John Dean Benton (1824-1890), listed in city directories as a silversmith and jeweler between 1847 and 1877, was also a model maker of considerable repute, although only 16 of his models are known to survive today.
Acclaimed for his meticulously detailed models during the 1860s and 1870s, Benton executed a number of commissions for the great commodores Cornelius Vanderbilt and Charles Morgan. The Mary, a 1,096-ton steamship of the Morgan Line, was one of a fleet of fifteen steamships that ran between New Orleans and Texas ports, offering various services and subsidized by U.S. mail contracts (see James P. Baughman, Charles Morgan and the Development of Southern Transportation, 1968, pp. 126 and 178-181).
The other known vessels by Benton include: Harlan, steamer of the Morgan Line, sold Christie's, June 2, 1990, lot 63; Commonwealth, and Roanoke, steamers of the Vanderbilt fleet (Mariners' Museum, Newport News, and Vanderbilt Museum, Centerport, New York); City of New York,, steamer (Mystic Seaport Museum); F.A. Churchman, tugboat, Christie's, January 23, 1988, lot 96; Charles Morgan, the George Q. Whitney, the Providence, and the Josephine, all steamers of the Morgan Line; the Monitor, ironclad of the Vanderbilt fleet (private collection) and an unnamed sidewheel steamer (National Maritime Museum, San Francisco).
Three model locomotives by Benton are known: the Charles Morgan, and two of the Daniel Webster. One architectural model survives, of The Capitol, Washington, made for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.
Benton's model of the steamer Commonwealth was exhibited in New York in 1864, and was described by The New York Herald:
"Mr. J. D. Benton builder of the gold models of the ironclads MONITOR and ROANOKE, had on exhibition a few hours yesterday a gold and silver model of the COMMONWEALTH, of the Stonington Line . . . The machinery is propelled by a musical box, which plays ten national airs . . . Mr. Benton takes her to Philadelphia this morning to exhibit her at the Sanitary Fair, and on his return he will place her on exhibition in this city. He will shortly build a model of the VANDERBILT for Mr. C. Vanderbilt, and there is some talk of making a model of the Capitol in Washington. The metal COMMONWEALTH is a product of the way of model making and beautiful mechanism." (New York Herald, June 18, 1864)