Prompted by an Art Magazine Two Innovators Created a New Class of Numismatic Items

Not often is a new class of numismatic items born. We have seen this only twice in the last fifty years. The most recent is the bullion item – coins and medals struck solely for their precious metal content.

December 2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the other, an entirely new numismatic genre that has swept the world for its popularity among medallic artists. This class of medals is unique to the numismatic field – the medallic object.

Created in the art world, but produced in the medal world, it was a marriage that occurred among three New York City institutions. Not an accident, it was a concept created by an art magazine, an art museum curator, and an art medal manufacturer. For medallic objects are an art creation, the mating of modern art with medallic form.

As a Christmas gift promotion in 1965, Art in America magazine wanted to offer its readers something available nowhere else. Their relationship with the leading artists of the time prompted them to promote a new format bas-relief created by top sculptors, yet in a size suitable for intimate display.

The magazine’s officials commissioned a curator of modern art at New York’s Whitney Museum, Edward Albert Bryant, to manage the project. He contacted the most prominent sculptors in the modern art field. Seven accepted his challenge – to create a modern art work that could be made in a small size.


Ernest Trova “Falling Man”

The variety of their creations expressed their current work. Sculptor Ernest Trova, for example, was at the time creating a series of major sculptures in a series best described as “Falling Man.” How to transfer this concept to a smaller venue?

Trova solved this with a brilliant design of seven human figures aligned inside a circle with a bright red enameled arrow pointing with a subtle thrust of a Man in downwards motion — no matter how the piece was rotated. He added a legend in a raised panel circumscribing the rim.

His design met the form of a medal but was unlike anything ever produced before. It was the birth of a new sculptural work in medallic form, embracing modern art in a new class of numismatic items. A class that was to remain unnamed for two decades.


Harold Tovish “Meshed Faces”

Six other sculptors created models where their imagination and mannerisms ran unfettered. Boston sculptor Harold Tovish interspersed two human heads he called Meshed Faces. His anepigraphic design denoted a dehumanization of our modern culture with mechanical forms.

Once curator Bryant had models in hand he sought a way to replicate them. His search did not take him far as he found nearby Medallic Art Company ideal for the task. He met with the firm’s president, William Trees Louth.


Edward Bryant and Bill Louth

The two men pored over the models discussing how best to make the final items. Accustomed to striking the company’s medallic output, Louth suggested striking the items in medallion size. Bryant wanted something larger since dies at that time were limited to no greater than five-inch diameter. The obvious answer, Louth proposed, was making them each as electrogalvanic casts – galvanos.

Once the size decision was made, Louth further suggested striking several as conventional medals, and creating even a smaller size as a pin that could be worn. Bryant was elated at those suggestions.

ArtInAmericaCoverTovish’s model then could be made as a 12-inch galvano – which Art in America called “wall piece” – a 2¾-inch medal called a “desk piece,” and a 1-inch “jewelry pin.”

Next discussion was the finish to be applied to each. Every design had to have a distinctive patina. Here, they felt, the artist should have some say to ensure the final work adhered to the artist’s original vision.

While Louth entered orders for his craftsmen to commence producing the items, Bryant wrote the article “Christmas For Connoisseurs” for the magazine, with full-page color illustrations of the seven avant-garde items.

The article appeared in Art in America’s December-January 1965-66 issued to be in readers’ hands during the gift-buying season. At the back of the magazine, among small gallery ads, was published a full-page ad offering the seven items for sale.


Constantino Nivola “Loving Couple”

The ad touted “An Exceptional Collecting Opportunity. Relief Sculptures in Limited Editions.” The work of all seven artists – well-known to the magazine’s readers for their reputation and celebrity status – were offered as Wall Pieces (galvanos), medals, and pins. Only two artists’ creations were offered in all three options: Tovish’s Meshed Faces, and Constantino Nivola’s impressionistic Loving Couple, an expression of Man and Nature beneath a dream cloud.

Four of the seven items were issued in circular form. In addition to Tovish’s Meshed Faces. Elbert Weinberg, working in Rome, submitted his Salome in four dancing poses within the circular format. Perhaps his creation could be considered humanistic as it displayed four human figures.


James Wines

The design by James Wines, known for expressing architectural influence in his sculptural work at the time, continued this theme in the medallic rendition. His design was the only one with open work, a small aperture near the lower edge.

