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Self-Portrait.  The artist creates his own image for a medallic item, or, in rare instances, includes his image among human figures depicted on a medallic item. As can be expected, the artist will show his own portrait in the best manner, or at least how he wants the world to remember him or her. While these portraits are a form of self-immortalization, they are so important to the art world that many art and academic organizations encourage their creation. The American Academy of Arts and Letters, for example, requires a self-portrait, in any media, as a requirement for all new academicians.

            The earliest medallic self-portrait, it is rumored, may have been the inventor of the screw press, Italian Donato Bramante (1444-1514). An architect, he may have been talented enough to design his own image, but he had dies made and he struck lead seals of his image with his new invention.

Other early artists of medallic interest, notably Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Durer, created their own self-portraits as drawings, later reproduced in medallic form by admiring medallists. The first medal in their Vincent van Gogh Medal Series, the Franklin Mint showed the Dutch painter before an easel bearing his self-portrait.  No medallist of any nationality, however, has matched Rembrandt who, in his lifetime, painted sixty self-portraits and created an additional twenty engravings of himself.


American artists’ self-portraits. There are three candidates for the first American engraver to create his own self-portrait. These are John Stanton on his own Cincinnati Storecard (OH 165FX-11a), Joseph H. Merriam on his Storecard (Storer 574) – both of the Civil War period – or John A. Bolen on his Liberty Cap Storecard (Muscante JAB-9) dated 1864 that was used on three other cards the following year.

Like these three engravers Charles Stubenrauch hand engraved his portrait as medalist in 1876 (Pfefferkorn 13, 20).  But the biggest 19th century ego must go to John Sartain (1808-1897), a British-American engraver who created a cottage industry in Philadelphia of creating and selkling engraved prints, for placing his self-portrait on the high-relief three-inch he engraved in1888 for the Monument Cemetery 50th Anniversary Medal.

Two medallic artists created their own self-portrait as members of numismatic organizations. Jonathan M. Swanson was the official medallist for the New York Numismatic Club, but also its president beginning in 1925 thus placing his self-portrait

in the club’s presidential medal series (MAco 19-5-8). Likewise for the Rochester Numismatic Association Presidential Medal Series, Alphonse A. Kolb had to create his self-portrait medal in 1931.

            Some artists recycle their self-portrait in a later medal. Victor David Brenner created his own portrait in 1897 (in easel shape). The following year he made this design into his calling card. For the centennial of Brenner’s 1871 birth this self-portrait was reproduced on a centennial plaquette struck by Medallic Art Company (MAco 71-34), it was issued by Presidential Art Medals. Nearly a century after Brenner created his self-portrait, contemporary art medallist E. Bud Wertheim created his self-portrait (1991), but recycled it in Latin motif as the EBvdvsMedalvs Portrait Art Medal for a F.I..D.E.M. exhibition in 1996.


            Not many women create their own medallic self-portraits. However Charlotte Dunwiddie, a National Sculpture Society member, created a relief as her self-portrait in 1969. Earlier, Elizabeth S. Leland did a relief of herself in 1964, exhibited it at a NSS exhibition the following year, but not much was heard of her afterwards.

            The most dramatic self-portraits are those in which the artist blends their portrait into the subject of the medal. Alex Shagin cast himself as the Ancient Coin Designer in a Tribute Art Medal of 1989.  Richard McDermott Miller included his portrait in a medal for the Brookgreen Gardens Membership Series, titled Working On Wind On The Water as the 1999 medal in the series.

            Many other 20th century self-portrait medals could be enumerated here. Richard Frazier called himself Artist As A Middleaged Man for his self-portrait medal, 1972. In a rare example of 20th century hand engraving, H. Alvin Sharpe prepared his self-portrait medal in 1979 and bound this in a book of his poetry published that year. But the most charming, perhaps, is not a full fledged portrait at all, but in 1933 Carl Paul Jennewein added a tiny cartoon self-portrait to his signature on his Society of Medalist Issue Number 7.


excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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