of Shlick in the town of Joachimsthal in the Kingdom of Bohemia were mining their own silver to create the Joachimsthaler, their own local silver coin. As the coin caught on elsewhere, it became known simply as a “thaler.” Over time,”‘thaler” was translated as “dollar,” which became the official currency adopted by the new United States and eventually by at least 20 other countries as far afield as Hong Kong, Australia and Liberia.

An early example of an original Dutch Thaler that stabilized the weight of silver, eventually becoming the dollar. Courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Captain Ahab’s Antiques

Then, the ‘Piece of Eight’

Just as the US dollar is the most ubiquitous currency today, the Spanish dollar, or “piece of eight,” was the world’s currency beginning in 1598 and remained legal tender in the United States until 1857. It was equal to the thaler in size and weight but was more accessible. During the colonial era, England insisted that the colonies supply them with silver and reduced its silver coinage accordingly. The Spanish dollar filled the void until the Coinage Act of 1792 changed all that.

The United States adopts a currency

Once the US Constitution was adopted, the new Congress was able to provide more economic stability in the national economy through its standardized coinage. President George Washington signed the Coinage Act of 1792, which officially adopted the dollar as the national currency within a decimal system, making the United States the first country to do so.

Mint marks were added to coins to show which US Mint produced them. Initially, there were nine US Mints, beginning with Philadelphia (no mint mark until 1980 when P was used). Subsequent marks were: C for Charlotte, North Carolina; D for Dahlonega, Georgia (1838-1861); O for New Orleans; S for San Francisco; CC for Carson City, Nevada; D for Denver (1906-present); M for Manila, The Philippines; and W for West Point, New York.

Silver Dollars Were the First

A total of eight silver dollars have been issued by the US Mints since 1794, with the American Eagle being the most recent.

The first dollar minted after the Coinage Act of 1792, this Flowing Hair Dollar example sold for $1,800 in 2012. Courtesy: LiveAuctioneers and Kennedys Auction Service LLC

Flowing Hair Dollar (1794-1795; no mint mark)

The Flowing Hair Dollar was the first official dollar coin minted in the United States under the Coinage Act of 1792. It was intended to equal the Spanish Dollar in size and weight. It became known as the Flowing Hair Dollar in reference to Liberty’s long hair that flowed past her shoulders, as designed by Chief Engraver Robert Scot. The coin’s composition was 90% silver (more than the 89.2% was required per the Coinage Act of 1792) and 10% copper. Only 1,758 of these silver dollars were hand-pressed in 1794, with an additional 160,000 or so minted in 1795, the last year of production. There is no mint mark.

The Draped Bust Dollar (1795-1803; no mint mark)

Lady Liberty was featured on the obverse with flowing hair to the shoulders showing a more open bust draped with cloth, as was the fashion of the day. It’s said that the model was from a portrait, possibly by Gilbert Stuart, of socialite Ann Willing Bingham, but it is not certain. The reverse is characterized by a small eagle on coins that were minted from 1795 to 1798 and a more majestic heraldic eagle on those examples minted from 1798 through 1803. The composition returned to the original official composition of 89.2% silver and 10.8% copper authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. There is no mint mark. Silver dollars were no longer minted after 1806. There was a Draped Bust Dollar with an 1804 mint date, but it was actually struck in 1835 and intended only for official overseas gifts as part of commemorative sets. None were circulated, and only six are known to exist.

Gobrecht Dollar (1836-1839; no mint mark)

Named for engraver Christian Gobrecht, the Gobrecht Dollar was the first silver coin to be reissued (in 1836) since the discontinuation of the Draped Bust Dollar in 1806. The design was a sitting Lady Liberty with a composition of 89.2% silver and 10.8% copper, as authorized by Congress in 1792. One of the rarest US dollars minted (about 1,000 may have been minted), the engraver’s name appeared prominently at first under Liberty, but later was reduced and finally eliminated altogether. It was discontinued in 1839, and is worthy of note that all Gobrecht Dollars struck in 1837 bore an 1836 date. There were restrikes in 1859 and 1860 that would show the eagle on the reverse flying straight rather than forward when tilted on its axis.

This design by Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht shows Liberty seated for the first time. It was minted with two different reverses. The earlier version is shown here. Courtesy: Wikipedia, US Mint and Heritage Auctions

Seated Liberty Dollar (1840-1873; no mint mark, O)

In 1840 a new silver dollar was minted with a seated Liberty engraved by Christian Gobrecht. It’s composition returned to the 90% silver and 10% copper of the earlier Flowing Hair Dollar and were struck at the Philadelphia Mint until 1846 when production included the New Orleans Mint (O), the San Francisco Mint (S) and the Carson City Mint (CC) after 1858. In 1866, the motto “In God We Trust” was added to the Seated Liberty Dollar for the first time. Production ended in 1873.

Trade Dollar (1873-1885; no mint mark, CC, S)

The Coinage Act of 1873 stopped production of circulating silver dollars, putting the country firmly on the gold standard, where it would remain until 1971. A Trade Dollar was instead minted for use as currency, primarily for payment in trade to China and the Far East. It did circulate in the US as a coin for business transactions, but was unpopular because it traded for less than the $1 face value due to the low value of silver and was legal tender only up to $5. The circulation of Trade Dollars ended in 1878, with only proofs officially produced until 1883 (10 dated 1884 and 5 dated 1885 weren’t discovered until much later).

So named for Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan who, in 1878, designed the first circulating silver dollar since the Seated Liberty Dollar was discontinued in 1873. Courtesy: Wikipedia and Brandon Grossardt

Morgan Dollar (1878-1904, 1921; struck with no mint mark or with CC, S, O, or D)

Silver interests prevailed in returning the US to a silver coin with the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. It authorized the minting the first new legal tender silver coins for circulation since 1873. Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan designed a Liberty Head on the obverse from a profile of Anna Willess Williams of Philadelphia, and an eagle and olive branch design on the reverse. It remained in circulation through 1904 and was again minted in 1921. It was the longest-circulating of all US silver coins.

Peace Dollar (1921-1928; 1934-1935; struck with no mint mark or with D or S)

With the passage of the Pittman Act of 1918, silver interests again prompted government to strike a new silver dollar coin at a fixed price of $1 an ounce. About 270 million new silver coins were minted overall in the form of a Peace Dollar. So named for the word “Peace” under the bald eagle resting on a branch on the reverse, it symbolized the end of World War I in 1918. The coin’s designer, Anthony de Francisci used his wife, Teresa, as the model for Liberty on the obverse. Production was interrupted in 1928 until a new Congressional act allowed for additional coins, about 7 million, to be struck in 1934 and 1935, after which the dies were destroyed.

American Silver Eagle (1986-present; no mint mark for bullion, P, S, W for proof sets)

Although this new American Silver Eagle was minted at three US Mints (Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point), no mint marks were added for the bullion strike (bullion coins were kept mostly for trade). Only the proof sets that were bought by collectors were struck with mint marks. From 2006 to 2008 and again in 2011, a series of uncirculated coins was struck with the W mint mark. Special Issues such as the “Philadelphia Set” of 1993, the “Legacies of Freedom” set of 2004 and 10 other different commemorative sets included the American Silver Eagle coin. A 2008 version was struck on a 2007 die and is considered a rare error coin.

1964-D Peace Dollar (1964-1965; D)

A reissue of the Peace Dollar in 1964 was intended as a new circulating dollar coin, but objections were raised that the coin was intended mostly for collectors and was therefore a waste of Mint resources if it didn’t circulate. About 316,000 of the new silver dollars were minted in Denver, but they were withdrawn and subsequently melted down. No known example is said to exist (a private mint later struck a base-metal commemorative one).

Dollar Coins Struck in Gold

Only three gold dollar coin designs were struck for circulation in the United States, and only between 1849 and 1889 (commemoratives were struck between 1909 and 1922, but never circulated). Each was minted in 90% gold (about .048 a troy oz) and 10% copper measuring only about a half-inch in diameter.

Liberty Head (1849-1854; struck with no mint mark or with C, D, O, or S)

After much debate through the years, a gold coin was finally struck in 1849. Called “Type 1,” it was designed by engraver James B. Longacre to show Liberty with a coronet facing to the left and surrounded by 13 six-pointed stars. On the reverse was an olive wreath (some minted open at the top; others closed), the year 1849 and the legend “United States of America” and “1 DOLLAR” in all caps. There are five different design variations, one with an “L” for Longacre on the obverse.

