William Mossop, Medallist

(b. 1751, d. 1805)


From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

William Mossop. Miniature; in possession of Miss Rose Mossop.

Although a few medals had been struck in Ireland before his time, Mossop may be considered the founder of medallic art in this country. He was born in 1751 in the parish of St. Mary, Dublin. After the death of his father, whose name was Browne, his mother married William Mossop, a relative of Henry Mossop the actor; and, Browne having been a Roman Catholic, she changed the child's name to that of her second husband in order to obtain admission for him to the Blue-coat School, which he entered on 5th February, 1762. Mossop left the school on 26th August, 1765, and was apprenticed to James Stone (q.v.), a seal-cutter employed by the Linen Board. At the expiration of his apprenticeship he started in business for himself as a die-sinker. In August, 1774, he advertised his removal to No. 4 Bull Lane, and in September had the following advertisement: "William Mossop at No. 4 Bull Lane near Pill Lane (who served his apprenticeship to Mr. James Stone of New Street), informs his friends and the public that he is now furnished with materials for making all kinds of dies in the completest manner; he likewise cuts crests and coats of arms for marking gentlemen's books and linen and all sorts of wine and office seals, cutler's stamps and silver-smith's Touches and Tastes, bookbinder's tools, etc., etc., and hopes the elegance and despatch of his performances will recommend him to their favour." In 1775 he entered the Dublin Society's Drawing School as a pupil, and after the death of Stone in or about the same year Mossop continued his business in working for the Linen Board; but in 1781, through certain changes in the system of the Board, he was deprived of this connection.

In 1777 he issued the following advertisement, from which can be gathered the kind of work he was employed upon: "Mossop, Die-sinker, Seal and Letter Cutter, No. 4 Bull Lane, near Pill Lane, Dublin, Returns his sincere thanks to his friends and the Public for their kind encouragement since his commencement in business, and begs leave to inform them that he has, at a vast expense, erected a large Fly for striking off medals, coats of arms, crests and cyphers, buttons of all kinds and coach furniture in silver, gold-coloured and plated metals, in as neat and cheap a manner as they can be executed in England" ("Hibernian Journal," 20th June, 1777). This advertisement would go to show that he had begun to strike medals some years earlier than 1782, which has been hitherto given as the date of his first medal. It was the acquisition of a small collection of medals that induced him to endeavour to produce similar works, and as he had to learn the art himself it was probably some time before he felt himself able to produce satisfactory work. His first recorded medal was that, struck in 1782, of the Right Hon. John Beresford and his wife. This was set on the side of a silver cup presented to Beresford by Dr. Achmet, the pretended Turk whose real name was Kearns, the proprietor of baths in Dublin, who was beholden to Beresford for his assistance in obtaining grants from the Parliament for the establishment of public baths in Dublin. A bronze impression of this medal is in the Royal Irish Academy's collection.

In 1783 Mossop executed a medal bearing a portrait of Dr. Henry Quin, which was presented to the doctor by Robert Watson Wade, First Clerk of the Irish Treasury, as a token of gratitude for his recovery from a severe illness. Quin, a man of some artistic tastes, interested himself in the young artist, as he had previously done in the case of James Tassie and through his influence Mossop obtained commissions for several portrait medals, among them being one for Lord Pery, the late Speaker of the House of Commons. For this medal Lord Pery generously gave the artist forty guineas instead of twenty the price asked. Writing to Lord Pery on 14th April, 1788, Dr. Quin says: "I was highly gratified and obliged by your condescension in permitting a medal of your lordship to be struck by an ingenious artist who has lain long in obscurity, but whose reputation I foresaw would be greatly advanced by exhibiting your likeness, which in my opinion he has executed in a very masterly manner" (Hist. MSS. Com., 14th Report, App. IX, p. 195).

In 1786, Mossop struck a medal commemorating the departure from Ireland of Thomas Ryder, the actor, on his accepting an engagement at Covent Garden. The "Hibernian Magazine," 1789, says: "on Mr. Ryder's leaving Ireland, Mr. Mossop, the Pingo of that kingdom, executed a die from which was struck a sufficient quantity of medals of gold, silver and copper to supply a numerous list of subscribers." In 1786, also, Mossop was employed to make the prize medal of the Royal Irish Academy, which is considered his best work. The medal bears on the obverse a portrait of Lord Charlemont in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers, and on the reverse Hibernia seated on a pile of books, surrounded by the emblems of Astronomy, Chemistry, Poetry and Antiquities. Another fine medal was that of Primate Robinson, to commemorate the erection of the Armagh Observatory, done in 1789. In 1788 the death of Dr. Quin deprived Mossop of a sincere friend and benefactor. His gratitude was expressed by an inscription on the reverse of the medal to Quin, which he had executed in 1783: "Sacred to the Man who, after finding out the Author in obscurity, led him into the profession of this polite art and became his patron, his friend and liberal benefactor."

