Wyon, William (DNB00)
|←Wyon, Thomas (1767-1830)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
WYON, WILLIAM (1795–1851), chief engraver at the royal mint, was born at Birmingham in 1795. He was the eldest son of Peter Wyon, who carried on business at Birmingham as a general die-engraver in conjunction (for a time) with his elder brother, Thomas Wyon the elder [q. v.] Peter Wyon displayed much taste in his designs for dies for ornamental brass work. He executed many dies for tokens, medallions of Matthew Boulton and others, and died at Birmingham, at Cock Street, St. Paul's, in 1822.
William Wyon was sent to school in his native place, and in 1809 was apprenticed to his father. In his boyhood he came across a copy of Flaxman's ‘Dante,’ and copied most of the outlines with enthusiasm. When he was about sixteen he engraved a head of Hercules in bold relief, which attracted the attention of Nathaniel Marchant [q. v.] He also made a die with a figure of ‘The Woodman,’ copied from Westall's picture, and gilt impressions struck from this for brooches had a great sale. In 1812 he visited London, and began to work at a medal-die with the head of Ceres. Marchant praised the design, and when Wyon wanted to obtain a model of an ancient plough told him to go to Richard Payne Knight [q. v.], and to say that he was ‘that pretty behaved, modest boy whom he had spoken to him about.’ On 25 May 1813 the Society of Arts awarded Wyon their large gold medal for his ‘Ceres,’ and purchased the dies for use in striking the society's prize gold medal (class, Agriculture). He also obtained the gold medal of the society for his designs for a naval prize medal (1813).
In 1816 Wyon finally settled in London, and aided his uncle, Thomas Wyon the elder, in engraving the seals. In the same year he was appointed second engraver to the Royal Mint, being chosen on the award of Sir Thomas Lawrence [q. v.] after a competition. The great recoinage of George III began in 1816, and from that time till 1825 Wyon was actively employed in the preparation of the dies for the British and colonial money of George III and George IV. In 1822 Benedetto Pistrucci [q. v.], the chief engraver, had practically ceased to work on the coinage, though he retained his salary of 500l., while Wyon had 200l. In the early part of 1828 Wyon was appointed chief engraver, and 500l. was awarded to him for his extra services from 1823 to 1828. Pistrucci was then designated ‘chief medallist.’ In 1830 Wyon began the series of coin-dies of William IV, the portrait being taken from Sir F. Chantrey's model. In 1835 he visited Lisbon and modelled the portrait of Queen Donna Maria for the new Portuguese coinage which he was selected to engrave. In 1831 he had been elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and on 10 March 1838 he became an academician, this being the first occasion on which a medallist had been elected. He was also an honorary member of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts at Vienna (elected 1836).
On the accession of Queen Victoria the preparation of the coronation medal was entrusted to Pistrucci, and in 1837 and 1838 a newspaper controversy as to the respective merits of the work (and nationality) of Pistrucci and Wyon excited public interest. Pistrucci was stoutly defended by William Richard Hamilton [q. v.], while Wyon was supported by Richard Sainthill the numismatist and by Edward Hawkins [q. v.], who wrote under the pseudonyms of ‘Daniel Briton,’ ‘Persona,’ and ‘A. Z.’ Wyon's friend Nicholas Carlisle [q. v.] printed privately a eulogistic memoir of him in 1837. In 1839 Wyon visited Paris, and was cordially received by Louis-Philippe, who presented him with a gold medal. During the remaining years of his life Wyon was still actively engaged on coin and medal work. He died at Brighton on 29 Oct. 1851.
Wyon married, on 12 April 1821, Catherine Sophia (d. 14 Feb. 1851), third daughter of John Keele, surgeon, of Southampton, and had by her two sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Leonard Charles Wyon [q. v.], is noticed separately. A portrait of Wyon, drawn by L. C. Wyon in 1842, is reproduced in Sainthill's ‘Olla Podrida’ (i. 88) and in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1851, ii. 609). His portrait also appears on the imitation crown-piece of Cromwell engraved by L. C. Wyon in 1843 (specimen in British Museum).
Wyon's industry as a designer and engraver of dies both for coins and medals was extraordinary. His work was always conscientious and well finished, though he was no doubt hampered by the mechanical conditions with which a modern medallist has usually to comply, and he sometimes adhered too faithfully to the medallic traditions of classical, or rather of pseudo-classical, design. Some of his productions, however, attain a really high level of artistic excellence, notably his Cheselden medal (Numismatic Journal, ii. 10) for St. Thomas's Hospital, where he succeeded admirably with a difficult reverse-design—a dead body laid out in the dissecting-room. The list given below furnishes only a small selection from his numerous works. A good list of his coins and medals, up to 1836, may be found in Carlisle's ‘Memoir,’ and another list (not complete) of his medals was drawn up by L. C. Wyon and printed in Sainthill's ‘Olla Podrida’ (ii. 401–3). A case of Wyon's medals was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and many of his pattern-coins and medals are preserved in the British Museum. His signature is w. w. and w. wyon.
Wyon engraved the following coins: 1817, pattern crown executed in frost work, reverse, ‘Incorrupta fides.’ Royal Arms: pattern crown, reverse, ‘Fœdus inviolabile,’ England, Ireland, and Scotland as the three Graces; 1819, Ionian Islands coinage; 1826, pattern five-pound piece of George IV; 1831, pattern double-sovereign of William IV; 1839, pattern five-pound piece of Victoria (type, Una and Lion); 1846, ‘Gothic’ crown.
Wyon's chief medals were: 1812, Alexander I of Russia; 1813, ‘Ceres’ medal; 1818, Earl Howe (Mudie's series); 1824, Sir Walter Scott; 1825, London Bridge; 1826, Harrow School, Peel medal; Burmese War; 1827, University of London; 1828, Royal Institution, Fuller medal; 1829, St. Thomas's Hospital, Cheselden medal; 1830, Bodiam Castle medal; 1831, coronation of William IV; 1834, Sir John Soane; Bombay Native Education Society; 1836, London Horticultural Society; 1837, accession of Queen Victoria; visit of the queen to the Guildhall, London; 1840, Newcastle and Carlisle Railway; 1841, Apothecaries' medal; 1842, China, Jellalabad, Candahar (war medals); 1846, Chantrey medal, Art Union; 1848, general service medals; medal awarded to Major Herbert B. Edwardes (Mayo, Medals, pl. 27, fig. 4); 1849, the society's medal of the Society of Arts; 1851, India medal.[Carlisle's Memoir of William Wyon, 1837 (an extra-illustrated copy prepared by Edward Hawkins has been kindly lent by its owner, Mr. Charles H. Read, F.S.A.); Numismatic Journal, 1837, ii. 10 f.; Sainthill's Olla Podrida, ii. 391 f.; newspaper cuttings in Brit. Mus. Libr. relating to Wyon and Pistrucci; Hawkins's Medallic Illustrations (ed. Franks and Grueber); Mayo's Medals and Decorations; Sharp's Catalogue of the Chetwynd Collection, p. v; Redgrave's Dictionary; Athenæum, 8 Nov. 1851, p. 1177; Gent. Mag. 1851, ii. 609.]