Liberty is engraved as a small Indian Princess with a coronet known as ‘Type 2’ and minted in 1854. Courtesy: Wikipedia and US Mint

Indian Head (1854-1859 small head; struck with no mint mark or with C, D, O, or S)

This coin, called “Type 2,” is similar in pattern to the Liberty Head, except the obverse shows a small head of an Indian princess with a feathered coronet on the obverse, with the legend “United States of America” along the rim instead of the 13 six-pointed stars. The reverse shows a larger wreath of cotton, corn, tobacco and wheat rather than the previous olive branches.

Indian Head (1859-1889 large head; struck with no mint mark or with C, D, O, or S)

Known as “Type 3,” the last gold dollar coin in circulation featured an Indian princess with a larger, more fully developed head with a fuller feathered coronet on the obverse (face). The reverse was very similar to the ‘Type 2’ design, both from Engraver James B. Longacre.

Dollar Coins Struck in Base Metal

There were four distinctive dollar coins struck in base metal, the Eisenhower Dollar, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, and the two gold-colored ones known as the Sacagawea Dollar and the Presidential Dollar. None have circulated well and were discontinued after a relatively short time.

The first base-metal circulating dollar honored President Dwight Eisenhower, who died in 1970. It features the Apollo 11 moon landing on the reverse. Courtesy: Wikipedia and Brandon Grossardt

Eisenhower Dollar (1971-1978; 1975-1976 Bicentennial; struck with no mint mark or with D or S)

Newly authorized in 1970, a new circulating dollar coin featured a profile of President Dwight D. Eisenhower by engraver Frank Gasparro with the phrase “In God We Trust” on the obverse (a national motto adopted in 1956 during Eisenhower’s Administration).

On the reverse was a tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969 (Eisenhower had created NASA in 1958). The design was based on the NASA mission patch depicting an eagle clutching an olive branch near the surface of the moon, except for the years 1975-1976 when a Liberty Bell design was substituted to celebrate the US Bicentennial.

The coin was a relatively large size at 1.5 inches and difficult for consumers and merchants to use. As a result, it was unpopular, except at casinos. There are silver and proof sets that collectors know as “blue Ike” (encased in a blue US Treasury presentation box) and “brown Ike” (encased in a brown presentation box with a silver Great Seal-type logo).

Susan B. Anthony Dollar (1979-1981, 1999; P, D, S)

A new dollar design was favored over the cumbersome Eisenhower Dollar with the image of 19th-century women’s rights advocate and anti-slavery activist Susan B. Anthony. Frank Gasparro was chosen to engrave her image on the new coin.

The new coin would be only about an inch in diameter, just a shade bigger than a circulating quarter, and thus was often confused by consumers. The reverse continued the Apollo 11 tribute from the previous Eisenhower Dollar, sparking criticism that it had no relevance to Susan B. Anthony at all. The coin had a unique 11-sided border. Overall, the coin was not well received and was used mostly by the post office, mass transit authorities and the vending machine industry.

The 1981 strike of this coin is more valuable because it was issued mostly for collectors. The 1999 proof series and some 1979 and 1981 mint marks are also of collector interest.

Sacagawea Dollar (2000-present; P, D, S, W)

It is nicknamed “the golden dollar” because of the shiny gold-colored manganese brass that covers the mostly copper coin. The obverse features a three-quarter profile of Sacagawea, the Shoshone scout for the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific in 1804, as designed by artist Glenna Goodacre.

The reverse was a flying eagle design with a wide spread-wing design by Thomas Rogers. This coin design (with a smooth edge) would be in circulation from 2000 to 2008. From 2009 to the present, the reverse would feature a new design each year depicting Native-American life by different artists with a lettered edge of stars, the motto “E Pluribus Unum” and the strike date.

As with the earlier base metal dollar coins, the Sacagawea Dollar was not popular in circulation even with a mass marketing program by the US Mint (even giving them away in boxes of cereal as prizes). However, they have proved useful for fare boxes and the vending machine industry.

Presidential $1 Coin Program (2007-2016; P, D)

Another “golden dollar” with a similar composition of manganese brass over mostly copper as the Sacagawea Dollar featured each of the presidents of the United States in order of election beginning with George Washington. The entire series lasted until the Ronald Reagan presidential coin was struck in 2016 (living persons are not featured on coins), after which the program was discontinued. Coins struck from 2012 (Chester A. Arthur) were minted only for collectors.

The reverse featured the State of Liberty by engraver Don Everhart with the motto “United States of America” and “$1.” Edging included the year, mint mark, 13 stars, and the legend “E Pluribus Unum” or “In God We Trust” from 2007-2009. Some Washington and John Adams dollars were missing the edging or had double edging, but there are relatively few, making them highly collectible.

Face jugs: pottery with personality

NEW YORK – With their bulging eyes, folky appearance and carved/incised teeth, stoneware face jugs are the most striking of Southern decorative arts forms. Although some were made in the North, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, they are mainly a Southern form.

“When a collector or historian thinks of broad term Southern pottery, face jugs always come to mind,” said Mark Zipp, a principal at Crocker Farm, a Sparks, Maryland, auction house specializing in stoneware and pottery. “Face jugs have largely sustained the handmade pottery industry in the Southeastern United States to this day, and a number of contemporary potters have gained notoriety producing them. This form, because of the modeling and sculpting involved, is easily considered among the most artistic and elaborate made in Southern ceramic production.”

A face harvest jug, Edgefield District, South Carolina, circa 1845-1855, sold for $85,000 at Crocker Farm in July 2017. Photo courtesy of Crocker Farm and LiveAuctioneers

The exact origin of Southern face jugs can inspire spirited, sometimes heated, debate. Some experts believe this form was born out of ceramics produced in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeastern states in the first or second quarter of the 19th century. This form evolved into the Southern tradition by using the region’s distinctive alkaline glaze, featuring ground glass, wood ash, clay and water.

“While some 19th-century face vessels produced in the Mid-Atlantic or North depict the face with stylized Afrocentric features, a great number of them also portray the face as Caucasian,” Zipp said. “Nearly all of the faces seen on Southern face jugs, however, are sculpted to represent African Americans.”

An Edgefield face jug having an extended tongue – a rare feature – fetched $44,000 in January 2017 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A popular theory purports that the form came to the Edgefield District of South Carolina in 1858. That was that year that slaves from the Congo arrived there, having been brought to America illegally by the slave ship Wanderer.

“A number of these slaves are documented as having worked in the Edgefield pottery industry. The similarity of Edgefield face vessels to figural carvings from Africa has led some scholars to suggest that the emergence of face-decorated pottery in the region was specifically brought by this group of Congolese slaves,” Zipp noted. “Oral histories relating the use of face jugs for spiritual or ritualistic purposes in Southern black communities is used as support for this theory. Today, it is accepted by many that the face jugs of Edgefield were produced by slaves of African descent, and this idea has certainly added to the aura and desirability of such objects.”

A face jug with kaolin eyes and teeth, Edgefield origin, circa 1860, earned $80,000 in July 2015 at Crocker Farm. Photo courtesy of Crocker Farm and LiveAuctioneers

The strong artistic appeal of face jugs has spurred many collectors to acquire face jugs, with museums starting to buy them in the early 20th century. “One major early collector was Helen Eve, the granddaughter of a 19th-century Edgefield District pottery owner, Colonel Thomas Davies. Eve acquired her collection from African-American communities in the Aiken, S.C., area during the second and third quarter of the 20th century,” he said. Several of Eve’s face jugs, all Edgefield in origin, sold in 1969 to John Gordon, a noted American folk art collector. His collection was auctioned in 1969 at Christie’s and helped drive an already established interest in Southern face vessels.

“It is important to note that Southern face vessel collecting largely began among folk art enthusiasts, and not stoneware or ceramics collectors. The portraiture of the faces, their wonderful personalities and expressive features drew in such an audience,” Zipp said.

In general, the most important and valuable Southern face jugs were made in Edgefield, circa 1845-1875. Modern face jugs area from all over the South are also highly collectible. Modern-era face jug production began on a larger scale in the late 1920s with members of the Georgia-trained Brown family of potters establishing a shop in Arden, North Carolina, whose brown-slip-glazed face jugs with broken pieces of china for teeth, are quite popular. The Cleveland, Georgia potter Cheever Meaders made some face jugs in the second and early third quarter of the 20th century. His son, Lanier, began producing them more frequently in the 1960s and gained acclaim as a folk artist, leading to an exhibit of his work at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

This Brown Pottery (Arden, North Carolina) storefront-advertising devil face jug made $50,000 in July 2017 at Crocker Farm. Photo courtesy of Crocker Farm and LiveAuctioneers

“The best face jugs stand out from the rest in a number of ways,” Zipp said. “Criteria such as size, the quality of the face’s modeling, the form, and the origin all play a role in value. Other added details, such as incised inscriptions, increase value significantly.”