Roy Gussow created The Flow of Water over the Edge of a Pool. Bryant described it in modern art language: “Elegantly refined relief represents the purists and geometric direction in contemporary sculpture. With admirable simplicity of pure form and inventive use of highly reflective surfaces, he has created a work with the magic of changing patterns.”


Roy Gussow “The Flow of Water”

The museum curator called Gussow’s design a kaleidoscope with its reflective surface highly polished by the craftsmen in the finishing department of Medallic Art Company. Other pieces were given more customary patinas, where acids were employed to apply color and protective surface.

Chryssa’s piece was, perhaps, most unusual of all. It replicated the surface of lettering found in newspapers of the time, where metal lines of type were gathered in columns and a curved mat made for printing on high speed presses. Chryssa, whose full Greek name was Vardea Chryssa Mavromichaeli, cast her model using a method somewhat similar to printer’s technology.


Vardea Chryssa Mavromichaeli casting

For the seven artists their intent was to create a suitable relief. For the manufacture the intent was to render those reliefs in suitable medallic form as attractively as possible, Not one of them knew they had created an entirely new art form. Yet they had given birth to the medallic object.


Six months later, in France, where modern art is de rigeur, the Paris Mint issued its first item that could be termed a medallic object. Roger Bezombes, an accomplished medailleur, created in 1966 his first of what was to become a persistent passion for the new art form. It was a uniface piece bearing a portrait of Ceres, the goddess of the earth and agriculture, with open work for eyes and mouth.


Roger Bezombes “Star of Joy”

His most noted work, however, is Star of Joy, which Americans call Sunburst for its multiple sunrays. The 24 rays surround the sun in the center, polished and containing the lettering. In contrast, the sun’s rays are style rude, an art term meaning “rough style.”

Bezombes’ imagination embraced an unfettered creativity, wild and highly imaginative. He pushed the envelope in design, shape, spatial form, and the use of fabricated objects. He made occasional use of buttons and sea shells, and delighted in making large eyes with tiny balls as the iris.

He once designed a stork, fully upright, made of two dozen scissors. Another work was a light bulb where the filaments appear in multiple shapes and discs. For another he added eyeglass frames on an obverse portrait that morphs into – what is it? – a severed bicycle on the reverse.

Like Bezombes, other abstract artists were attracted to the new art form for its ease of replicating their highly imaginative models. Picasso made a medal of table spoons, another as a dinner plate.

Once the Paris Mint began producing these unconventional medals it attracted artists throughout Europe and even the Orient as their popularity spread among the coterie of world artists.

The new form was encouraged by one devotee fortunately in a position of influence: Pierre deHay, one-time director of the Paris Mint. During his administration modern art was welcomed to be rendered into medallic form, and these creative objects were produced in increasing numbers. At the peak of this phenomenon, during Director deHay’s reign in the early 1980s, the Paris Mint placed in production one new art medal a day, predominantly medallic objects!

By 1985 its collection had grown to the point where it needed a separate catalog. The minions at the Paris Mint gathered and photographed the work of 124 artists, mostly French; 302 items divided into three classes – medallic objects, plaquettes, and what they called medallic enrichies, a medal with added adornments.

But what to name this modern art form? They chose “medallic objects” as the catalog’s title – la Medaille-Object – the first time this term appeared in print. The term became accepted first by the artists, then by collectors and ultimately added to numismatic lexicography.

American artists, however, could not match the French pace. Among a handful of early medallic objects made in America was one by modernist Roy Lichtenstein, Salute to Airmail, in 1969. But what American artists did was to band together in 1982, forming the American Medallic Sculpture Association to encourage all forms of medallic creations. Previously, artists in England had formed British Art Medal Society in 1979, followed by artists in Canada who established the Medallic Art Society of Canada in 2000. Similar medallic organizations have been established in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere.

Exhibitions of these national societies embraced medallic objects, as did the world organization, the Fédération Internationale de la Médaille d’Art, everywhere reverently called “Feed-’em” for its FIDEM initials. Its international exhibits of recently created coins and medals are held every other year or so. For thirty years, that which had been conventional, typical, medals gradually became dominated by atypical medallic objects.

Two FIDEM congresses have been held in America, appropriately at the American Numismatic Association’s Colorado Springs headquarters. The first in 1987 attracted 694 artists from 25 countries. Well-known American sculptor Mico Kaufman created the official Congress medal, an avant-garde design in oval shape.

