US Coins

New gold exhibit featured at Yale’s art museum

Yale University Art Gallery’s new exhibit “Gold in America: Artistry, Memory and Power,” takes a look at the role of gold in American art and culture.

The display in New Haven, Connecticut, looks at a range of objects across five centuries, noting, “For millennia, gold’s warm glow, resistance to corrosion, and rarity have made it a preferred material for objects meant to convey prestige, authority, or devotion.”

The more than 70 objects on display include many of a personal nature, such as early colonial marriage and mourning rings, and a child’s toy of a whistle and bells with “a piece of coral for teething,” made by a Swiss-born goldsmith working in New York in the mid-18th century. 

These are joined by some magnificent showpieces such as the 18-karat Neoclassical style gold coffee service for Alice Belin du Pont, designed in 1910 to 1911 and produced by Tiffany and Company. Yale observes, “The understated style belies the extravagance of its material.”

Contemporary to this is a 1911 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle in the exhibit, alongside a 1908 Indian Head gold $5 eagle.

Current issues are also addressed as represented by gold objects. “A pair of elaborate shoe buckles from the late 18th century ... speaks to the wealth derived from the slave trade in the Caribbean; and works by contemporary artists ... explore the medium’s historical associations as well as the environmental and human costs of its extraction from the earth,” a gallery label explains.

Gold medals on display

Numismatics represents a key part of the presentation, and the exhibited objects include an 1851 award medal of the American Institute of the City of New York presented to Isaac M. Singer.

The design is the work of Moritz Fürst, and as the Metropolitan Museum of Art explains with an example of the medal in its collection, “During Fürst’s approximately thirty-three-year career in the United States, the Hungarian-born artist engraved numerous medals for private and government commissions. His award medal for the American Institute presents a seated Liberty alongside national symbols of freedom and bounty, including a bald eagle and a horn of plenty.”

Also on exhibit is a gold Nobel Prize Medal for Literature, presented to Sinclair Lewis in 1930.

One of the exhibit’s medals directly relates to other objects in the museum’s collection: a gold medal struck by the Royal Society of Arts was awarded to American sculptor and painter Samuel F. B. Morse in 1813 for his sculpture of a dying Hercules, which had been exhibited in London. The medal was given to Yale by Morse’s widow, and both the sculpture and the painting done after the sculpture by the artist are also in the gallery’s collection.

Two new acquisitions minted from gold mined during America’s Gold Rush are also celebrated in Yale’s show. An 1852 $50 “slug” issued by Augustus G. Humbert’s Moffat & Company and an 1860 Pikes Peak gold $10 eagle produced by Clark, Gruber & Co. were both 2019 gifts of Meryl Blau Menon, in honor of her parents, Abram and Anna Blau.

John Stuart Gordon, the Gallery’s Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Curator of American Decorative Arts, said, “The Yale University Art Gallery houses the finest collection of early American gold of any museum. Gold objects were emblems of prestige or display that often became treasured heirlooms, proclaiming family pride or forging links to the history of the nation. Many of the leading silversmiths worked in gold, a tradition that continues to the present day. We invite audiences to connect with these rich stories and to experience how this gleaming metal — which has been worked since antiquity — continues to interact with our world. We hope that this exhibition brings forward new insights and research.”

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