Letter from JAMES BARRY to LORD LIVERPOOL, written 3 July 1801, at Adelphi, London

Source: MS RSA AD/MA/104/10/403, Royal Society of Arts, London. Published: Fryer, Works of Barry, ii. 649-52.

The text is taken from Barry's MS copy of the original MS which was included in a longer letter to the Society of Arts (Barry to Society of Arts, 25 October 1801), where he included it to illustrate his argument.

The Earl of Liverpool, Charles Jenkinson (1729-1808), [img] a Privy Councillor and President of the Board of Trade, was chairman of the Lords' Committee to look into improvements in the coinage of Britain (see also John Cannon, ‘Jenkinson, Charles, first earl of Liverpool (1729–1808)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004 [go] The committee had asked for advice from the Royal Academy in 1798 and Barry had long been critical of the way the Academy handled the request (see Barry to Privy Council, 31 July 1798).

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My Lord.

The truly laudable, unprecedented & exemplary anxiety of your Lordship & the other Noble personages of His Majesty’s Most Hon.ble Honourable Privy Council, respecting an Improvement in the Coinage, which induced Your Lordships to apply for the advice & assistance necessary to that end, where it was most probable it should be found; ought & will be long & gratefully remembered; altho although, unhappily, that exemplarily, unprecedented application was not attended with the success it so justly merited. Circumstanced as I found myself to be, with the Cabal in the Academy1 when Your Lordships Lordships' Patriotic application was laid before us, I did not think it right or adviseableadvisable in the then stage of that matter to make an entire communication of my Idea of the mode of effecting what Your Lordships required, as it appeared, that, my duty to your Lordships & the Publick was (in that stage of the business) sufficiently discharged, by flinging out the matter in a general way,2 & insisting upon the practicability of such an improvement as would exactly answer the desiderata, both as to the gousto3 & the Conservation & would be new & original in ye the history of Coinage, as it had escaped the observations of all Nations, Ancient as well as Modern. In this state, my Idea was communicated to your Lordships by a Letter dated July 31. 1798, for which I was honoured with your Lordships Lordships' thanks. On issuing the new halfpenny & farthing shortly after, I found that the person who executed those Coins4 had thought himself in possession of my Idea of bedding the valuable,5 when he was not, the spirit had evaporated in his ill managed experiment & there was nothing remaining but a residuum, a mere Caput Mortuum6 of little value: vexed & dissapointeddisappointed at this failure, I did myself the honour of writing again to Your Lordship Nov. 21. expressing my concern that, the Artist that the Artist who executed those Coins, should have so imperfectly felt & understood my Idea, either, of the proper convexity, or, of the Cavo bed,7 in which it should have been raised, & of the Tasteless way of uniting them, by wch which one important part was unnecessarily sacraficed sacrificed to the other, & consequently nothing desirable obtained, but rather the contrary, as the Head, wch which ought to be most important & principal, is flat & without relievo8 & triflingly buried in the Centre of ye the Coin, like a Mite in a Cheese, in order to allow space for an unnecessarily mischievous circle of large letters wch which might have been so well disposed of in another manner, according to ye usuage the usage of the Greeks: nay, even in the Halfpenny & Farthing of Geo. ye the the 2.d the Head, as it should always do, importantly fills ye the Coin, 9 & the circular Inscription is, even so contrived, as to be subservient to that end. ---however as that matter is now without remedy & passed, I should not have troubled your Lordship with these remarks on it, but, the better to usher in another piece of information which might possibly be of some use henceforward, & wch which as a matter of duty, is necessarily communicated to your Lordship & to the rest of His Majesty’s Most Hon.bl Privy Council.

As I am now, during the recess of ye the Society for the Encouragement of Arts &c, doing something to the pictures in their Great Room. In Consequence of ye the obliging injunctions of many Members of ye the Society & even from the Chair, respecting the New Die for their Medal, the old one having been judged to be no longer fit for use, a happy opportunity has fairly offered for communicating in an entire & compleat10 manner, my Idea, respecting the improvement of Medals & Coins, I have accordingly painted two large Models for Medals or Coins, in a very conspicuous part of the Picture of ye the Society.11 One is a head of Alfred 12 the Great Improver & Founder, the other, is a Female Head with the Imperial Sheild13 of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland; & Your Lordship, or whomsoever you may send, will there immediately see by ye the Slightest Glance at those Models, that, the finest heads, on the Grecian & Roman Coins, any of those very fine Heads of the Hamerani’s14 on the Papal Medals, or of those very admirable ones executed by Hedlinger15 for Sweden, tho though now so liable to injury from their bold & noble relievo as to be exposed to speedy ruin from time & usage, might from the contrivance visible in those Models preserve (with all their bold, noble relievo & gratness greatness of manner) their most essential parts from being injured, until those parts that were least essential had been entirely worn away. We should do well, My Lord, to reflect here, that, the Grecian & Roman Coins wch which are preserved in ye the Collections of the Curious, are not those wch which were in current use, but those, wch which from the superstitious notions of ye the time were, whilst fresh, buried with their dead, in order to satisfy the demands of a certain grisly ferryman,16 or any others that might occur in their long & gloomy journey, or from some other accidents or calamities, all the rest wch which were in current usuageusage being obliterated ages ago.

I have My Lord, with the greatest respect, the honour to subscribe my self
Your Lordships Lordship's devoted humble serv.t servant

James Barry

P.S. It may be well to state also to your Lordship that for the better elucidating these two Models & the occasion of introducing them, I have brought in a figure stooping immediately over them, looking very intently on a Medal & holding in his other hand a Letter or paper on wch is written --- on the Gousto of Medals & Coins, & the best mode of preserving them from injury by friction: which was the identical Patriotic wish of His Majestys most Hon.bl Honourable Privy Council, so gracefully & exemplarily, tho though unsuccessfully, communicated to the Royal Academy. The Section of such a Coin as was required, is also introduced on the same Paper

Great Room of the Society of Arts &c Adelphi July 3. 1801.

To the Right Honble Honourable
the Earl of Liverpool