The second American FIDEM Congress was held in 2007 with exhibits from 576 artists representing 30 countries. A dramatic, innovative medal, issued by ANA, was created by New England artist Sarah Peters. It was perhaps the most innovative FIDEM Congress Medal ever! Bearing a human figure on both sides, male on one, female on the other, it was designed in modified quadrant shape where four could be interconnected together forming somewhat of a circle and rearranged in three other shapes.

The bulk of both of these exhibitions, like others nationally, prior and since, were unquestionably, medallic objects.

Just what are medallic objects? How would one define them? Medallic objects are modern art in medallic form. While inspired by the medallic genre they do not have the restrictions of coins or medals.

They must be permanent, capable of being reproduced, usually made of metal and, in most issues, have a shape other than round. Medallic objects break the rules of circular coin and medal design, go beyond any limitations, transcend any technical restraint, overcome medallic prejudice, in order to become interesting, aesthetic objects for the eye to behold.

Usually medallic objects are free-standing; infrequently called “standing medallic art.” But to stand alone is not even a requirement. They are not small statues, they are not upright or overgrown medallions – medallic objects are a new sculptural entity, indeed, that in fifty years has found its niche in the art and numismatic world.

The painter crafts his art in color and shadows. The sculptor crafts his art in forms and planes. The medallist crafts his art in relief and miniature size. But the creators of medallic objects, while they may be guided by the precepts of these graphic and glyptic arts, are not bound by restrictions of any art.

If I had to characterize their form I would say medallic objects are bas-relief unleashed. Their appeal will grow as collectors discover there are art objects in the field beyond coins and medals, yet inspired by what they have been collecting all along.

Satisfying a Medallic Artist

Harold Tovish

The late Harold Tovish

Sculptor Harold Tovish visited Medallic Art Company’s plant in New York City in 1965 to choose the finish of the 12-inch galvano of his relief that Art in America magazine called “Dehumanization of Mechanical Forms,” but what we called “Meshed Faces.”

The smaller medal was satisfactory, but he wanted the larger galvano to be different, the best art possible. Customarily the artist picks a patina color from the finishes that can be applied to a medallic item. While brown and green patinas are most common — the easiest to apply — virtually any color can be applied with different acids and different procedures. These are not paints nor coatings, these are permanent color of the metal itself

Toviah was more concerned with the surface texture than color. The satin surface of the wide rim enclosed a clear background and a pair of “faces” — all of smooth texture. Having all three congruent surfaces smooth is a no-no. It’s bad art in medallic sculpture.

As the master sculptor that Tovish was he wanted a texture on the background between the smooth rim and the smooth faces. It is good art to have contrast adjacent to or between two smooth surfaces.

The craftsmen in Medallic Art’s finishing department, notably the late Hugo Greco was assigned the task to satisfy Tovish no matter what. Give him whatever he wanted. With Tovish by his side Greco tried the usual techniques using chasing tools — dapple and matting punches — to apply the texture to the surface of the copper galvano.

Nothing he tried seem to satisfy Tovish. Greco tried tiny beads of acid to form minute incuse areas in the surface. Even that was unsatisfactory, it looked like the craters on the moon.

In desperation, Hugo picked up a beer-can opener, the kind with a hard metal curved point that leaves a triangular opening in the can. He starting scratching the surface in the background forming hundreds of small incuse circles and arcs. After a few minutes of this he raised the galvano above his head for better light. Tovish raised his head to observe the result.

“That’s it!” shouted Tovish.


  1. Objects of Desire by D. Wayne Johnson, The Numismatist, September 2007.
  2. Paris Mint, la Medaille-Object, 1985.
  3. FIDEM Exhibition Catalog, ANA, 1987.
  4. FIDEM Exhibition Catalog, ANA, 2007.
  5. Report From the 2007 FIDEM Congress, E-Sylum, September 23, 2007, volume 10, number 38, article 9.

Thousands of themes are found among the medals made by Medallic Art Company.  MACO has made so many medals, in fact, that collectors recognize they cannot collect them all – although that could be a collectors’ specialty itself — collectors tend to specialize and collect by theme, which they call a topic. Collecting is a very personal thing – every collector chooses his own topic.

The scouting movement, for both boys and girls, has been well represented within the archives of Medallic Art medals. We do not know the creators of all the scouting medals, but some very prominent sculptors are revealed here, Paul Manship and Laura Gardin Fraser top the list. The appeal of scouting collectibles is very strong. Even more so for adults as reflects a happy time in their youth.