The general rule for face vessels is, the larger the better. Most known Edgefield examples are relatively small, measuring roughly 5 inches tall, making examples standing 7 inches or taller more valuable. Figural “preacher men” with hats, produced during the late 19th century in Alabama, are also admired for their size. In the work of late-20th-century potter Burlon B. Craig of Vale, North Carolina, an 11-inch face jug can sell for a few hundred dollars, but a large-size example, 20 inches or more, can bring several thousand.

A large Edgefield face jug, circa 1845-1865, brought $60,000 at Crocker Farm in July 2018. Photo courtesy of Crocker Farm and LiveAuctioneers

“Edgefield face vessels sell in the $30,000 to $45,000 range at auction, with better examples bringing prices nearing six figures,” Zipp said.

Face jugs are among the hottest American ceramic objects on the market today, and while the best examples command big bucks, there are affordable entry points for new collectors from circa-1930 Brown Pottery pieces to 1980s Lanier Meaders face jugs. Because these two types were made in great numbers, values remain reasonable.

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Coral: treasured since ancient times

NEW YORK – Although coral reefs resemble underwater branched plants, they are actually colonies of tiny organisms living on limestone exoskeletons of their ancestors. Precious coral, as the decorative type is commonly known, ranges from pale pink to deep red. Since it is colorfast and polishes to a high sheen, this gem-like matter harvested mainly along the Mediterranean coasts of France, Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Algeria has been esteemed for its beauty since ancient times. It was also prized for its purported restorative and protective powers.

The ancient Greeks, believing that coral transformed from plant to stone when exposed to air, endowed it with wondrous powers. Many Greeks carried coral amulets to deter ghosts and witches, deflect lightening, neutralize poisons, avert shipwrecks, cure scorpion stings and repel curses.

Snail brooch, 18K gold, featuring carved coral body, Boucheron, Paris; French maker’s mark for Bondt and guarantee stamp, signed, 33.9 grams, 2½ inches long, realized $4,750 in 2010. Image courtesy of Skinner and LiveAuctioneers

Other Greeks believed that coral was born of blood. As the legend goes, when mighty Perseus beheaded the snake-haired monster Medusa, her blood, as it seeped into seaweed, hardened into red coral. So, amulets featuring Medusa’s likeness were deemed especially protective. In addition, people reputedly relied on powdered coral to cure internal bleeding, diseases of the spleen and bladder ailments.

Romans, too, believed that coral held therapeutic powers. Besides using it to treat snake bites and arouse libido, scores of them used powdered coral to quell life-threatening blood loss. Romans also draped pieces of coral around their children’s necks to guard them from harm.

Coral and bone carved yad (pointer) for reading a Sefer Torah, 11.4 inches long, 68 gr, 20th century, realized $1,700 in 2017. Image courtesy of Moreshet Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

From the first century AD onward, coral traders plied “coral routes” to the Arabian Peninsula and through Central Asia to the Far East. Eventually, communities they served integrated this valuable “red gold” into their local traditions.

Berber women in Morocco, for example, favored bracelets, ear ornaments and brooches featuring delicate coral beading or inclusions. Many also wore lavish necklaces or filigreed silver amulets enhanced with amber, silver beading, metallic coins and bits of coral.

Berber Moroccan silver, coral and amber necklace, 11 inches long, with enameled amulet, 3.23 inches wide, realized $400 in 2013. Image courtesy of Westport Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The Chinese, who perfected the art of hardstone carving, have long prized coral for its rarity and beauty. Artisans favored it because of its softness, which made it easy to “work” in fashioning pieces of wearable or decorative art. This craft rose to new heights during the Qing Dynasty, (1644-1912) when artisans, under Imperial patronage, carved fine, red coral figurines, jewelry and sculptures as royal tributes and ornaments. Their finest works, large, organic pieces featuring incredibly detailed images, frequently embodied auspicious wishes for good luck, wealth or longevity.

Sculpted Buddhist Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) with dragons, Qing Dynasty, China, about 15 inches x 19.6 inches, 6.19 pounds, realized $80,070 in 2014. Image courtesy of Cambi Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

Coral jewelry was especially fashionable during the Victorian era, when British women embraced ostentatiously carved cameos, densely designed floral trinkets, and flashy gold, diamond or sapphire-set brooches resembling beetles, bugs or dragonflies. Yet, British journalist G.A. Sala noted in 1868 that coral jewelry “carelessly selected, clumsily set and ignorantly arranged … may become one of the most vulgar and unsightly of all ornaments.” Today, happily, Victorian coral jewelry, which is widely collected, is available in abundance.

Spanish conquistadors introduced fine, red Mediterranean coral to the American Southwest in the 16th century, possibly as rosary beads or ornaments on najas, silver pendants hung on horses’ foreheads to avert the Evil Eye.

Old pawn Zuni sterling silver cuff bracelet, Irene Paylusi, 5⅜ inches round with 1¼-inch gap, 24.9 grams, realized $200 in 2012. Image courtesy of Santa Fe Gallery Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

It was not until much later that Navajo, Hopi and Zuni craftsmen began gem-working commercially. Their inlay work, delicately fashioned from coral combined with bits of turquoise, mother-of-pearl and black jet, often depict traditional tribal images like Rainbird, Sunface and Thunderbird. Alternately, many brooches, bracelets belt buckles, and bolo ties feature restrained, repeating coral beaded patterns. Coral necklaces range from impossibly petite, tube-shaped heishi beads and graduated, horny twigs to plump, shaped and polished cabochons. Contemporary Native creations, such as pins and rings, may dramatically integrate bits of unworked coral into traditional designs.

Graduated natural-piece coral necklace with 14K gold linkage, 19½ inches long, realized $125 in 2016, image courtesy. The Popular Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Coral amulets remain popular, as of old. Many Italian men, for instance, carry or wear slightly twisted, horn-shaped coral cornicellos to deflect the Evil Eye. Their wives and daughters may prefer more delicate coral-twig earrings, pins or pendants.

Today, too, enthusiasts scour auctions for authentic precious coral creations – superb sculptures, decorative natural specimens and enticing pieces of jewelry.

Reading the Alphabet soup of US Mint marks

NEW YORK –The United States Mint is where our coins are made. But how do you know which branch made it? That’s where mint marks come in.

Before the United States Mint

During the years between the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the adoption of the Constitution on September 17, 1789, the Articles of Confederation was the prevailing system of government. States were mostly independent and there was little federal control and certainly no unified national coin or currency system. Great Britain held back its silver coinage insisting the Colonies send silver to them. To fill the void, barter was common while states created their own sets of coinage and fiat currency that were hard to understand for everyday exchange. The Spanish silver dollar known as the ‘piece of eight’ was the most common coin used throughout the Colonies, but with different exchange rates.

Once the Constitution was passed in 1789, the Coinage Act of 1792 changed all that by “…establishing a mint, and regulating the Coins of the United States.” It also created the United States dollar that would have “…the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current.” The Coinage Act also established decimal accounting where units are related to the power of 10, the first national coinage to do so. It also established the first official Mint in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at that time.

1792 One Cent Pattern coin with silver center, one of the first struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Courtesy: By Robert Birch (coin), National Numismatic Collection – National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History in the Public Domai

Philadelphia Mint (1792-present): Mint Mark, None until 1980 with exceptions

The first United States Mint was an agency of the Department of State with David Rittenhouse, surveyor, astronomer, clockmaker and member of the American Philosophical Society, appointed by President George Washington as its first director. The Philadelphia Mint was the first federal building constructed under the Constitution.

The day before, Rittenhouse hand-struck several pattern coins (test coins) called the Nova Constellatio to test the new equipment using silver melted down from flatware contributed by Martha Washington. Rittenhouse then gave these first pattern coins to President Washington. Other pattern coins, 1,500 half dimes and dimes (aka dismes), were struck which were eventually released into general circulation.

The Philadelphia Mint used no mint mark until 1980 when ‘P’ was added to all coins produced there. Exceptions were made by adding the mint mark ‘P’ to the Jefferson nickel minted in 1942-1945 to show that the nickel was exchanged for an alloy of copper, 35 percent silver and manganese and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted from 1979-1981 and again in 1999.

1839-C $5 Gold Coin from the Charlotte Mint showing the ‘C’ mint mark. Courtesy: Newman Numismatic Portal and

Charlotte, North Carolina (1838-1861): Mint Mark ‘C’

Three branch offices of the United States Mint were opened in 1838 to include one in Charlotte, North Carolina. It primarily processed gold dust and gold nuggets mined at the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County, 20 miles northeast of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Before the Charlotte Mint opened, all gold had to be transported to the Philadelphia Mint for assay and smelting into gold bars and coins making the 540-mile trip overland (about 30 days) through dangerous Cherokee Indian Territory. It took months for the raw gold to be minted into coins.

