George Hampden Lovett Biography

George H. Lovett
by Katie (Jaeger) DeSilva

Born:  February 14, 1824, in Philadelphia.

Moved to New York: in the first year of his life.

Education:  In a common school, probably the one on Reade Street, if he attended the same school as his brother Robert Jr. Source:  Letter from Lewis P. Glover, Rector of St. Stephen’s Church, to John Lomas of Brooklyn, copied to the Lovett family upon the death of Robert Sr.

Apprenticeship:  At the age of 16, George began his work of a lifetime, as a trainee in his father’s seal engraving shop.

Marriage:  To Sarah E. Barmore, on April 19, 1846 at the Church of the Bleecker Street Society, with pastor William S. Balchs officiating.  At the time of their marriage, George was 22 and Sarah was 24. Source: Original marriage certificate.

First Child:  On July 16, 1848, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Anna Augusta, named after George’s mother Anna Doubleday and aunt Augusta Doubleday (his uncle George’s wife).  Four months later, on November 18, Sarah Lovett died at the age of 26.  Presumably baby Anna then went into the care of her doting aunts Maria, Emma, Anna, Cornelia and Matilda, who were all still single and living in the home of their father at No. 4 Grove Street in Manhattan.

Second Marriage:  To Martha Zabriskie, on October 12, 1851.  At the time of this marriage, George was 27 years old and Martha was 23.  Presumably three-year-old Anna then moved back into her father’s home, into the care of her new stepmother.
  On August 10, 1863, Martha Zabriskie Lovett died at the age of 34.  Young Anna was now 15, so she probably remained at home with her father, perhaps assuming her stepmother’s housekeeping role.

Joined the ANS:  December 23, 1867.  According to his obituary in the American Journal of Numismatics, he engraved the copper plates for the printing of certificates of membership, and cut the dies for the membership medals of 1876.  “For a long time he regularly attended meetings…but he never held office in the society.”

Third Marriage:  To Mary Hortensia Turzanski, on September 7, 1868.  This time George was 44 years old, and Mary was half his age, in fact, she was 15 days younger than Anna, her stepdaughter-to-be.

A New Family:  On October 12, 1869, Mary gave birth to a daughter, Mary Emma, who was followed by brothers George Robert on June 12, 1871, and Charles Thomas on May 11, 1873. Charles died only a year later, but in 1875, Mary gave birth to another son, Albert Jerome. Tragedy struck the Lovetts again in 1878, when little Albert passed away at the age of three. The final addition to the family was Joseph Patchen Lovett, who arrived on October 6, 1881.  George’s four surviving children all lived to old age.  Anna Augusta and Joseph Patchen each married and provided their father with many grandchildren.  Mary Emma and George Robert remained single.

In the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and American Journal of Numismatics of April 1894, George Hampden’s obituary writers stressed his kindness, generosity and honesty, and
the Eagle writer noted his striking resemblance to popular Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher, “to such an extent as to often have been mistaken for him in the street and at public assemblages.”  All who remembered George marveled at his capacity for work.  Perhaps throwing himself into die sinking was George’s way of managing grief, during the loss of two wives and two sons.  Perhaps he stayed constantly at work by necessity, in order to support both his own family and his four surviving unmarried sisters, after the passing of his father in 1874 and brothers in 1879 and 1886.  Whatever the reasons for his prodigious efforts, he struck medals and tokens right up until his death in 1894 at the age of 70.  He became the 19th Century America’s most prolific die sinker.

George churned out Washington medals; historical commemorative medals; exposition medals; award medals for colleges, fraternal organizations, fairs and agricultural societies, as well as souvenir and membership medals for these groups; anniversary and centennial medals; merchant tokens; trade tokens; patriotic Civil War tokens and Civil War store cards; lifesaving medals; political campaign medals; and numismatic series designed specifically for sale to collectors.  Orders for tokens, medals and coinage poured into his shop from all over the United States, as well as from countries in South and Central America.  George created numismatic series for coin dealers such as Augustus B. Sage, Isaac F. Wood, and Alfred S. Robinson. He struck medals for jewelry firms such as Tiffany and Company, and engraved dies for silversmiths Whiting Manufacturing Company.  He engraved coin dies for the Scovill mint, and furnished seals for the Confederate Treasury Department and the States of Virginia and West Virginia.  City chambers of commerce from around the country ordered George’s medals for all kinds of occasions: his works were the centerpiece of many an award banquet, anniversary dinner, or exposition finale.

