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Fraser's Statue Adorns Treasury, Made His Career
By Fred Reed, Coins Magazine
April 01, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Collectors viewing the current $10 Federal Reserve Note back will spy James Earle Fraser’s statue of first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton that prominently adorns the south terrace of the U.S. Treasury Plaza.

This view was provided by Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraver Christopher Madden and art and the nation are fortunate that this statue exists.

One hundred years ago in 1913 most readers will recognize that this same medalist Fraser introduced a new era to modern small change when his Indian head-bison coin design was adopted.

Three years later in 1916 Fraser was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts by President Woodrow Wilson, and the following year made an academician of the National Academy of Design.

That same year he also won a commission that would change forever the course of his artistic career…this selfsame statue.

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After having failed to secure several public commissions for monumental sculpture, Fraser was selected to provide a statue of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary to adorn the federal building housing the U.S. Treasury adjacent to the White House.

This government commission was destined for the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the Treasury Building, the first of many monumental commissions that would bronze Fraser’s artistic reputation.

Before such large monuments would deprive this country of one of its principal medalists, however, Fraser also received the most important medallic commission of his illustrious career. Destined to become the most widely circulated medal of its day, Fraser was given the honor of creating the World War I Victory Medal, which has become a prized collectible for military enthusiasts.

It is also a coveted heirloom for descendants of the servicemen who won the “Great War for Civilization.”

After completing the war medal design, it took Fraser almost five years to model his monumental figure of the architect of the U.S. Treasury Hamilton. Following casting, Fraser’s 10’ tall Hamilton was formally dedicated May 17, 1923.

The excitement in the Fraser household in Connecticut was high in anticipation of that event. Fraser’s wife Laura, a sculptor of considerable talent and renown in her own right, was working on important commissions of her own at the time, a polo medal and also a statue of a champion horse.

On May 12th she recorded that “Kitty and Averill [Harriman]…[are] much excited over model of the horse.” She spent three more days at the Harriman’s photographing Prince, watching polo matches and working designs for her medal and statue.

Her progress was interrupted on May 16 when she and hubby Jimmy hopped a train to Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of this large bronze Hamilton statue.

The couple were prominent guests at the dedication, and Jimmy was on the dais with President Harding during the unveiling and dedication ceremony.

Fraser’s Hamilton statue was a great triumph. “It is said,” a critic wrote, “that Fraser when he is modeling a portrait gets inside his character as completely as an actor creating a role.” The statue projects “sheer intellectual power,” another opined. In the words of Laura’s diary, “It was a real triumph!”

The following day the Frasers visited Mt. Vernon and attended the Lincoln Memorial pageant at which Henry Bacon was awarded a gold medal for designing that memorial, which had been dedicated the previous year.

It was the Hamilton statue that has adorned the backs of our $10 bills since new smaller sized notes were introduced in 1928—and not the more numismatically famous Buffalo nickel that established sculptor Fraser’s commercial and artistic career on solid ground.

“From the time of the Hamilton, Fraser was virtually never without a public commission in his studio,” art historian Martin H. Bush has written. Those large commissions would eventually interrupt his progress as a medalist much to the loss of medallic art. But it was big-ticket jobs like his Hamilton that put meat on his table and paid his bills.

In 1923 Fraser exhibited numerous works at the Exhibition of American Sculpture held by the National Sculpture Society including both his famous Buffalo nickel, and his even more important model of his Hamilton statue.

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