Anne Willing Bingham:
The Evidence

 

 

Though the majority of numismatic writers who write about the subject indicate that it was Anne Willing Bingham who posed as a model for Liberty on early American Draped Bust coins, another opinion is that this is just a myth. Supporting this opinion is the lack of direct evidence, such as contemporary documentation, connecting Anne Bingham with the Draped Bust coins.

The fact is, though, that much written material from that period hasn't survived.

What's more, the argument can be made that information linking Anne Bingham and the Draped Bust Liberty may have been deliberately suppressed at the time. To show a recognizable person, the wife and daughter of powerful politicians, on the nation's coins would have been politically dangerous. The Mint was under attack in its early days from opponents of President George Washington's administration, who charged that the Mint was too expensive and had failed to provide a circulating medium. Washington was a Federalist, and Anne Bingham's husband and father were also powerful figures among Federalist leaders. A recognizable portrait of a Federalist would have given political ammunition to the Washington administration's political opponents.

Though there's no direct documentary evidence, there is a lot of indirect circumstantial evidence linking Anne Bingham with the Draped Bust Liberty:

  • Anne Bingham was close personal friends with key players, including George Washington, U.S. president at the time; Thomas Jefferson, who was instrumental in establishing the Mint; and Gilbert Stuart, who created the image of Liberty on a sketch that was used by Mint engraver Robert Scot in designing the Draped Bust coins.
  • Though Stuart's Draped Bust sketch hasn't survived, what has survived from the hand of Gilbert Stuart are other works depicting Anne Bingham, including a sketch, a portrait, an unfinished portrait, and an unfinished portrait of the Bingham family.
  • There is a distinct resemblance of Liberty on the Draped Bust coins to Anne Bingham in these works of Stuart (you'll find copies of some of Stuart's works later in this Web site). The resemblance isn't exact--the image of Liberty on the Draped Bust coins was in all likelihood idealized as it was created--but it's close enough not to rule out the connection.
  • Anne Bingham lived in Philadelphia, site of the U.S. Mint.
  • Her father and husband were co-founders of the Bank of North America, also in Philadelphia.
  • She was regarded as the most beautiful woman of her time in Europe as well as America--engravings of her were sold in fashionable shops in Paris and London.

As far as I know, the above is the most extensive argument in favor of the view that the Draped Bust Liberty bust was based on Anne Willing Bingham. Anne Bingham was first connected to the Draped Bust coinage, it appears, by Don Taxay in his 1966 book The U.S. Mint and Coinage (page 106). Taxay based his linking Bingham with the Draped Bust Liberty on the similarity of one of Stuart's paintings of her to that of the Liberty image.

Following Taxay, beginning in 1976, the annual Coin World Almanac mentions the Anne Bingham/Draped Bust connection. However, Tom DeLorey places a question mark after Bingham's name to indicate uncertainty. R.W. Julian, the noted numismatist who has written many articles on early U.S. coinage, doesn't believe there's enough evidence to connect Anne Bingham with the Draped Bust Liberty.

The numismatic encyclopedist Walter Breen, on the other hand, does make the Anne Bingham/Draped Bust connection, though it's fallaciously supported. In his 1988 book Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. Breen references page 177 of the 1861 book A Description of the Medals of Washington, of National and Miscellaneous Medals, and of Other Objects of Interest in the Museum of the Mint by former U.S. Mint director James Snowden. However, Snowden makes no such connection himself. All he does is indicate that it was Gilbert Stuart who created the Draped Bust image, according to a member of the Stuart family. No mention is made of the model Stuart used.

Breen took similar liberties in his 1992 revision of A. W. Browning's 1925 book The Early Quarter Dollars of the United States, 1796-1838. Breen references an article in the April 1887 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics (page 95) as a source for the Stuart/Bingham connection. However, the article merely mentions a Stuart/Draped Bust connection.

In his 1976 book Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, Jim Osbon indicates that Anne Willing Bingham was the model for the Draped Bust coinage. No mention of the model used was made in John W. Highfill's 1992 book The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia.

Today's preeminent scholar on U.S. coinage, Q. David Bowers, has taken a neutral position on this issue. In his 1993 book Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, Bowers says that Robert Scot "may well" have had Anne Bingham in mind when designing the Draped Bust Liberty, but this can't be proven with the documentary materials known today, and the discovery of further documentary materials is "highly unlikely."

Interestingly (if you're a pedantic stickler), you sometimes see Anne Bingham's first name spelled "Ann." It's spelled this way, for example, in Taxay's 1966 book, in the Coin World Almanac, in Q. David Bowers' Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, and in Jim Osbon's Silver Dollar Encyclopedia. The Papers of George Washington Web site uses the "Ann" spelling, as does Deeds and Mortgages of Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, the spelling "Anne" was used in a 1988 doctoral dissertation about her life (Making the Private Public: Anne Willing Bingham's Role as a Leader of Philadelphia's Social Elite in the Late Eighteenth Century), in a 1969 book about the life of her husband (The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham), and in a 1995 encyclopedia (Her Heritage: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Famous American Women). The spelling "Anne" was also used by Thomas Jefferson in the letters he wrote to her and in a letter her husband wrote about her as she was dying. And it's "Anne" on her tombstone.

Amy Henderson, who when I corresponded with her was working on a doctoral dissertation about Anne Willing Bingham, says that she has seen it spelled both "Anne" and "Ann" in eighteenth century documents but that most historians today spell it "Anne." She points out that because people during the eighteenth century were more flexible with spelling than we are today, it's likely that at the time both spellings were considered acceptable.

Finally, sometimes you see Anne Willing Bingham incorrectly referred to as an adult as Anne Willing, though that was her maiden name, which she last used at age 16.

 

 

To return to Anne...

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins
Pre-coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.