In 1792 Mossop was admitted to the freedom of the Guild of St. Luke, the Corporation of Painter-stayners and Cutlers, in Dublin. From about that year to 1797 he was employed by the firm of Camac, Kyan and Camac in executing the dies, and superintending the issue, of the coinage made from copper obtained from the Wicklow mines. The "Camac" halfpenny of 1793 was designed by him. On the failure of this concern in 1797 he returned to his occupation as a die-sinker, and in that year struck the medal commemorating the destruction of the French Fleet off Bantry Bay. Subsequent medals include one for the Orange Association, with bust of William III; two for the Farming Society of Ireland, and that of the Trinity College Historical Society. The events of the Rebellion and the Union diverted the public mind from the cultivation of the Fine Arts, and after 1798 Mossop obtained but little employment, producing only one work of importance, the medal of the Dublin Society finished in 1802. So little work as a medallist came to him that in 1798 we find him employed by the governors of Simpson's Hospital, for whom he had done a seal, in cutting the words "Simpson's Hospital" on the entablature over the entrance door, for which he was paid seven pounds. Mossop after leaving Bull Lane resided in Bridgefoot Street until April, 1783, when he moved to 13 Essex Quay and afterwards to Mecklenburg Street. In January, 1805, he had a paralytic seizure followed by apoplexy, which in a few hours terminated his life. His death took place in his house No. 68 Mecklenburg Street on the evening of the 28th January, 1805. He was buried on the 31st in St. Andrew's Church. He was survived by his wife, Letitia Parker, whom he had married in 1782.

Though Mossop's works are not numerous they are important, not only from their merit, but as practically the first of the kind produced in Ireland. Besides medals he engraved several large seals for Corporate bodies. He also executed a head on cornelian and a small copy in ivory of the celebrated group of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche. He was often aided in his designs by Edward Smyth, the sculptor. For his medals and seals he was in the habit of executing models in wax softened with turpentine and coloured white or brown. The wax was laid down on pieces of slate or glass and accurately modelled and gradually built up to the intended form. Some of these models were in the possession of the late Dr. Frazer of Harcourt Street, Dublin. One, that of Lord Charlemont, is in the National Gallery of Ireland.


Rt. Hon. John Beresford and his Wife. Medallion, 1782. Busts superimposed; no reverse. An impression in bronze is in the Royal Irish Academy collection. See page 133.

Henry Quin, M.D., 1783. Head of Quin; reverse, blank. On the death of Quin in 1788 Mossop engraved an inscription on the reverse recording his gratitude to his benefactor. See page 135.

Lord Pery, 1785. Die for obverse in the National Museum.

David La Touche, 1785. Engraved by Clayton in Ferrar's "View of Dublin," 1796. Die for obverse in National Musem.

William Alexander, alderman, 1785. Die for obverse in National Museum.

William Deane, solicitor, 1785.

Thomas Ryder, actor, 1786, Bust on obverse. See page 134.

Royal Irish Academy, 1786. The bust of Lord Charlemont, which was added in 1791, was done from a miniature painted expressly for Mossop by Horace Hone. The miniature was sold at Bennett's, Dublin, in 1912, and now belongs to Henry A. Johnston, Kilmore, Co. Armagh. Mossop's wax model is in the National Gallery of Ireland. When the dies were worn out replicas were made by John Woodhouse in 1886.

Down Corporation of Horse-breeders, 1787.

Richard Robinson, Lord Rokeby, Archbishop of Armagh, 1789. Portrait on obverse; front elevation of the Observatory at Armagh, the erection of which by the Archbishop the medal commemorates, on reverse. Engraved by H. Brocas in the "Anthologia Hibernica," 1793. Dies for obverse and reverse in National Museum. (John Kirk, an English medallist, exhibited in 1778 at the Society of Artists in London a "silver medal of the Lord Primate of Ireland," and a "proof medal in copper given annually in gold in Ireland.")

Union Penny, 1789; after a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Medal given at the Commencements, Trinity College, Dublin; originally intended for a Science Medal, 1793.

Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick Association medal, 1793.

Marie Antoinette, 1794.

The Dauphin, as Louis XVII.

Ticket medal of the Private Theatre, Fishamble Street, 1796.

Ticket medal of the Private Theatre, Fishamble Street; a different die, but similar design.

Medal of the Society for promoting Religion and Virtue, 1796.

Medal of the Tyrone Regiment, 1797; given by the Colonel to the soldiers of the regiment.

Medal of Dr. Barret's School, 1797.

Bantry Bay Medal, 1797; made for a local club to commemorate the dispersal of the French Fleet.

Medal of the Hanoverian Society, or Order of Orange and Blue, 1797.

Orange Association Medal, 1798, with bust of William III.

Medal presented to the Hon. Henry St. George Cole, undated, [1798.] The reverse is the Hibernia from the R. I. Academy die struck in thin metal and soldered on.

Masonic School Medal, 1799; designed by Edward Smyth.

College Historical Society Medal, [1799.] For the reverse there were three dies, one for Poetry, one for History and one for Oratory. The dies were replaced about 1847 by new ones by William Woodhouse.

Medals of the Dublin Society, 1800-2. Dies for circular and oval medals in National Museum.

Two medals for the Farming Society of Ireland.

Medal of the Navan Farming Society.

Irish Ordnance Medal.

Seal of the Benchers of the King's Inns.

Seal of the Rotunda Hospital.

Seal of Simpson's Hospital.

Detailed descriptions of Mossop's medals will be found in an article by Dr. Frazer in the "Kilkenny Archaeological Society's Journal," Vol. XVII. See also articles by Dean Dawson in "Transactions of the R.I.A."; the "Dublin Monthly Magazine," 1842; Gilbert's "History of Dublin," Vol. II, p. 121 and Appendix VII; and "Dublin National Museum Bulletin," 1912, Vol. II, Part I, pp. 7-11, article by Mr. A. McGoogan.

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