The following article appeared under
the title "Thoughts on Coinage" in The American Museum, or
Universal Magazine, For October 1792, Volume 12, No. 4, pp.
203-204. The unnamed author's proposal to use incuse designs on
United States coins was unheeded and remained forgotten until 1908, when
Bela Lyon Pratt's incuse designs appeared on the Indian
Head Quarter Eagles and Half
Eagles! - magazine provided by Early
American History Auctions, Inc.
Foreign coins now in circulation among
us, and indeed in general the coin of every nation, is roughly executed.
Artists of little merit have been employed in cutting the dies, or if
artists of eminence have been employed, they have not exerted their
talents, not even in the execution of the precious metal coins.
The labour of cutting an indifferent die, and that necessary to execute
one with care, is nearly the same -- more talent only is requisite to
execute the latter; which talent, once handsomely paid for, repeats
itself in every coin struck with that die; and to coin from an
indifferent die is as expensive, as to coin from one better executed.
A coinage from dies executed by artists of
eminence, might perpetuate, as well as medals, remarkable events.
Independent of this consideration, a
more weighty reason operates in favour of executing with extraordinary
care, the coins of the united states, the security which such care would
afford against forgery.
The business of die-cutting, in any
considerable degree of perfection, is a difficult art, requiring a
considerable share of natural talent, well improved by a knowledge of
drawing, and long experience in it. This is evident from the very
limited number of eminent artists in this line, even in Europe. Hence
will arise the difficulty of finding persons able to counterfeit a
well-executed coin; which difficulty arises nearly to an impossibility,
when it is considered, that artists of eminence will be exposed to few
temptations, to deviate from an upright line of life, to pursue
one highly criminal: besides, in case of a forgery, the probability of
being detected becomes greater, as the number of persons capable of
executing it is smaller. This would deter, even if bad principle,
distressed circumstances, and great talent in a difficult business,
could be found united in one person.
Coins, in their usual form, subject the state to considerable loss by
friction. The prominent and rough surfaces of the emblems on them, are
much exposed to friction, and by coming repeatedly into contact, are
soon defaced, with a loss of weight to the coin, as well as of its whole
beauty. This last would be a serious objection, if the coin was the work
of an eminent artist, so executed as to prevent counterfeiting.
To avoid these inconveniences of coins with emblems in relievo, it is
proposed that to strike them in cavo. Then plain and smooth surfaces
will come in contact, instead of prominent and rough -- the friction
will be less, owing to the polish of the rubbing surfaces; it will
produce less effect in wearing, owing to the greater quantity of surface
in contact, and what is rubbed off by friction, will less affect the
beauty of the coin.
The optical effect produced by a medal in relievo, and one in cavo,
is the same, and they are not to be distinguished at a distance, without
attention to the place whence the light strikes them.
One inconvenience, it may be said, would arise from coin on the
proposed plan. It could not be handled with so much celerity, as it
would lie closer to any plane surface than the common coin. To obviate
this inconvenience, it is proposed to make the edge rouning, and, to
avoid friction, smooth, and the ornaments on it also in cavo.