The Charlotte Mint operated until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 when it was closed as an official United States Mint. After the War ended it was reopened as an assay office only in 1867, but finally closed in 1913.

The gold coins minted at the Charlotte Mint include the $1, $2, $3 gold coins and the Liberty Head Half Eagle gold coins, among others.

1843-D $5 gold half-eagle from the Dahlonega Mint in Georgia showing the ‘D’ mint mark. Image courtesy of Steve Morgan and

Dahlonega, Georgia (1838-1861): Mint Mark ‘D’

The second branch Mint opened in 1838 was the Dahlonega Mint, located about 75 miles north of Atlanta. Gold was found in the Cherokee Indian Territory nearby in the 1800s, about the same time that gold was found near Charlotte. Prospecting turned to commercial gold mining and travel to Philadelphia became more dangerous through the mountains.

The Dahlonega Mint processed gold deposits into official legal tender gold coinage for the Southern states. Coins struck were the gold dollar, $2½ quarter eagle, $3 gold coin in 1854 only, and $5 gold Liberty Eagle gold coins with a mint mark of ‘D’. Because of the relatively few gold coins minted, less than 1 percent of the gold coins minted at the Dahlonega Mint have survived.

The Dahlonega Mint was seized by the Confederate States of America and produced a limited number of 1861 gold dollars and gold eagles, but without the ‘D’ mint mark until it was abandoned later that year.

1852-O $1 US Liberty Head Gold Coin from the New Orleans Mint showing the ‘O’ mint mark. Courtesy: The Coopers Collection and

New Orleans: (1838-1861, 1879-1909): Mint Mark ‘O’

Gold nuggets and gold dust mined in the Deep South and along the Western frontiers needed to be assayed and struck into legal tender coinage. For that, the United States Mint opened the third Mint branch in 1838 at the most strategic port in the Americas, New Orleans. Already handling all manner of domestic and foreign trade, the New Orleans Mint served as an official Mint from 1838 until 1861 when the State of Louisiana seceded from the United States.

During the first month of the takeover of the New Orleans Mint by the Confederate State of Louisiana, U.S. gold coins using the same dies continued to be produced for its treasury and later for the Confederate government. The gold ore ran out after the first month and the Mint remained under the Confederacy until it was recaptured by U.S. forces the following year.

The New Orleans Mint was back in operation from 1879 until it finally closed in 1909 producing $1 to $20 gold eagle coins and the silver Morgan dollar coins, among others.

2002-S Lincoln Penny featuring the ‘S’ mint mark of the San Francisco Mint. Public Domain image

San Francisco (1854-1954, 1968-present): Mint Mark ‘S’

Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, was the site of a gold discovery by James Marshall in 1854 marking the beginning of the California Gold Rush that lasted until 1855. But with the large influx of prospectors during the period and the amount of gold entering the monetary system, a new branch Mint was established in San Francisco in 1854 to handle the large influx of gold.

The operation quickly outgrew the original building and a new building of granite and sandstone became the second Mint building in 1874. This was one of the few buildings that survived the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake virtually intact with about a third of the United States gold reserves undamaged.

Only proof and commemorative coins have been struck at the San Francisco Mint when minting resumed in 1968 with the exception of some circulating coins, the Susan B. Anthony dollar (with the ‘S’ mint mark) and some pennies during the 1980s (with no mint mark). In 1962 the Mint was officially downgraded to an assay office, but regained its official Mint status in 1988.

1877-CC Seated Liberty Quarter showing the ‘CC’ mint mark of the Carson City Mint. Courtesy: Christian Gobrecht, Image by Lost Dutchman Rare Coins and

Carson City, Nevada (1870-1886, 1888-1893): Mint Mark ‘CC’

While there was a gold rush elsewhere, silver ore was discovered in large quantities in 1859 at Virginia City, Nevada, not far from Reno, in the Sierra Mountains. It was named the ‘Comstock Lode’ for Henry Comstock who neither discovered nor profited from the discovery.

There was a call for an official Mint to process the silver and gold ore into legal tender coins as early as 1858, because the closest Mint was a dangerous 250-mile trip over mountains to San Francisco. By 1863 a new mint was finally authorized, but didn’t become operational until 1870 when it was located at Carson City, Nevada, about 32 miles south of Reno. The Mint operated until 1886 striking mostly silver coins from the Comstock Lode along with some gold coins as well. The Mint reopened in 1888 and closed in 1893.

Altogether, the Carson City Mint struck 50 issues of silver coins, including the seated Liberty dime, quarter, half-dollar and dollar, the Trade and Morgan dollars and a 20-cent piece along with 57 issues of gold coins including the $5 half eagle, the $10 gold eagle and the $20 double eagle, according to a Wikipedia entry, with many of the coins considered rare.

Bicentennial Washington Quarter showing the ‘D’ mint mark for the Denver Mint. Courtesy: Denver Mint and

Denver (1906-present): Mint Mark ‘D’

This may be the only time a private commercial mint became an official U.S. Mint. Clark, Gruber and Co. established a commercial brokerage in Leavenworth, Kansasm, in 1859 with a branch office in Denver opening a year later, mostly to assay the gold being found in the Pike’s Peak area near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The company struck its own $2.5, $5, $10 eagle and $20 double eagle gold coins with their company name on the reverse until the operation was bought by the U.S. government in 1863.

Although, it opened as the U.S Denver Mint in 1863, the facility was used only as an assay office to smelt gold into individual bars and returned to the miner. No coins were actually struck until a new facility was opened in February 1906. The $5 half eagle, $10 eagle and the $20 double eagle gold coins were the first coins with the ‘D’ mint mark. Some silver coins were also minted here for the first time.

The Denver Mint continues to produce coins in general circulation, mint sets and commemorative coin sets, all with the ‘D’ mint mark, and is considered the biggest producer of legal tender coins in the world, according to a

While the mint marks for the Dahlonega and Denver Mints are identical, neither was operating at the same period in time.

Manila, The Philippines (1920-1922, 1925-1941): Mint Mark ‘M’

Shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1898 ending the Spanish-American War, the United States took possession of several Spanish territories in the Pacific to include The Philippines. One of the properties was the Philippine Mint originally operated by the Spanish to produce local coinage. After U.S. possession, silver coins continued to be minted under U.S. supervision that were similar to the Spanish silver peso along with the one, ten, twenty and fifty centavo coins.

In 1903, the San Francisco Mint produced silver coins for the Philippines with a small ‘S’ mint mark, but by 1908 began minting all general circulation coins as well until 1920. In that year, the U.S. Mint created the Manila Mint, the only Mint outside the continental United States, to produce all coinage using the old Spanish Mint facilities until 1922 without a mint mark.

The Manila Mint produced no coinage from 1923 until it reopened in 1925, again producing its own currency, but this time adding an ‘M’ as its own mint mark. The Manila Mint was closed permanently after the Japanese occupation in 1941 during World War II.

West Point, NY (1988-present): Mint Mark ‘W’

Officially known as the West Point Mint Facility since 1988, the former West Point Bullion Depository began storing silver in 1937 near the West Point Military Academy with the nickname “The Fort Knox of Silver,” although some gold was stored in the facility as well. It is the only bullion depository to become an official U.S. Mint.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games $10 gold commemorative coin was the first coin minted featuring the ‘M’ mint mark and the first official legal tender gold coin issued in the United States since 1933. Several other commemorative coins featuring the ‘W’ mint mark include the 1996 Roosevelt dime, the 2015 Roosevelt dime and $1 coin for the March of Dimes commemorative set, and the 2014 proof silver and gold Kennedy Half Dollar commemorative set.

The facility still stores mostly gold bullion, second only to Fort Knox. All American Eagle proof and uncirculated commemoratives in bullion are produced by the West Point Mint Facility along with the American Buffalo gold coins.

1792 Copper Pattern Dime (Disme) one of the first struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Courtesy:  National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History


Mint marks were suspended in 1965 through 1967 for all U.S. Mint coinage to preserve coin circulation during the time silver was being removed from coins overall. Beginning in 1968, all mint marks were struck on the obverse (the face or ‘heads’ of the coin).

Altogether there were nine official United States Mints since the Coinage Act of 1792. Of the nine, only four remain as active United States Mints. Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco strike all manner of legal tender circulating coins consisting of the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar and $1 coin, nearly 15 billion coins minted in 2017 worth nearly $963 million, not counting commemoratives from the West Point Mint Facility, the fourth operating Mint.

