Scarce Plaster Medallion of Benjamin Franklin Featured in our March 2020 Baltimore Auction

​Italian artist Jean-Baptiste Nini is most famous for his series of terra cotta medallions of Benjamin Franklin produced circa 1777. These medallions have proven very popular over the past two centuries and are still prized by collectors today. They have also inspired several series of reproductions or aftercasts, largely produced in the mid-to-late 19th century. We are delighted to present an important example from these aftercast issues in our March 2020 Baltimore Auction, which will be offered alongside several important pieces of medallic Frankliniana.

This scarce plaster aftercast is painted in a pale golden glaze that varies in intensity across the surfaces. The golden color is deeper on the front, while the back remains only lightly glazed in faint champagne. It is very neatly holed at the 12 o’clock edge and through to the back, with a knotted loop inserted for suspension. A touch of heavier friction is noted at Franklin’s shoulder and at the highest point of the cap, in addition to scattered microscopic marks confined to the peripheries. Two blemishes at 11 o’clock on the prominent raised ring are likely as-made and sit beneath the glaze.

The back is blank, showing just the aforementioned hole and a few light prints in the glaze. However, an enigmatic potter’s mark is etched near the 6 o’clock border, resembling the characters ".dYb." and measuring approximately 7mm x 6mm at its widest points.

Plaster aftercasts first appeared on the market in the mid-19th century and have played a significant role in the larger discourse regarding Nini medals. The late Richard Margolis sheds light on these appearances in his authoritative 2015 reference Benjamin Franklin in Terra Cotta, noting the inclusion of one in the 1859 work on medallic portraits by Hippolyte Kluyskens titled Des Hommes Célèbres dans les Sciences et les Arts et les Médailles. Kluysken’s own plaster aftercast was sold shortly after his death in the 1886 sale of his collection.

Margolis also mentions a group of about 40 plaster aftercasts that "were exhibited by the marquis Albert Des Meloizes to accompany his paper on Nini’s terra cotta moulds presented to the Congres Archeologique de France" in 1868. These aftercasts were painted to resemble terra cotta and were displayed in regional art exhibitions throughout the 1870s, though they were seemingly so convincing that many collectors mistook them for original terra cotta pieces.

The present plaster example surely represents a prize to the advanced Franklin specialist. It will be featured in our March 2020 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Spring Expo in Baltimore. The sale will also feature the D. Brent Pogue Collection, Parts VI and VII, the ESM Collection of Circulation Strike Half Cents, and further rarities from the E. Horatio Morgan Collection. To consign your collection alongside these treasures or secure a copy of this exciting catalog speak with a numismatic representative today at 800-566-2580 or email [email protected]. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.

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