An overview of how George Lovett operated is revealed in his August 16, 1885 interview with a reporter for the New York Sun.  In the opening of the piece entitled “The Art of Sinking Dies: A Talk with one of the Oldest New York Medallists,” the journalist describes making his way up to “a little office on the third floor of a Broadway building.”  Once inside, the first thing to attract his attention was “a large screw cutter.  Near by it lay sheets of white metal, out of which numerous small circular pieces had been cut.  Seated at a long, narrow table near the window, and peering through a magnifying glass adjusted so that a circular piece of steel held by clamps was within its focus, was a man busily at work on the steel with a small instrument.  His face was partially turned away, but his gray hair showed him to be well advanced in years.”

After the reporter introduced himself and the two men talked a while, he asked George if there had been any changes in methods over his years in the profession.  Said George, “We formerly cut on steel bound with iron, so that if the steel cracked the iron would hold the pieces together.  But since then the quality of steel has been greatly improved, so that the binding can be dispensed with.  The metal for our work now comes in round or octagon-shaped bars from six to fifteen feet long.  We saw off a piece of the bar for each design we have to cut.  Medals, of course, require two dies.  We strike off the medals on powerful screw presses.  Hard metals we are obliged to anneal from six to ten times before we can get a clear impression.”

“In what metals do you generally strike off your medals?” asked the man from the Sun.  “Most commonly in white metal, which closely resembles silver and retains its luster for a long time.  For Presidential campaigns or any important celebration, die sinkers get out little white metal medals with the busts of the candidates or some design commemorative of the celebration.  We strike these medals off by the thousands.  They are hawked about on the street and sold by fancy dealers.  You will see many Grant medals between now and the General’s funeral.  Thousands of medals were struck off for the Evacuation Day Centennial, but the rain spoiled the sale.  Besides white metal we use bronze, or more properly stated, bronze-stained copper.  The precious metals are not often called for.”

When the reporter asked George if he devoted much time to the striking of medals, he replied, “Yes.  When the medal is a fine one and careful work is required, I rarely strike off more than four or five a day.  But that kind of work isn’t called for very often now.  The demand for medals has increased wonderfully, but people want them small and cheap.  Work has to be done quickly now.  Orders are coming in from all over the country, I am constantly sinking dies for medals to be distributed as prizes at agricultural fairs, college commencements, musical prize contests, and prize drills, or to be sold as memorials at centennial celebrations.  Here for instance, is a medal I have cut for the Alabama State Fair.  The obverse represents the arms of the state, the reverse a scene on a cotton plantation.  The wreath around it is composed of wheat, corn and rice.  Formerly, orders were fewer, but the designs were more elaborate.  Most of the designs that come to me now, I can cut in a week – many of them in a day or two.”

“Is there any favorite line of designs?” asked the reporter.  “Formerly, it was considered the thing to put a head of Washington on a medal if you could find any pretext for so doing.  Now, the arms of the state in which the fair or celebration occurs is most frequently included in the designs.”

The Sun journalist closed his interview with the statement, “Mr. Lovett thinks that the Government, in allowing orders for medals to be taken at the Mint, competes unfairly with die sinkers.”  (George’s brother, Robert Lovett, Jr. operating out of Philadelphia, must have felt particularly bitter about this state of affairs.)  George not only felt strongly about the unfairness of having to compete with government die sinkers, but also about the public perception of the die sinking profession as a whole.  He told the reporter: “You see, people go to these jewelry firms with their orders for medals, and the jewelers employ us.  People, at least city people, don’t seem to know that there are such beings as die-sinkers in existence.”  According to his American Journal of Numismatics obituary, George went to the trouble, in March 1873, of issuing a circular amplifying his belief that “medal die sinking is a distinct branch of art.”
Will: Recorded August 10, 1879, Ledger 188, p. 468.  Witnessed by James Cameron and Emma A. Turzanski, County of Kings, State of New York.  George H. Lovett bequeathed to his wife, Mary. H. Turzanski Lovett, his house and lot at 26 Irving Place, Brooklyn, including furniture, books and pictures, and every other personal property, both useful and ornamental.  Mary was to have care of his children, and would inherit his family burial plot at Green-Wood Cemetery “for herself, her children and her descendants until it is filled.”  George went on, “having already given and deeded to my daughter Anna A. Keyser (my great-grandmother) a house and lot, the above is right and just.”

The remainder of the will specifies that, “All the tools and effects of my place of business, and the press and such dies at my place of residence, as belongs to me, are to be sold to pay my funeral expenses, and to pay such debts as I may have, and all other dies not belonging to me are to be sent to their respective owners.”  George named his wife as his sole executrix, with no security or bond and no impediment to be placed in her way.

Death: January 28, 1894, of “nervous prostration”.  According to the AJN obituary published in April 1894, “Only a short time before his death, he brought home a gold planchet to strike, and told his wife that he should spend the afternoon at home striking the medal.  When night came, he said, with evident feeling, that he was too feeble to undertake the work, and he should have to get someone else to do it.”  He went to bed and never arose again.