Benton is first recorded as working in Providence, R.I. before the Civil War, then with the Quartermaster's Department in Washington in 1862. He was established in Wilmington, Delaware, between 1864 and 1870, when two of his biggest patrons were railroad magnates Cornelius Vanderbilt and Charles Morgan. Tiffany & Co. also placed orders with Benton, showing two of his steamship models at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. In 1869, a model locomotive was presented to Matthew Baird of the Baldwin Locomotive works.
After being listed briefly again in Providence in 1872, Benton settled in Philadelphia between 1874 and 1877 before finally returning to Rhode Island. His 62-inch high scale model of Independence Hall was shown at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 (sold Sotheby's, New York, January 21, 2011, lot 147), as was a Benton model of a Pullman Palace Car (Miniature Railroad & Village).
The initials on the coal car associate this piece with the Pennsylvania, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, and Benton's Wilmington signature to circa 1864-1873. It may have been a gift to the PW&B's outgoing president in 1865, Samuel Morse Felton, or to his incoming successor, Isaac Hinckley. Alternately, it may have commemorated the completion in November 1866 of the PW&B's Susquehanna River bridge, finally establishing a continuous rail connection between Philadelphia and Baltimore.
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