All that production is a far cry from the first strike of 11,178 copper and silver coins in 1793, all hand pressed at the time, and struck from borrowed silver.


Bucki, James, “The Coinage of the United States”  November 24, 2018,

Jordan, Louis,  “The Comparative Value of Money Between Britain and the Colonies”, University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections,, undated

Littleton’s Illustrated Guide, “Mint Marks on Regular-Issue U.S. Coins”, undated

Taylor, Sol, “The First Coins of the USA”, May 19 2007,

United States Mint, “Collecting Basics: Mint Marks”,  undated, “US Mint History Since 1792”,  undated, “United States Mint”, undated

Satsuma: how the West was won over

NEW YORK – Satsuma earthenware dates to the 1590s, when master Korean potters established kilns in Kyushu, in southern Japan. Initially, they crafted small, simple water jars, incense boxes, and tea ceremony components from dark clay. After the discovery of local cream-colored clay, however, these pieces featured floral or geometric designs with soft yellow glazing.

Globular, gilded, enameled Satsuma jar featuring a continuous scene of carriage in a garden against a foliate base, Meiji Period, signed, early 20th century. Sold for $13,000 in 2005. Image courtesy of Doyle New York and LiveAuctioneers

From the late 1700s, these potters, influenced by the rising popularity of Imari porcelain, produced overglaze vessels featuring delicate, hand-painted, multicolor enamel brocade and floral patterns embellished with liquid gold. Final firings, resulting in differing cooling rates between their bodies and glazes, created their characteristic mellow yellow, minutely crackled glaze. The most decorative teasets, vases, trays, brush pots, and incense burners were likely reserved for daimyōs and other high-ranking dignitaries.

Squat vase with elongated neck decorated in polychrome enamels and gilt on a clear crackle glaze depicting daimyo procession, signed with gilt seal, Yabu Meizan, 5.25 inches tall, realized $7,000 in 2014. Image courtesy of A.B. Levy’s Palm Beach and Liveauctioneers

After centuries of self-imposed isolation, the “Enlightened” Meiji emperor not only embraced modernization, but also promoted exports by showcasing Japanese arts at European international exhibitions. After introducing exquisitely detailed Satsuma bowls and massive vases at the Paris International Exhibition of 1867, their wares were displayed worldwide, from Vienna and Hamburg to St. Petersburg and Chicago. Their exotic charm and beauty created a sensation.

As the Satsuma craze spread, Japanese artists worked feverishly to create pieces expressly for export. To encourage sales further, they followed their perception of Western tastes. So instead of realistic scenes, their gilded tea caddies, plates, bowls and incense burners bear stylized pagodas, courtesans, demons and dragons against dense bird-and-flower grounds.

Pairs of towering vases were especially popular. Scores depict continuous, go-round images like daimyō processions or crowds entering kabuki theaters. Others, divided into decorative panels, feature contrasting scenarios. Samurai archers oppose bucolic scenes of nature, for instance, and children at play face plump, perching partridges. However, because these earthenware vases were fired at lower temperatures than porcelain, they—and indeed all Satsuma, are purely decorative.

A Satsuma plate featuring festively clad courtesans and children, Kinkozan, realized $3,000 in 2011. Image courtesy of Artingstall Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Satsuma-style workshops, employing numerous potters and painters under the auspices of kiln masters, soon spread from Kyushu to Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama and Tokyo. Their varied clays, pigments, glazes and methods resulted in a wide range of colors and crackles. Moreover, many craftsmen hastily painted designs on blank, glazed stoneware. Yet to Westerners, all “Satsuma,” whatever their origins, evoked the romance and splendor of the East.

Unfortunately, as production increased, previously consistent standards of quality gave way to shoddy workmanship, overly ornate designs, and lack of artistic creativity. By the mid-1880s, sales of such mass-produced Satsuma had diminished.

All the while, select kiln masters continued creating traditional Satsuma – hand-painted masterpieces featuring restrained, well balanced designs and time-honored themes edged by rich, repetitive borders.

Satsuma gold and polychrome decorated incense burner (koro), Kinkozan, 7 inches x 6.5 inches, realized $1,000 in 2017. Image courtesy of The Popular Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Many examples, reflecting the national love of nature, depict harmonious landscapes embellished with beloved crane, butterfly, cherry blossom, peony, or chrysanthemum motifs. Others, depicting festivals and processions, feature geishas with parasols, scholars studying scrolls, children flying kites, or musicians performing. Though these were portrayed with minute brushstrokes— perhaps even slender rats’ hairs, their facial expressions, amazingly, reflect the full range of human emotions. In fact, say historians, some resemble notables of the time.

A number of master painters, likely courting fame or fortune, signed their creations. Others cleverly worked their names, or the names of their studios, into elements of their artwork. In this way, Hozan, Seikozan, Kikozan and Ryozan, for example, became known for their characteristic techniques, subject manner, styles, and harmony between form and design.

Finely decorated Satsuma bowl, interior with butterflies, exterior with wisteria vines above chrysanthemums and other flowers, base with gilt two-character mark within a brown cartouche on a chrysanthemum ground, 4 inches x 4.5 inches, realized $3,200 in 2009. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Serious Satsuma collectors often seek work by Yabu Meizan, whose masterpieces earned extensive recognition at international ceramic exhibitions and world fairs. Many feature exquisitely detailed images of everyday activities like potters, swordsmiths, fan makers and paper makers at work. Scores depict natural motifs, like maple branches or dragonflies darting among morning glories, against simple, creamy grounds.

Other enthusiasts pursue small, rare works by Nakamura Baikei. These embody not only a skillful use of color, but also expressive brushwork and motifs ranging from amusing to martial. They also feature expansive inscriptions extolling his own incomparable artistic skills.

Rare Satsuma, reflecting superior artwork and detail, pleasing proportions, and unusual subject matter as executed by master craftsmen, are the most desirable of all. In addition to their characteristic fine-crackled glaze, these splendors often incorporate delicate dots and strands of liquid gold applied with the tiniest tips of tiniest brushes. Amid the tasteful elegance, they shimmer.

David Webb’s Bejeweled Menagerie

NEW YORK – In the glittering world of designer jewelry, David Webb has been a dominant name for decades – seven, to be exact. The company celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018. While Webb may have been best known for the enameled animal bangles he introduced in the 1960s, the animal kingdom’s influence on the designer can be traced to a much earlier period of his career.

Born in 1923 Asheville, N.C., Webb opened his first shop in New York City in 1948 at age 23. He previously spent a few years as an apprentice to his uncle, learning silversmithing and metalworking. The first item he ever designed was a copper ashtray signed with a spider in its web. From then on, animal motifs became a major part in his business. In fact, his company logo incorporates a golden W with a zebra.

This David Webb 18K yellow gold and platinum bangle bracelet modeled after the Capricorn ram realized $34,000 in February 2015 at Elite Decorative Arts. Photo courtesy of Elite Decorative Arts and LiveAuctioneers

While Webb made jewelry of all kinds, from traditional gold and diamond rings to other forms that blended diamonds with semi-precious stones, his animal pieces brought him the biggest acclaim. He himself quipped, “Women are tired of jewelry-looking jewelry, and they want one-of-a-kind pieces … Animals are here to stay,” according to

Webb worked animal figures into pins, necklaces and rings, but it is his bangle bracelets, usually enameled in bright colors, are iconic and highly collectible.

In 1957, he designed his first animal bangle with a dragon that contained cabochon emeralds, diamonds, platinum and gold. Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor bought the piece, which would later become known as the Elizabeth Taylor Makara Bracelet. This design opened up a world of possibilities, and a veritable zoo of animals followed – creatures both real and mythical that could fly, swim, slither or run, including frogs, panthers, zebras, horses, monkeys, snakes, leopards, alligators, seahorses and elephants. Taylor continued to be a fan and even wore her diamond-encrusted lion-and-pearl Webb designs when filming several movies.

Set with diamonds whose total carat weight approaches 28 carats, this David Webb diamond panther pin hav achieved $25,000 at Fortuna Auction in November 2017. Photo courtesy of Fortuna Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Vogue editor and columnist Diana Vreeland was an early champion of his work, and Vogue was among the first magazines to feature his creations. Two years after opening his own business, the magazine used a pair of Webb’s earrings on a model on the cover of a fall issue. Vreeland, herself a fashion icon, was rarely seen without her David Webb enameled zebra bangle bracelet or earrings.

Besides Taylor and Vreeland, other celebrities and public figures have been Webb devotees. In 1962, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy selected Webb to make the official Gifts of State for the White House. Webb responded with a series of paperweights, some including animal themes, for visiting dignitaries.

