I first met Cook in grade school studying Wolfe’s victory at the Plains of Abraham, where Wolfe won for Britain the right to colonize Canada. Credit is given to James Cook for his great accuracy charting the dangerous sand banks of the St. Lawrence River.
This was just another accomplishment in the life of James Cook and historians seldom notice it, because each of Cook’s accomplishments was more surprising than the last.
I started to collect and study Captain Cook early on so when the 1968 bi-centennial started to come on. I decided to add any Cook item to my collection and 'of course' I wanted all pertinent information, to go with the items and so researched every medal issued and eventually felt this detail should be preserved. Thus I wrote a book called Faces of Captain Cook: A record of the coins and medals of James Cook, which was published as a private venture by me in 1983 (ISBN 0-9690755-1-0).
There were no cameras in Cook’s time, and with his absence from England for long periods, few portraits were produced. Perhaps the two most famous would be Nathaniel Dance’s noble portrait from life in 1776 and the face by John Webber.
The Royal Society commissioned Chief Engraver Lewis Pingo to create the admirable bust and memorial medal and John Flaxman, R.A.. was engaged and produced the high relief bust for Josiah Wedgwood; both in 1784. These works can be considered as contemporary, and with the Parkinson and Hodges’ (1777) paintings, complete the only likenesses from the period.
However, a host of talented artists through the years have created their depictions of James Cook based on the knowledge of the man’s life, deeds and character. My catalogue shows many of these “faces of Cook”.
I have numbered the items for my use in organizing the material. The system is chronological. Where a medal was issued in different sizes, they are shown as A, B, C, etc. Medals with some definite or important difference in the dies take separate numbers; for example, different dates. Different metals, same die designs, use same number. There are 118 medals issued between 1772 and 1980 and 21 coins issued between 1928 and 1979 around the world. Most of them are illustrated.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1830, volume 24, number 2 (2001).