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Unique Peace Dollar Die Trial Certified by PCGS
This unique 1921 Peace Dollar die trial, now cataloged in Judd and certified by PCGS, along with the unique 1921 Peace Dollar plaster it was discovered with, are among the greatest numismatic discoveries of the 21st century. Quite simply there are no other known die trials or plaster models of the de Francisci 1921 Peace Dollar. These unique items first surfaced in 2020 and were previously unknown to the numismatic community.
The two pieces of this discovery are:
- Unique 1921 Peace Dollar obverse splasher by Anthony de Francisci (Judd A1921-1)
- Unique 1921 Peace Dollar obverse plaster by Anthony de Francisci
These items were first brought to the numismatic community by Steve Davis in 2020. The consigner indicates that they likely come from Victor Anthony De Meo (1882-1947) through his son William De Meo who both had relationships with Anthony de Francisci, James Earle Fraser, Laura Gardin Fraser, and others. The following is from Steve Davis:
According to the consignor, these items were likely the property of Victor DeMeo, who passed in 1947 and were subsequently inherited by William DeMeo. Victor was a sculpture artist and photographer who had a longtime professional relationship with James Earle Fraser. He frequently brought his son William to the Fraser NYC studio. There they met such luminaries of the time period as Charles Gibson, Lindbergh, Ann Harding. Jack Johnston, Charles Atlas, Elihu Root, Edwin Robinson. Victor photographed James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser in studio settings as well as his and Laura's sculptures and sculpture subjects.
William served as an apprentice with James Earle Fraser around 1932, then opened a NYC studio of his own for 12 years before serving in World War II. William worked with many well known sculptors including Anthony DeFrancisci, Paul Manship and others, making plaster pieces. These rare coinage related items being offered for auction currently were handed down through the DeMeo family, gifted from the original artists and later acquired at the estate sales of relatives of William. The most solid information surrounding these relationships came from a loose-leaf book that William produced, a notebook included in the group with hand written historical content and sketches dated 1935-36, as well as from letters and correspondence between James Earle Fraser and William DeMeo.
The association of James Earle Fraser and Victor Anthony de Meo has been noted in various areas, including attribution of period photographs of James Earle Fraser's work to Victor de Meo, including his End Of The Trail Sculpture.
Also, James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser did not have any children, so it is plausible that these were gifted to Victor de Meo for his son William, one of 4 children Victor had with his wife Grace.
Both the plaster and splasher are mentioned in the book A Guide Book of Peace Dollars by Roger W. Burdette, discussed more below.
1921 Peace Dollar Splasher Die Trial (Judd A1921-1)
The discovery of the unique 1921 lead splasher is a monumental event as it has been alluded to in Mint correspondence in a December 23, 1921 letter from Raymond Thomas Baker, Director of the Mint to Secretary Andrew William Mellon for approval of the design. The letter is as follows from Roger Burdette's book A Guide Book of Peace Dollars:
I have the honor to submit models [samples] of the proposed designs for the Standard Silver Dollar. [...]
The model as now submitted as the approval of the Fine Arts Commission, and is in compliance with the requirements of the law.
R.T. Baker, Director of the Mint
Roger W. Burdette adds that the models mentioned were likely lead splashers.
The samples were likely lead "splashers" or small plaster casts, there being no time to harden the hubs and make dies. Undersecretary Gilbert approved [...] and the mint continued preparing master and working dies. Baker wired his approval on December 24.
Anthony de Francisci had been on site at the Philadelphia Mint during this time, having been requested by James Fraser to be present to work with George Morgan on refining the design. Given this, it is possible that this is one of the US Mint splashers created on December 23, 2021 for review by Treasury and Mint officials, and was retained by Anthony de Francisci.
Andy Lustig, a U.S. pattern expert and Mint Error News consultant, was shown this piece and indicated his opinion that it is a genuine U.S. Mint product from an original die:
I have performed an in-person evaluation of the unique 1921 Peace Dollar Splasher (cataloged as Judd A1921-1), and am of the opinion that the splasher is a genuine U.S. Mint product.
Indicators that it is genuine include:
- Highly concave fields, unlike a normal 1921 Peace Dollar, and more comparable to a 1922 Proof High Relief. As such, the piece could not have been created from copy dies, or from a casting mold, and I am convinced that it is a direct impression from an original die.
