US Coins

'Sailor Head' copper pattern offers a classic design

An 1876 Sailor Head pattern dollar by William Barber, Judd 1463a, graded Proof 62 red and brown, shows the influence of classical sculpture, as also interpreted by Barber’s contemporary Hiram Powers in his marble sculpture of a personification of America.

Bust image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nearly 250 pieces from the collection of Michigan's Bill Rau will be offered in Heritage’s April 25 to 29 auctions, held in conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society Convention in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Rau's numismatic collecting focus, U.S. pattern issues, showcases the rarity and diversity of interesting designs in this area of numismatics.

Once part of the famed pattern cabinet of Egypt’s King Farouk, Rau's example of William Barber’s popular “Sailor Head” design, struck in copper, is the unique plain edge variant listed as Judd 1463a (as cataloged in J. Hewitt Judd’s United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces). The coin is graded Proof 62 red and brown by Professional Coin Grading Service.

Barber’s design was likely intended for a Trade dollar, but was never adopted, and examples are also known in silver and copper with reeded edges.

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Heritage writes, “The design elements are razor-sharp throughout and the reflective fields show only minor hairlines and contact marks, with a mix of original red and light brown patina. A patch of dark amber carbon appears on Liberty’s cheek, possibly the result of King Farouk’s efforts to improve his copper coins many years ago.”

Farouk was fond of cleaning his coins, and many of his patterns, especially his copper issues, show evidence of his efforts.

After exiting Farouk's collection in Sotheby’s 1954 sale of the Palace Collections of Egypt, it was later offered at Bowers and Merena’s 1999 offering of the Harry W. Bass Jr. Collection where it was purchased by Rau.

Vermeule calls Liberty’s diademed head “very Victorian in its pretty interpretation of Roman classicism,” observing “rough, moplike hair and the combing of heavy strands into a bun at the back.”

The classicism observed by Vermeule is seen throughout American art of the mid-19th century. American sculptor Hiram Powers’ marble sculpture of a personification of “America” was conceived about 1850 to 1854, and an example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, carved after 1854, shows the influence that this classical revival had on contemporary engravers, as on Barber.

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The subject of a beautiful, classical woman representing America was well-received by contemporary audiences, and the Powers sculpture’s label adds, “ ‘America’ was among the most popular of Powers’s idealized busts, and he reaped a steady profit from it, replicating it at least twenty-eight times.”

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