One of Mrs. Kennedy’s favorite Webb pieces was said to be a coral paperweight given to her husband, President Kennedy, as a gift. “Webb was entrusted by Jacqueline Kennedy to rework her late husband’s coral in 1966, using it to form the fish tail of typically imaginative mythical sea lion, cast in gold, which he rested upon a larger piece of coral amongst a bed of golden crystals to form the paperweight,” says a narrative on Sotheby’s website, which auctioned the item in 1996.

A David Webb ruby and emerald lion bracelet in 18K yellow gold sold for $30,000 in November 2017 at New Orleans Auction Galleries. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Among Hollywood’s elite, two of the stars who favored David Webb jewelry were Barbra Streisand and Princess Grace of Monaco. Even after Webb’s death [from pancreatic cancer] in 1975, the company continued to produce striking designs that were in keeping with the founder’s artistic vision. David Webb jewelry has been embraced by contemporary stars including Jennifer Lawrence, Beyonce, Amy Adams and Debra Messing, who don them to high-profile events such as the Met Gala, the Grammys and the Golden Globes.

David Webb pieces are so beloved that their owners don’t often part with them, so they only appear at auction from time to time. In April 2018, it was noteworthy when not one but two single-owner collections of David Webb jewelry crossed the block in New York. A sale at Bonhams New York was led by an amethyst, coral, emerald, rock crystal quartz, diamond and enamel pendant necklace featuring a pair of mythical creatures that realized $62,500; while Doyle New York’s sale of the Noel and Harriette Levine (who are major museum donors) collection starred a gold, platinum, enamel, diamond and cabochon ruby zebra bangle bracelet that sold for $40,625.

Distinctively David Webb, this diamond and ruby horse bracelet made $27,500 in April 2018 at Fortuna Auction. Photo courtesy of Fortuna Auction and LiveAuctioneers

On LiveAuctioneers, Webb’s animal bangle bracelets consistently bring top dollar, from a Capricorn ram gemstone and gold bangle that brought $34,000 at Elite Decorative Arts in February 2015 to an enameled gold, diamond and ruby frog bracelet that was purchased for $30,000 at Rago Arts in June 2017.

Long before “statement” jewelry was a thing, David Webb was making big, bold jewelry pieces that were distinctive and fun to wear. Fans today continue to appreciate his designs for their imaginative artistry, high-quality craftsmanship and enduring value as collectibles.

A David Webb articulated and hinged gold, diamond and ruby frog bangle made $30,000 at Rago Arts & Auction Center in June 2017. Photo courtesy of Rago Arts & Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Why Andy Warhol was made for social media

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Before there even was a popular definition of social media, Andy Warhol was the human embodiment of it. The man practically created the concept of bringing together people through pop culture and art – all he lacked was a modern delivery system.

Today, seeing as everyone from Barbie to your poodle has an Instagram account, what might the artist born in Pittsburgh as Andrew Warhola have done with his?

Photo of Andy Warhol taken sometime between 1966 and 1977 by Jack Mitchell (1925-2013), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

There’s no doubt that had he lived, Warhol – who died in 1987 in New York City and whose 90th birthday would have been on August 9th of this year – would have become an even bigger worldwide pop icon. Everything about his life – the films, the silkscreens, the paintings, books and even his early work in advertising – was so fantastic that he and his legion of followers might well have documented it through posts, tweets and livestream events.

Snapchat, however, would not have been his thing, given its nature of impermanence. “The idea is not to live forever,” Warhol once said, “but to create something that will.”

Sarah DeIuliis is a Pittsburgh native, Warhol scholar and visiting assistant professor at Duquesne University. On a recent morning, she strolled through the galleries of the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Shore to discuss this modern-day facet of Warhol’s artistic legacy.

Adapting to social media, she said, would have been a piece of cake for the ever-changing artist.

“I think that if you look at what he did while he was alive, he was a different artist at different times,” she said. “But he was still the pop art artist, and I think that’s something regardless of where life took him.

“If he had been alive today, I think he would have maintained, for lack of a better word, that ethos.”

Warhol famously informed his art through an early career in advertising. He knew how to compose a scene on canvases large and small, which leads one to guess that Instagram would have been his platform of choice.

“It’s like that plate of food people share now on Instagram, or that blue sky. So, he’s finding the things, the symbols that would resonate with people on a different scale,” DeIuliis said.

Andy Warhol and playwright Tennessee Williams in conversation aboard the S.S. France, 1967. Film director Paul Morrissey shown in background. Photo by James Avalines, NY World-Telegram and Sun staff photographer. Source: Library of congress Prints and Photographs Division

The artist, who socialized with other celebrities of the day, would say he considered himself a mirror of modern culture. This made his art a reflection, but perhaps not a true representation of his inner monologue. For that reason, you probably could scrap the notion that he would have tweeted his 1968 stay in the hospital after being shot by Valerie Solanas.

These kinds of pics were OK for a shirtless Justin Bieber in 2013, but perhaps a bit too “out there” for Warhol, who closely guarded his personal privacy.

“I can’t say he would have been very forthright in his sharing. He wasn’t a massive sharer of his own personal life, although he worked very hard in that cultivation of Andy Warhol, as opposed to Andy Warhola, which is very important.”

Yet the artist was eager to perform. A video at the Warhol Museum shows Warhol and associate Gerard Malanga creating one of the “Marlon Brando” silkscreens.

“You can see he’s not uncomfortable (being filmed). He’s just so intent on his work,”DeIuliis said. “You can see the passion he’s putting into the silkscreen.”

Warhol’s silkscreens represent a very “Instagrammable” opportunity. They are strikingly visual, and the images leave space for interpretation.

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Marilyn Monroe, silkscreen, Edition Sunday B Morning. Image source: Jasper52

“As he began to experiment with the technique, it was about the repetition and the bold colors, the artistic sensibilities that translate into cultural values,” DeIuliis said. “I’m watching that image being repeated over and over and over again, and for me, that just kind of spoke to the beginning of his reflecting on the American culture.”

Some of his art was just beautiful fun. From his early days of drawing commercial images from a shoe company came works of whimsy. One series of shoe lithographs is titled “A la recherche du shoe per du.”

It’s a riff on the title of Marcel Proust’s classic novel “A la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time.”)

Ponder the hashtags: (hash)theshoemustgoon, or perhaps (hash)baringmysole.

Not all forms of social media might have been a good fit, however. Would Warhol have embraced Facebook? Please. At the time of his death in 1987, Warhol was only 58. Although he would have fallen into the demographic that shares old high school photos and pictures of their grandkids, he had a much younger vibe. It’s likely he would have shunned a form of social media that was no longer fresh.

Perhaps Facebook Live or any number of social media video components would have been more attractive, DeIuliis said.

“Livestreaming may have been something early on he would have been quite taken with,” she said. “If you look at some of his earliest documentaries, for example, when he does ‘Sleep,’ or the Empire State Building.

“He edits; ‘Sleep,’ in particular; he speeds up. But it’s still meant to resemble the uninterrupted shots of the object, and so I think that maybe when we talk about livestreaming … Experiencing that ‘in this moment’ mentality he might have found appealing.”

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), New England Clam Chowder, silkscreen, Edition Sunday B Morning. Image source: Jasper52

His “Screen Tests” – three-minute films of hundreds of people, famous and not, just sitting in front of a silent camera – are eminently suited to social media. Even the seemingly mundane images of Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans are compositions carefully arranged to comment on our consumer culture.

And yes, Andy Warhol also did selfies. His first, based on a strip of photos taken in a booth at a New York City dime store in 1963, went for $7.7 million at Sotheby’s auction house last year.

Take that, Biebs.

#   #   #

By Maria Sciullo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Copyright 2018 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This information may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Versatile lapis lazuli prized for its shades of heavenly blue

Lapis lazuli, a gem-like stone prized since prehistoric times, is featured extensively in ornaments and jewelry. The finest “lapis,” mined in the remote mountains of present-day Afghanistan, is intensely blue, evoking the sea and sky.

Yet due to varying mineral content, blue lapis actually ranges from light blue and bluish-green to deep indigo. In addition, some pieces include small, glimmering flecks of gold-colored pyrite, reminiscent of the starlit night. Lapis featuring excess pyrite is dullish-green, while that with excess calcite features white streaks.

Dramatic lapis lazuli bracelet, beads 3 inches in diameter. Image courtesy of Westbury Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Over the centuries, traders, plying age-old caravan routes, transported small, costly lapis chunks far and wide. Rough beads have been found at Neolithic burial sites in central Asia. In addition, gravesites in Mesopotamia and Persia revealed beads, dishware, animal statuettes and protective amulets, some embellished with delicate, decorative lapis inlays.