Many of these items were ordered continuously and bestowed to youths over a sustained period.  Others, as Jamboree pins, were for only one event, one year. Medallic Art was a major supplier of these medallic items to the two scouting organizations.

A List of Boy Scout and Girl Scout Medals With Selected Photos From Medallic Art Archives

1918-015  Girl Scouts World War I Liberty Loan Medal  1918  Girl Scouts        Paul Howard Manship

1921-034-01  American Girl Scouts Brownie Pin   1921  Girl Scouts of America        Unknown Artist

1921-034-02  American Girl Scouts Cuff Links   1921  Girl Scouts of America       Unknown Artist

1921-034-03  American Girl Scouts Captains Pins   1921  Girl Scouts of America       Unknown Artist

1921-035  Girl Scouts of America Eaglet Emblem   1921  Girl Scouts of America    ½-inch       Unknown Artist

1921-036  Girl Scouts of America Merit Badge  1921  Girl Scouts of America    1-inch        Unknown Artist

1921-037  Girl Scouts of America Life Saving Emblem  1921  Girl Scouts of America  1- x 1¼-inch       Unknown Artist

1922-037  American Girl Scouts Thanks Badge  1922  Girl Scouts of America   Unknown Artist

Girl Scouts of America Tenderfoot Pin

Girl Scouts of America Tenderfoot Pin

1922-038  Girl Scouts of America Tenderfoot Pin  1922  Girl Scouts of America  ¾-inch      Unknown Artist


Girl Scouts Camp Andree Clark Pin (Feather)

1923-005  Girl Scouts Camp Andree Clark Pin (Feather)  1923  Girl Scouts  2¼-inch       Hand Cut Die

1926-040  Boy Scouts Buffalo Charm  1926  Boy Scouts of America                                                     Unknown Artist

1926-041  Boy Scouts Life Saving Honor Medal  1926  Boy Scouts of America      Unknown Artist

1926-042-01  Girl Scouts Camp of the Hills Pin  1926  Girl Scouts of America  5/8-inch       Unknown Artist

1926-042-02  Girl Scouts Wind In the Pines Pin 1926   Girl Scouts of America  5/8-inch     Unknown Artist

1926-042-03  Girl Scouts Camp Longview Pin 1926   Girl Scouts of America  5/8-inch     Unknown Artist

1926-042-04  Girl Scouts Camp Seven Hills Pin 1926  Girl Scouts of America  5/8-inch     Unknown Artist

1926-043  Boy Scouts Double XX With Eagle Badge  1926  Boy Scouts of America  7/8-inch     Unknown Artist

1927-011  Girl Scouts Camp Edith Macy Pin  1927  Girl Scouts of America  1½-inch           Hand Cut Die


Boy Scouts International Jamboree

1927-026  Boy Scouts International Jamboree Medal  1927  Boy Scouts of America 1½-inch          Julio Kilenyi

1927-031  American Girl Scouts Fern Pin  1927  Girl Scouts of America                                                Unknown Artist

1927-032  American Girl Scouts Srsc Pin  1927  Girl Scouts of America                                                Unknown Artist

1927-033  American Girl Scouts Greenwood Pin  1927  Girl Scouts of America     Unknown Artist

1927-037  American Girl Scouts Maple Leaf Pin   1927  Girl Scouts of America    Unknown Artist

1928-014  Girl Scouts Golden Eaglet Pin  1928  Girl Scouts of America  1 1/8-inch       Laura Gardin Fraser

1928-058  Boy Scouts Life Saving Medal  1928  Boy Scouts of America  1 5/8- x 1 3/8-inch       Unknown Artist

1929-040  Girl Scout Feeding Rabbit Medal  1929  Girl Scouts of America  1¾-inch       Jessie Willing

1929-053  Boy Scouts of America Eagle Badge  1929  Boy Scouts of Am  1½-inch Alexander Phimister Proctor

1929-053-A  Boy Scouts of America ‘Be Prepared’ Bar  1929  Boy Scouts of Am  1½- x ¼-inch    Hand Cut Die

1929-060  American Girl Scout Lapel Pin  1929  Girl Scouts of America                                               Unknown Artist

1929-084  Girl Scouts of America Community Service Medal  1929  Girl Scouts of Am  ¾-inch   Hand Cut Die


Girl Scouts of America Pine Cone Pin

1929-085  Girl Scouts of America Pine Cone Pin  1929  Girl Scouts of America  2- x 5/8-inch     Hand Cut Dies

Society of Medallists Series:

BSA Building Toward Unity, SOM Issue #46

BSA Building Toward Unity, SOM Issue #46

1930-001-046  Issue #46 Eagle Boy Scouts  1952  Society of Medalists  2 7/8-inch           Karl Heinrich Grupp

1930-036  American Girl Scouts Camp Giscowheco Medal   1930  Girl Scouts of America       Unknown Artist

Boy Scouts of America Presidents Badge

Boy Scouts of America Presidents Badge

1930-070-001  Boy Scouts of America Presidents Badge  1930  Boy Scouts of America  1- x 7/8-inch     Unknown  Artist

1930-070-002  Boy Scouts of America Presidents Badge  1930  Boy Scouts of America  1- x 7/8-inch    Unknown Artist

1931-040  Boy Scouts Quartermaster Badge  1931  Boy Scouts of America  1 3/16-inch      Hand Cut Die

1932-018  Beard (Daniel Carter) Medal  1932  Boy Scouts of Kentucky  2½-inch          Jeno Juszko

1933-043-012  Best Goodyear Boy Scout  1933  Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co    1 ½-inch     Unknown artist.

1933-043-024  Best Scout Advisor  1933  Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co    1 ½-inch       Unknown artist.

1944-010-001  Firestone Boy Scout Medallion (John W. Thomas) 1944   Firestone  3½-inch   Rene Chambellan

1944-010-002  Firestone Boy Scout Medallion (Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.)   19xx 3½-inch         Rene Chambellan

BSA Firestone Award Medal

BSA Firestone Award Medal

1944-010-003  Firestone Boy Scout Medallion (Raymond C. Firestone)  19xx  3½-inch           Rene Chambellan

BSA 50th Anniversary Medal

BSA 50th Anniversary Medal

1960-018  Boy Scouts 50th Anniversary Medal  1960  Boy Scouts of America   2½-inch           Curt Beck

1968-155  Boy Scouts of American Pedro Medal  1958   Robert Crozier  1½-inch            Hand Cut Dies


History of America Series:

BSA Founded 1910 Medal

BSA Founded 1910 Medal

1972-182-135  Boy Scouts of America Founded  1972  Glendenning Co 1 9/16-inch      Model by Mico Kaufman, lettering by Ramon Gordils

1973-084  Boy Scouts of The Philippines Medal  1973  Asian Mint Corp   1½-inch           Joseph A. DiLorenzo

BSA USA Bicentennial Medal

BSA USA Bicentennial Medal

1975-099  Boy Scouts of America Bicentennial Commemorative Medal   1976  BSA  2½-inch     Ramon Gordils

1977-067  Boy Scouts of America Jamboree Medal  1977  Boy Scouts of America     Unknown Artist

1985-280  BSA International Year of the Youth Medal  1977  Unicover Frank Gasparro

1887-204  Ocean County Girl Scouts Coin Medal  1987  Ocean County Girl Scouts          Steve Adams

1987-205  Ocean County Girl Scouts Coin Medal  1987  Ocean County Girl Scouts           Tom Mangano

A SMALL group of American sculptors, meeting in Washington DC in 1928, discussed the sad state of the art medal in America. No one was promoting such a class of medals and a previous attempt, The Circle of Friends of the Medallion, had ceased after only 12 issues in a brief existence 1909-1915.

Whether they were aware of such art medal series in France and Holland is not known but the seeds of such a series in America began to take root. The discussion continued in New York City and such a plan fell on eager ears of Clyde Curlee Trees, who had only recently acquired ownership of Medallic Art Company the year before in 1927.  He would be only too happy to manufacture such art objects but could not sponsor it himself.

What was needed was an angel, a backer, a sponsor who could underwrite the expense of promoting such a venture, however magnanimous such an act for the art world would be. Trees was fortunate in finding such a person in art patron George Dupont Pratt.

Pratt was an amateur sculptor, the Weils, Henri and Felix, had reproduced one of Pratt’s sculptural creations, Mountain Goat, as a galvano medallion in 1914.  George Pratt was the son of Charles M. Pratt who founded Pratt Institute Art School in 1887, long a Brooklyn organization for educating promising artists. He was active in art organizations and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Would he become the backer Trees needed to launch a series of art medals? It would be a large philanthropic step but Trees was persistent. Pratt agreed and the two proceeded. Trees promotional ability and Pratt’s backing worked well.

