Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Voigt, 29 December 1801

From Henry Voigt

Philada 29th. Decr. 1801


The Citizens of Philadelphia, friends to our Government and your administration, have often expressed a desire of seeing a Medalion struck to commemorate the declaration of Independence and the last triumph of republicanism on the 4th March 1801—, and I know that not only the Citizens of this State but every true Patriot in the Union would be pleased to have those Epochas handed down to posterity.—Happily for all our wishes at this time there was found a German Artist of Superior talents equal to do justice to our ideas.—but it was not enough that America should be free—this German Artist must also Obtain his liberty, before anything could be done.

It was not long after, I heard of his situation, that this was accomplished.—and you will please to recollect that he then endeavored to recommend himself to your notice, by a Specimen of his work, (viz) two Medalions of Block tin, one of Bonaparte, and the other, the present King of Prussia, and you had the goodness to recommend him to the Director of the Mint.—

At that time there were several medalions wanted for the Indian Nations; but, unfortunately, Mr Scot the Engraver to the mint, had contracted for the execution of them. He was however induced at the instance of the Director, to employ Mr. Reish, under him, to do the work, but the compensation that he received was barely sufficient to defray his necessary expences. Having completed those dies he became as destitute as ever I therefore suggested to him the propriety, and proposed to him the plan, of executing the Medalion which we have now jointly the honour of presenting for your inspection. I have supported him while he was employed in sinking the Dies, and he is to have half the profits that may accrue from their sale, which I think will be rapid and extensive, when we consider the exquisite workmanship and the Subject—

These Sir were the motives which induced me to bring forward this Medalion—first to please our friends, and second to retain in the Country such a Valuable acquisition as the Artist. I hope Sir you will pardon us if we have taken too much liberty in representing you on the Medalion, without first having obtained leave. The faults it may have, as to likeness or character, the artist may well be excused for, since he never had the pleasure of seeing the Original.

I beg leave to explain the Allegorical representations on the reverse.—The Goddess Minerva is made to represent Liberty as well as Wisdom (The one not being able to exist without the other), She holds the declaration of Independence, and lays it on a rock, representing the Constitution, about which winds the Cornucopia, and discharches its Treasure, under the protection of the implements and insignia of War. The Eagle on his wing, represents the United States, crowning the whole with laurel.

Should the Artist meet with suitable encouragement in this first Essay, he will certainly come forward with additional proofs of his genius in the same line he is an excellent draughtsman himself, and wants no further assistance than the impression for this Medal the Director has granted the use of one of the presses when it is not employed about the business of the Mint. but it would be more satisfactory still, if you would add your approbation if it […] be done, consistant with propriety.

[I am] Sir with due respect yr most Obedt Servt

Henry Voigt

RC (DLC); torn at seal; addressed: “His Excelleny Thos Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 15 Jan. 1802 and so recorded in SJL.

German native Henry Voigt (d. 1814) was a talented Philadelphia watchmaker, mechanic, and inventor, who had also worked at the mint in Saxe Gotha before emigrating to America. Acting upon recommendations by David Rittenhouse and others, George Washington appointed Voigt chief coiner of the United States Mint in 1792, which appointment was confirmed by the Senate in January 1793. While in Philadelphia, TJ made frequent use of Voigt’s watch repair services, and later purchased watches for himself and others from Voigt. In 1811–12, Voigt’s son, Thomas, made the astronomical clock that resided in TJ’s study at Monticello (Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser., 10:261–2; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:127; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:829, 838, 868, 900, 908, 980, 997, 998, 1015, 1192, 1218, 1289; Bedini, Statesman of Science description begins Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science, New York, 1990 description ends , 421–2; Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 9 Feb. 1814; TJ to Voigt, 11 July, 5 Nov. 1806, 6 Jan. 1808; Voigt to TJ, 19 Dec. 1807; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004–, 5 vols. description ends , 3:83–4).

For background on the German artist John Reich and the medals he engraved, see Vol. 34:71–5.

Recommend him to the Director: TJ to Elias Boudinot, 23 May 1801.

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