In the years leading up to his death in 1877, Joel Tanner Hart (1810-1877) was considered by many the greatest living American sculptor. His sculpture of Henry Clay (1777-1852), commissioned in 1846 and finally installed in 1859, is considered one of his finest works.
Henry Clay, born at the onset of the American Revolution, was a major player on the national political stage for forty years. During his long career he served in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and he served as secretary of state under John Quincy Adams.
Hart’s famous sculpture inspired the engraving for the 12-cent stamp of Henry Clay for the 1870-1871 National Bank Note Issue. The stamp was used primarily in combination with other denominations to fulfill expensive rates. The 12-cent Clay stamp, as with all the stamps of this issue, had two variations, one with a grill and the other without.