Many ancients believed that blue, the color of the heavens, held great protective powers. So scores of Egyptians carried tiny, carved lapis eye, animal and deity-shaped amulets strung about their necks, in pockets or attached to finger rings. The wealthy, in addition to favoring luxurious lapis anklets, collars, bracelets, necklaces and headdresses, outlined their eyes with powdered lapis. They also took finely ground lapis internally, to prevent melancholy, insomnia, fever and gallstones.

Tiny Egyptian lapis hippopotamus amulet featuring star-like pyrite inclusions, 2 inches, Late Period, Egypt, circa 712-304 B.C. Image courtesy of

As Egyptians also associated blue with royalty and the afterlife, lapis-derived pigment decorated pharaohs’ sarcophagi and statues. In addition, carved lapis necklaces, figurines, scarabs, and heart amulets were customarily tucked among the grave goods in royal burial tombs.

Despite its use by barbarian tribes, the color blue remained popular throughout the Roman Empire. Wealthy women not only prized lapis beaded necklaces and lapis-carved gold rings. They also used it, powdered, as a medicinal, a cosmetic, and an aphrodisiac.

Victorian lapis lazuli gold-plated pendant-brooch, set in a Greek revival gold-plated tassel mounting, realized $175 in 2015. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Through the Middle Ages, powdered-lapis motifs enhanced Afghani caves, Zoroastrian temples, Buddhist frescoes, Chinese paintings, and Indian murals. When Eastern trade routes reached Venice, monks graced manuscripts and Bibles with costly, powdered lapis illuminations.

During the Renaissance, the Medicis of Florence, along with others rich or royals, assembled collections of fabulously expensive, carved, gold-accented lapis lazuli footed bowls, goblets, flasks, and unguent bottles. Many also furnished their palaces with luxurious, lapis-inlay tables, virginals, house altars, cabinets, and mounted intaglio carvings.

Mosaic-like bowls, each 8 inches in diameter, featuring lapis geometric sections with pyrite inclusions, Afghanistan, realized $1,125 including the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Bonhams,

During the Baroque era, lapis was laboriously ground into the deep blue, ultra-expensive pigment ultramarine, a “noble color, beautiful, the most perfect of all colors.” In frescoes and oil paintings, it was generally reserved for garments of heavenly figures.

Opulent, blue-hued, carved lapis creations remained fashionable symbols of wealth and status through the 20th century. Gilt-mounted boxes, statuettes, vases, clocks and lapis-laden candlesticks adorned many a parlor mantelpiece. Due to their exquisite quality and aesthetic appeal, each piece is worth far more than the amount of lapis it contains.

Bold lapis-dial wristwatch, 18K solid gold, signed, numbered, unworn with box and papers, Christian Dior, circa 2014. Image courtesy of Watches of Knightsbridge Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Lapis lazuli creations continue to charm. Tiny Egyptian and Roman amulets, shaped like hippos, hearts, hawks, fish or frogs, offer spiritual protection as of old. Intricately carved Chinese figurines, snuff bottles, plaques, pendants and prayer beads evoke the mysterious Orient. Russian and Chilean white, cloud-streaked chess sets, vases, trinket boxes and bangles, when set to advantage, are not less alluring.

Exciting contemporary lapis designs also abound. Towering, highly polished, deep blue obelisks, freeform chunks and mosaic-like sculptures make dramatic decorative statements. So do stunning jewelry boxes, vases, inlaid clocks and artistic, nature-themed pieces.

Yet lapis lazuli jewelry, available in countless forms, sizes, styles and designs, is a perennial favorite. Classy lapis cufflinks and pinky rings vie with elegant tie tacks, wristwatches and lapis-veneered fountain pens. Delicately carved indulgences vie with chic, cabochon-cut lapis earrings, beads and brooches, many glittering with diamonds and gold.

Many, as of old, believe that lapis lazuli holds great healing powers. A pebble-size pyramid placed beneath a pillow, for example, allegedly eases insomnia. Lapis arm bangles are said to relieve stress, purify blood and boost the respiratory, immune and nervous systems. Rubbing lapis on afflicted areas alleviates a litany of ailments. Moreover, say some, lapis lazuli promotes self-awareness, inner harmony, confidence, joy and peace.

Mantiques: Artful decorations for the man cave

There’s a category of collectibles that probably didn’t even exist 10 years ago but which is so popular today that entire auctions are exclusively dedicated to it. They’re called “mantiques” – items that manly men and the women who love them use to decorate their basement, garage or den—the man cave.

Mantiques can take on many forms. Some of the more common mantiques include old gas station signs, anything coin-op (slot machines, Coke machines, trade stimulators, jukeboxes, pinball machines, vending machines), beer trays, barber shop memorabilia and even old cars.

“Collecting mantiques may start as picking up a novelty here or there, but it can quickly explode into filling a den or garage with amazing finds,” said Eric Bradley, Heritage Auctions’ Director of Public Relations. “Each collection is different, and there’s no limit to how these disparate collections come together. Once assembled, the objects harmonize to do one thing: tell a story about the collector and their intellect, sense of humor and proclivities.” Bradley knows whereof he speaks. He literally wrote the book on the subject: Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff.

Twentieth-century Kuntz ‘St. Bernard’ tin litho beer tray (Waterloo, Ontario), made and signed by Kaufmann & Strauss (New York). Price realized: CA $5,463 in September 2018. Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. image

Recently, Miller & Miller Auctions in Canada held an auction titled “Mantiques! Gentlemen’s Collectibles.” “I’ve never seen such anticipation for an auction,” said Justin Miller, of Miller & Miller Auctions. “The energy in the room from the beginning of the sale was unmistakable. Many items were fresh to the market, unlocked from 30- and 40-year collections. The prices tell the story. Collectors were fighting to get what they wanted.” Canadian auction records were shattered, and the top lot was a 1950 Plymouth woody station wagon (CA$35,400).

What took mantiques so long to come into their own? Answer: they’ve been here all along, just under a different name. “If you want to trace the evolution of mantiques, it was a genre that for years was called country store collectibles,” said Ben Lennox, Miller & Miller’s Operations Manager. “Tobacciana, petroliana, breweriana and automobilia—these all fit under one neat and tidy umbrella. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when collectors began to get more refined in their search for basement and garage items that the term ‘man cave’ and later ‘mantiques’ came into vogue.”

Goodrich Tires Canadian Mountie porcelain sign from the 1930s, among Canada’s most highly coveted signs and one of the nicest unrestored examples known. Price realized: CA$20,060 in September 2018. Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. image

Today, gentlemen’s objets de vertu are in great demand, and that demand is only growing stronger. The category has expanded, to include items ranging from vintage watches and cameras to tufted-leather and quarter-sawn oak furniture. Women have even muscled their sway into the conversation, searching for items to outfit their “she-shacks” —items of a softer tone for their personal home space, such as quilts, textiles and kitchen collectibles. For the guys, some things have been, and will always be, popular, like gas station signs and beer trays.

American folk-art carved pine eagle in the manner of Wilhelm Schimmel, 19th century. Price realized: $8,125, Sept. 22-25, 2017. Heritage Auctions image

Sports, of course, can be a huge component of a man cave. The website for Steiner Sports has a toolbar category titled “Man Cave Essentials.” Items for sale include an aluminum sign that reads “NOTICE – Bleachers Are Now Alcohol Free” ($59.99); a Giancarlo Stanton 8-by-10-inch plaque with game-used Yankee Stadium dirt ($24.99); an Oklahoma City Thunder subway sign wall-art photo, framed ($59.99); and a Sacramento Kings “Home Sweet Home” sign ($59.99).

Those signs are replicas, which explains the low prices. To own or display a baseball or football signed by a marquee player or group of players understandably will cost much more.

One’s budget can be an important factor when outfitting a man cave. A restored 1950s-era Wurlitzer bubbler jukebox, for example, will set you back thousands, but a man on a budget might be just as happy with an old Bakelite AM radio and reproduction rock ’n’ roll poster from the same era. The effect is the same: to recreate a feel for a carefree time and place long past.

Bally Manufacturing Art Deco Skyscraper pinball machine, circa 1934. Price realized: $3,750, Sept. 22-25, 2017. Heritage Auctions image

The costliest man cave items, not surprisingly, are vintage cars and motorcycles. But even the big-name car auction houses like RM Auction and Barrett Jackson now incorporate petroliana and automobilia collectibles into their sales as ancillary offerings, and have even held stand-alone sales for just those items—no cars at all. Morphy’s also conducts highly successful auctions of petroliana and automobilia.

