Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, 23 January 1783

From Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart7

ALS: American Philosophical Society

paris le 23. janvi 1783

J’ai L’honneur d’Envoyer a Monsieur franclin deux Nouvelles Epreveuves de la medaille, en observant que La tete8 n’est pas encore au point de perfection ou elle doit etre, que Les Serpens que tient L’enfant Seront plus grands et plus Caracterisés; en outre Le graveur a mis intans, au lieu d’infans et qu’il Corrigera Ce deffaut d’Ortographe—9

J’ai L’honneur de Rapeller au Souvenir de Monsieur franclin qu’il m’avoit promis Ce qu’il doit faire Ecrire des deux Cotés en Bas de la Medaille et que Ce Seul objet en retient La perfection.1

J’ai Celui de L’assurer du tres humble Respect de Son tres devouè Serviteur


Endorsements: Jeudy en huit chez Mad D’uteto / Jan. 31. 832

Notation: Brognant, Paris 23 Janvr. 1783

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7The architect who had solicited sketches for the Libertas Americana medal and was now serving as an intermediary between BF and the engraver, Augustin Dupré; see XXXVIII, 128–9, 577–8. On April 23 Brongniart was paid 1,136 l.t. “in full on Account of the Medal”: Account XXVII (XXXII, 4).

8“Tête” has a double meaning in this case: its numismatic sense is “obverse,” but Brongniart could also be referring to the head of Liberty, which would amount to the same thing.

9The proof of the obverse has never been located. The unfinished reverse came to light in May, 2006, as part of the John J. Ford, Jr., Collection sold at Stack’s. It is shown on the facing page, where the misspelling of “infans” is obvious, and the snakes are somewhat shorter than in the final version illustrated in the frontispiece. The snake in the infant’s right hand was given a longer tail; the one in his left hand was given a longer tongue with an exaggerated tip.

The motto BF selected for the reverse was from Horace’s Odes, book 3, ode 4, line 20: “Non sine diis animosus infans” (not without divine help is the infant courageous). For the obverse, he chose “Libertas Americana.” They had been suggested by the classicist William Jones, whom BF thanked on March 17, below.

1The blank sections at the base of each side were reserved for dates. For the reverse, there was a question of how best to fit the two dates of the surrenders of Burgoyne and Cornwallis in such a small, curved space. BF sketched a design on the verso of the present letter. Taking advantage of the fact that both battles occurred in October, he wrote “Oct.” in the narrow space on the left (centered, top to bottom), drew a brace, and to the right of it wrote the day and year of each battle, one above the other. Either BF or Dupré later altered this design by moving “Oct.” to the center; see the illustration of the finished medal.

2This appears to have been jotted after the comtesse d’Houdetot issued an invitation for a musical performance on Thursday, Feb. 13; see her note to BF of Feb. 4.

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