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Commems Collection: 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial - Ancestors

 
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 Posted 12/27/2021  12:28 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
In an earlier post about the 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar (link below), I referenced the designs created for the logo of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition that was held in Buffalo, NY, and noted how the artist behind the Exposition logo was Ralph Beck. I thought I'd return to the topic for further discussion of the Exposition logo's link to the Monroe Doctrine Half Dollar and support same with a few illustrations!

The reverse of the 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar features one of the most unusual designs of the entire US classic commemorative coin series thanks to its highly-stylized map. The design is credited to Chester Beach, though it doesn't appear to be entirely original. Either Beach was party to one of the most amazing coincidences in the history of art, or he was a fan of Beck's design work for the Pan-American Exposition and adapted it to suit his needs on the Monroe Doctrine Half Dollar.

The Half Dollar's reverse presents stylized versions of North and South America - the primary land masses of the Western Hemisphere. To create a more artistic design, Beach went far beyond presenting a simple relief map of the continents - what the coin's sponsor expected - instead, depicting a pair of contorted female figures, molded to mimic the general shapes of North and South America. The figures themselves are not enough to fill out the continents, however, so Beach used a variety of floral elements to help fill in his "maps."

In her left hand, North America is depicted holding a multi-stemmed tree branch that somewhat forms the eastern portion of Canada; in her right hand, she holds a smaller branch as she reaches out to South America and, with her right arm, uses the branch to create an approximate rendering of Central America. The figure representing South America holds a full cornucopia in her right hand and arm; the cornucopia fills in the northern reaches of Brazil and the countries positioned along the continent's northeast coast - Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

IMO, the core concepts of Beach's design can be clearly seen in Beck's originals. I present a pinback button from the 1901 Exposition and a looped medal from the same - Exhibits A and B.

Numismatic collectors had items to pursue that featured the unusual western hemisphere design long before the Monroe Doctrine Half Dollar arrived. The coin's ancestors were firmly in place!

Button with Logo of 1901 Pan-American Exposition



Looped Medal with Logo of 1901 Pan-American Exposition



1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar





What do you think? Simple coincidence or "strong artistic influence" ?


For my earlier post on the 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar, check out:

- 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial



Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
Edited by commems
12/27/2021 12:34 pm
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 Posted 12/27/2021  12:30 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add jbuck to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Fantastic!

My example of the half dollar, as you may recall, was shown to you in person shortly after it was purchased.
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 Posted 12/27/2021  1:03 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Coinfrog to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Interesting backstory as always. The problem with this coin is that the reverse became a mish-mash after a just small amount of wear.
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 Posted 12/27/2021  6:16 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I say that you have made a very compelling story describing the Chester Beach inspiration for his subsequent 1923 Monroe Doctrine reverse design.

As a contemporary art/craft designer in my own right - I say there is no doubt in my mind that Beach observed Beck's design and incorporated the basic elements into his own work.

But - I don't at all think that Chester has done anything here that violates artistic respect and license of ownership.

The question of course is whether this endeavor is 'artistic license' to use an inspiring image whilst creating your own vision or 'plagiarizing' whereby the creator has stolen from the original creation.

Diverging a bit to make my point - one of my too many hobbies (see signature below) is fine woodworking and as such I 'see' lots of other works that give me inspiration in my designs.

Many years ago I viewed a Japanese magazine article with a photo of a stereo center built with lovely curved legs. That image gave me inspiration and license to create my own wood box:

Pisces - Hand cut dovetails by David



So - those lovely sweeping legs are my exact inperpritation of an unknown Japanese WW years ago who first developed the form. I incorporated the idea into my own new form.

I suggest Chester Beach did the same - thoughts?

Take a look at my other hobby ... http://www.jk-dk.art
Too many hobbies .... too much work .... not enough time.
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 Posted 12/27/2021  7:43 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
@nickelsearcher: Very nice cabinet! I've admired it for years! You certainly have some outstanding skills in the woodworking arena!

I am a fan of blues - the music form. In fact, for several years I was a part-time DJ at a commercial rock radio station and hosted my own blues program. One of my favorite blues-themed movies is Crossroads, a movie about the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson.

Toward the end of the movie, the Willie Brown character (played by Joe Seneca), the older, experienced bluesman, tells the young "Lightning Boy" character (played by Ralph Macchio) that he would teach him for a bit but then he had to "take the music beyond where he found it." I believe that advice applies to many creative/artistic endeavors.

I don't have any real issue with Beach being inspired by Beck's work, and then using it as a base to take it "beyond where he found it." The only issue/question I've ever wondered about is whether Beck ever received the contemporary credit he was due, considering he was apparently a significant influence, or if Beach tried to claim undue originality. The contemporary references I've seen make reference to the coin's similarity to the Pan-American Exposition logo, but do not give named credit to Beck. If such an omission was widespread at the time, it would have been an unfortunate situation, IMO.


Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
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 Posted 12/28/2021  07:37 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Your comments on take it 'beyond where he found it' are an apt summary of the type of informal artistic inspiration that I was referring to. There is very little truly original 'art' out there, and the rare original visionaries that create an entirely new genre solely from their imagination are beloved and famous through the decades.

That said:


Quote:
but do not give named credit to Beck. If such an omission was widespread at the time, it would have been an unfortunate situation, IMO.


I totally agree. Credit must always be given to the source of inspiration, even if it is somewhat vague such as my acknowledgment of 'an unknown Japanese WW' from a magazine photo where I could not read the written words.

Chester Beach obviously drew heavily on Ralph Beck earlier work and as such the contemporary discussion should have acknowledged this connection.
Take a look at my other hobby ... http://www.jk-dk.art
Too many hobbies .... too much work .... not enough time.
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