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Jun 21 2022

Newman Portal Digitizes ANS Member Correspondence

Newman Portal is currently digitizing ANS member correspondence from inception to the 1930s. Kellen Hoard reports on the file for Gutzon Borglum that was recently scanned.

Gutzon Borglum—progeny of Mormon Danish immigrants, product of Parisian art schools, KKK member, friend of Theodore Roosevelt—was a sculptor in many mediums.  His most famous work was in stone; it was he who oversaw the creation of Mount Rushmore, and he who launched the work on the Stone Mountain memorial before being fired.  But he was also a capable artist in marble and bronze, including a numismatically-relevant statue of John William Mackay, a Bonanza King of the Comstock lode.  

One medium he was less talented in was that of coinage.  Borglum was charged with designing the 1925 Stone Mountain Memorial half dollar (after being a driving force behind its authorization), but his plaster models were rejected nine separate times by the Commission of Fine Arts, led by James Earle Fraser. The Commission generally considered his designs “inartistic.” His case was not helped by the fact that, in the words of numismatists William D. Hyder and R.W. Colbert, “Borglum, to put it mildly, was a temperamental artist who managed to offend most everyone with whom he worked.”

Borglum was a member of the American Numismatic Society between 1908 and 1916, according to correspondence digitized by the Newman Numismatic Portal.  In that time, perhaps his most notable contribution to the Society was that of a 1910 membership metal he designed, with dies created by Tiffany & Co.. A letter on the NNP from Bauman L. Belden, Director of the ANS at that time, dictates to Borglum which medals should be struck in advance of offering to the general membership.  Included are two gold pieces to Archer M. Huntington and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and 14 silver pieces to collectors such as soon-to-be-deposed President of Mexico Porfirio Diaz.

A glimpse into Borglum’s personality is possible through the archived correspondence.  When asked by Belden about what his membership medal represents, Borglum replied simply by restating the literal design on the medal and noting that “it does not seem to me that it is anything one need write very much about.”

Link to Gutzon Borglum / ANS correspondence:
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