26 September 2012

Art & Industry #1: John Gregory Hancock

Angelsey Druid coin, die engraved by Hancock, struck
in Wales.
We often forget the art that was involved in industry, which was one of the reasons I began this blog; to promote the rich artistic history that helped build Birmingham. Birmingham's coat of arms produced in 1889 had the symbols both of industry and of art included in the design, and both are important in Birmingham's history.

John Gregory Hancock was a die-engraver and coin manufacturer and was thought one of the finest engravers, not just in Birmingham, but world-wide. The process of die-engraving involved incising the image in reverse (including dimensionally in reverse) in metal so that a coin could be struck from it. John engraved the die for the 1792 Washington cent, which is a very skilful example of the trade (see below, left), and made print engravings for Bisset’s Magnificent Directory. John was also the first to patent the process of paper embossing in 1796 (and may have invented it)* which is the method of raising a pattern or picture on paper by pressing it between two metal dies.

A lovely example of a coin is one produced by Hancock’s son (also called John Gregory Hancock, see above right) in 1800 when he was only seven years old. It shows a bust of Shakespeare, and was probably a product of Hancock senior handing down his skills to his young son. Coins were not just produced as part of general currency, but they were used by businesses to advertise, to commemorate people or events, as special currency such as workhouse tokens, as medals and to promote political messages (as with the medal below). The process of die-engraving is complex, dark must be engraved as light; raised sections as dropped ones, which requires a great deal of technical skill.

Medal cast in 1800, die by Hancock. The medal states
POOR' and around the globe is written 'TAKE NOT WHAT
WAS MADE FOR ALL'. The band on the figures head states

A Thomas Hancock was an engraver (art) working at 14 Congreve Street. He worked on Bisset's directory as well, which suggests that he could have been related to John Gregory Hancock. Thomas was the son of renowned Worcestershire engraver Robert Hancock, who was apprenticed to Birmingham's George Anderton in 1746.
A William Hancock produced and patented the first metal rope in Birmingham which made coal mining safer as metal was less likely to break.
 EXTERNAL LINKS: Robert Hancock
* References on request.