- The rim is squared, unlike a normal 1921 Peace Dollar. Again, this leads me to believe that the coin is a direct impression from an original die, not a copy derived from some means from another coin.
It is struck on an oversized planchet 45mm in diameter overall and 5mm thick, weighing in at 77.1 grams. The splasher is oxidized with a thick grayish-pewter colored patina, with a couple light marks likely part of the production process.
This has been recognized in the Judd reference for pattern coins as Judd "A1921-1" and certified by PCGS as such.
With the information available, the provenance for this piece is likely the following. It is also possible that Anthony de Francisci gave this piece to James Earle Fraser as he did a set of plasters discussed below.
Pedigree: Anthony de Francisci; (possibly James Earle Fraser;) Victor Anthony de Meo; William de Meo; de Meo family; Numismatic Auctions LLC.
1921 Peace Dollar Plaster
The Peace Dollar plaster is also an incredible discovery as it is not only the only known plaster for de Francisci's 1921 Peace Dollar, it is also mentioned in the history of the Peace Dollar. It is 8 3/4" diameter and 1 1/4" thick, a common size for plaster models, and one can imagine evaluating designs at this scale.
The existence of a plaster was reported to have been given to James Earle Fraser on December 18, 1921, and this may be that very plaster model. After winning the Peace Dollar design competition on Tuesday, December 13, 1921 in James Earle Fraser's New York City studio, Anthony de Francisci was instructed to make some changes for a final submission, including changing the date from from Roman-style numerals to European-style numerals which can be seen on this piece. Roger Burdette indicates that Anthony de Francisci made two sets of models to present and left one in New York with Fraser:
De Francisci worked on the final models through Saturday and completed them on Sunday, December 18. He made two sets of models and left one set with Fraser in New York. The second set and the sketch models he took to Washington for final approval the next day.
The plaster model is made of white alabaster plaster with a yellow-ochre applied finish. It is 8 3/4" diameter and 1 1/4" thick. It was noted by Steve Davis as "Overall EF, some minor chipping about the edge and mottled variation in the surface coloration due to age and some transient surface adhesion and deposits." Of note, this model is unsigned, like the design competition piece.
Photo courtesy of Numismatic Auctions LLC.
With the information available, the provenance for this piece is likely:
Pedigree: Anthony de Francisci; James Earle Fraser; Victor Anthony de Meo; William de Meo; de Meo family; Numismatic Auctions LLC.
- Davis, Steve. "Washington Quarter and Peace Dollar Plasters." The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 40. October 4, 2020. https://www.coinbooks.org/v23/esylum_v23n40a22.html. Accessed on January 29, 2023.
- Numismatic Auctions, LLC. "Likely Unique and Previously Unknown Original Obverse Plaster and Uniface Obverse Lead Splasher Die Trial Strike for The 1921 High Relief Peace Dollar." Auction Sale 65, Lot 1103P. November 23, 2020.
- Burdette, Roger W., Q. David Bowers (Foreword, Contributor), and Barry Lovvorn (Contributor). "A Guide Book of Peace Dollars (Official Red Book)." Whitman Publishing; 2nd edition (June 30, 2012).
- "Victor Anthony DeMeo." Find A Grave. November 5, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/245396408/victor-anthony-demeo. Accessed May 20, 2023.
- "William DeMeo." Find A Grave. November 11, 2021. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/233931983/william-demeo. Accessed May 20, 2023.
- "James Earle Fraser." Find A Grave. June 21, 2006. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14665580/james-earle-fraser. Accessed May 20, 2023.
- "Bust of Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957)." Sotheby's. July 10, 2019. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2019/19th-20th-century-sculpture/after-prince-paul-troubetzkoy-1866-1938-american. Accessed May 20, 2023.
- "Artist Biography & Facts: Victor Anthony De Meo." askART.com. https://www.askart.com/artist/Victor_Anthony_De_Meo/
10013804/Victor_Anthony_De_Meo.aspx. Accessed on January 29, 2023.
- "Fraser, James Earle, 1876-1953." Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC). https://snaccooperative.org/ark:/99166/w6vh6cch. Accessed May 20, 2023.
- "James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers: An inventory of their papers at Syracuse University." Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Center. https://library.syracuse.edu/digital/guides/f/fraser_je_lg.htm. Accessed May 20, 2023.
- "Victor Demeo: Historical records and family trees related to Victor Demeo." MyHeritage Ltd. https://www.myheritage.com/names/victor_demeo. Accessed May 20, 2023.
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