Vintage motorcycles hold particular appeal to men, plus they take up far less space than a car. Prices are robust, too. At auction recently in Texas, a 1951 Indian Blackhawk Chief in beautiful condition roared away for just over $12,000.

Man caves are nothing new. They date back to the days of the Industrial Revolution, when the home was often divided into spheres defined by gender. For men, who were all about politics, business and the law, that meant a place where they could let it all hang out, without fear of offending the womenfolk. The ladies tended to the rest of the house and were in charge of maintaining a strong moral fiber within the family. Over time, men expanded their reach into the mantiques realm, adding things like woodworking tools, vintage firearms and edged weapons, and such.

Two Pius Lang mother-of-pearl and stainless-steel penknives with Associated Penknife, circa 1960. Price realized: $6,250, Sept. 22-25, 2017. Heritage Auctions image

Much later, with the debut of TV shows like Pawn Stars (2009) and American Pickers (2010), interest in the idea of “antiques for men” (or “mantiques”) enjoyed a sharp spike. Men everywhere got the itch to get out there, climb through some old barns, get their hands dirty and bring home a rusty Texaco sign. Suddenly, antiques shopping was less intimidating to the average Joe.

Are mantiques here to stay? Judging by the fact that there are shops springing up that are dedicated expressly to man cave collectibles, the easy answer is yes. “The only caveat I have is that people should be on their guard for fakes and reproductions, especially when it comes to porcelain signs,” Ben Lennox said. “They’re coming out of India, and some of them are scary good, but if you look for certain things, like correct fonts and logo color matches, whether there are grommets where the holes are, etc., they’re fairly easy to spot. Just don’t let it deter you. Be a man, get out there and look!”

Women who rocked the art world

Women are on the rise. You can see it everywhere—politically, culturally and, to a subtler and perhaps less profound degree, artistically. Make no mistake, women have been creating art for millennia, as long as men, only in far fewer numbers than their male counterparts. That can be attributed in large part to a woman’s traditional role throughout history: that of mother, caregiver and family provider. Those important, although burdensome and time-consuming, duties left little time for pursuits like painting and sculpture—at least for most women.

Susan Hertel (American, 1930-1993), ‘Interior with woman and dogs,’ oil, graphite and charcoal on canvas, 43¾ inches by 52¼ inches, $21,250—a new auction record for the artist (estimate $6,000-$9,000). Sold Oct. 23, 2018. John Moran Auctioneers image.

But that was then and this is now, in the era of the Me Too Movement and women in politics. The point was driven home at John Moran Auctioneers’ inaugural Women in Art Auction, held Oct. 23 at their gallery in Monrovia, California. It was so successful that a second one is planned, probably in fall 2019. Comprising 93 women artists and 124 lots, the auction shed light on mostly California and American women artists from the 19th century to the present day. Prices were strong across the board, and new auction records were set for Susan Hertel, Ethel V. Ashton and Dora Gamble.

“There’s an absolute correlation between the events of today and the rise of women in art,” said Morgana Blackwelder, John Moran’s vice president and director of Fine Art. “Early this year, given our political and social climates, we felt it was a moment in time to conduct a sale that was topical and relevant, and the Women in Art Auction proved to be a perfect choice. We wanted to remove the bias that favors men and give women more of a voice so as to call attention to their mostly prewar artistic contributions. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was a huge success.”

Kathryn W. Leighton (American, 1875-1952), ‘The Young Chief,’ oil on canvas, 44¼ inches by 36 inches, $22,500 (estimate $18,000-$22,000). Sold Oct. 23, 2018. John Moran Auctioneers image

Blackwelder said the auction enjoyed an 80 percent sell-through, with around 80 people in the gallery and hundreds more participating online. “We learned that the people who attended the sale were buying pieces they felt a connection with, and for the most part, that connection was with the female artist. Statistically, women have tremendous buying power and are able to make personal financial decisions more now than ever before.” She said it was no surprise most of the artists were California based. “The state has always been a magnet for culture and the fine arts.”

Mary Dowd of Myers Fine Art in Florida said she’s been conducting auctions since 1988 at their gallery in St. Petersburg, and has noticed more and more women being sprinkled into the mix. “I think women artists got a huge boost around 20 years ago with the opening of the Museum of Women Artists in Washington, D.C.,” Dowd said. That shined a spotlight not only on the more-established women artists, but the up-and-comers, as well. As for identifying trends and emerging talent, I find browsing Art Basel and the other fine art shows to be a great way to stay current.”

Julia Thecla (American, 1896-1973), ‘Talisman’ (1945), casein, gouache opaque watercolor on artist board, 9 inches by 9 inches (sight), $28,320 (estimate $10,000-$20,000). Sold March 13, 2016. Myers Fine Art image

Myers Fine Art specializes in artworks from the Magical Realism Movement out of Chicago in the 1930s-1950s, one that spawned talents such as Julia Thecla and Gertrude Abercrombie. Both were featured in a Myers auction two years ago that did particularly well. “Magical Realism was a regional phenomenon, and the paintings remain very popular in Chicago,” Dowd pointed out.

A painting by Thecla, in fact, was in the John Moran auction just held. It was a Surrealist composition depicting an elephantesque tightrope walker and realized $7,500.

Gertrude Abercrombie (American, 1909-1977), ‘Owl with Carnation,’ oil on Masonite, 5 inches by 7 inches (sight), $7,080 (estimate $3,000-$5,000). Sold Feb. 9, 2014. Myers Fine Art image

Some women artists have benefited from money and connections (often through marriage), which no doubt helped them attain the attention and respect they deserved. The celebrated American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was born into privilege but added to her cachet when she married the artist Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991). They both had wealthy parents (her father was a New York State Supreme Court judge) and were known as “the golden couple,” famous for their lavish entertaining. Career building is easier with no money worries.

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986), the grand dame of all female American artists, was the second of seven children born to Wisconsin dairy farmers, and struggled in her early years as an artist. But when she was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz, the successful New York City art dealer and photographer, in 1917, a professional working relationship eventually led to marriage and O’Keeffe’s emergence as the “Mother of American modernism.” She is acclaimed worldwide for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York City skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), whose mother-child renderings are hugely popular among collectors, never had to worry about money. Her father was a successful stockbroker and land speculator. Her mother, the former Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. Katherine was educated and well read, and had a profound influence on her daughter. Mary grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education. She was first exposed to the great French artists of the day at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855. Some would later become her colleagues.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), ‘Simone Talking to Her Mother,’ pastel on paper, 25½ by 30½ inches, $990,000 (estimate $400,000-$700,000). Sold Sept. 15, 2015. John W. Coker Auctions image.

While Elaine de Kooning (American, 1918-1989) never achieved the level of acclaim of her famous husband, Willem, she still enjoyed an enviable career as an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter, plus she wrote extensively on art of the period and was an editorial associate for Art News magazine. Her talent emerged when she was quite young, but she was not a privileged child. Her father worked at a bread factory in Brooklyn, and her mother had psychiatric issues. Elaine made money as an art school model to help pay for her own art education.

Returning to privilege, Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a French impressionist who came from an eminent family, as the daughter of a government official and granddaughter of a famous Rococo artist, Jean-Honore Fragonard. Morisot met her longtime friend and colleague, Edouard Manet, in 1868, and married Manet’s brother Eugene Manet in 1874. The marriage produced a daughter, Julie who posed frequently for her mother and other Impressionist painters, including Renoir and her uncle Edouard, who exerted great influence on Berthe’s emergence as an artist.

It could be argued that Lee Krasner (American, 1908-1984) was a co-equal with her celebrated but self-destructive husband, Jackson Pollock. Lee knew from an early age she wanted to pursue a career in art and attended the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union, on an art scholarship. She struggled through the Great Depression, as a waitress and a teacher, and spent a good portion of the 1940s nurturing Pollock’s home life and career, at the expense of her own art. Still, Krasner is one of the few female artists ever to have a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), ‘Portrait of Lady in Hat with Dog,’ drypoint etching on paper, 5¾ inches wide by 7¼ inches tall. Collection of Catherine Saunders-Watson

And let’s give a nod to the better-known female American self-taught folk artists, such as Ann Mary Robertson Moses (also known as Grandma Moses, 1860-1961), Clementine Hunter (another centenarian who’s often called the Black Grandma Moses, 1887-1988), and Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980). All came from humble beginnings and overcame hardship to earn a place at the top of their craft—regardless of gender. Rich or poor, living or passed, women in art are a force to be reckoned with, and one that will only grow stronger as the playing field is leveled between women and men.