The two found an willing artist, Laura Gardin Fraser, wife of James Earle Fraser, one of those who had been in the early discussion of such an American series. Laura Fraser prepared the models for the first medal.

Like the previous Circle of Friends, the new Society of Medallists would be sold on a subscription basis, two medals a year. The goal was to showcase American sculptors’  bas-relief art in a most appealing way. Each of the medals was to be given a different patina finish (an ambitious goal which had to be modified after about forty such patinas – the limit known at the time). Cost of a year’s subscription was nominal, only $6 for two medals. Promise of fine art in medallic form was attractive.

The launch occurred at the beginning of the Great Depression, however, it proved one fact, even in such a dour economic situation people longed for contact with Beauty, with Art. A miniature work of art in permanent metal they could in their hand filled that angst within their psyche.

Trees manage to sell 1200 initial subscriptions, an ample press run for his tiny shop. With Pratt’s backing Trees continued to promote the art medal series. In all, his Medallic Art Company would produce more than 3,000 Issue Number 1s — Laura Fraser’s Hunter and Turkey. A scene of familiar genre as the heads of many households found a Thanksgiving Dinner among the wild birds common in America.

SOM-Issue1Hunter and Turkey

SOM-Issue1Hunter and Turkey

America’s top sculptor masters are found among he names of the artists creating the early Society medals. Here we find Paul Manship, Hermon McNeil, Frederick MacMonnies, Lee Laurie, John Flanagan, Carl Paul Jennewein, Gatano Cecere, Herbert Adams, Lorado Taft – all giants in the field.

A sculpture from these artists could command thousands of dollars. One could obtain a medal – expressing their chosen art in their own style – for only a few dollars. The economy dictated a low price, but the cost of production was not that great once the models were obtained from the artist. Trees was able to eke out a tiny profit to keep his shop open, even as commercial commissions for medals dried up.

Portraits on Society medals were discouraged, but not prohibited. Issue #4 bore a portrait of nation aviation hero Chares Lindberg by MacMonnies. It was left unsaid what themes could appear on Society medals; the artists were at liberty to choose their own subject and treat it in any artistic way they wished.

What tended to appear were scenes from nature, animals, birds, mythological subjects, Biblical topics.  Aviation and astronomy were popular. Subjects of current events, which seem important at the time  tend to diminish with time. Hal Reed’s Atomic Energy of 1981 seems common place now days.

Creation was a popular theme, first presented by Anthony de Francisci in a swirling universe of unusual shape with silver patina. This was followed by Albert Wein, Donald De Lue, Katherine Lane Weems, and Joseph Coletti, each with their own interpretations of Creation in medallic form.

SOM-Issue12  Creation

SOM-Issue12 Creation

Trees was able to maintain continuity with two medals a year throughout the turbulent 1930s. There were times when the medal shop did not have enough commercial orders for medals that he had to send the employees home by noon, or whenever the little work they had on hand got done. He was thankful for the medals he had to produce for the Society.

The quantity diminished from that initial multi thousand first issue. It first went below a thousand in 1936. But what could have been the kiss of death was World War II.  Bronze became a strategic war material, needed for war armaments and ammunition. Every shot in the war came from a copper shell casing.

Use of bronze for nonessential art medals was halted. Trees solved the problem – to his credit – by issuing two medals in the dept of the war years 1943 and 1944, in silver. Obviously in smaller size to offset the higher cost of silver.

An attempt was made to maintain the Society as a separate entity from Medallic Art Company. It used a mailing address of the National Arts Club in lower Manhattan – later the Architectural League on 40th Street — as a mail drop. This appeared on stationery, newsletters, advertisements, and return address on medals sent out.  This was convenient because as soon as William Trees Louth (Clyde’s nephew) was hired in 1946, his wife was placed in charge of The Society and handled all the correspondence.

She had tired of this chore, so in the Fall of 1969 Bill Louth sought someone to replace her. He commuted from his home in Weston Connecticut to Manhattan each day, frequently had a seat companion of Harkness Cram, an account executive at J. Walter Thompson Advertising Ageny. The subject of The Society came up in conversation.

Harkness Cram was interested, volunteered his wife, Mary Louise Cram’s services, so in December 1969 Bill appointed the Crams as managers. They issued the 80th newsletter leaflet from their address, West Branch Road, Weston, Connecticut – the Society’s new address.

The following year, 1970, was the 40th anniversary of The Society. A contest was held for an anniversary medal, won by Atlanta sculptor, Julian Hoke Harris. The Crams oversaw the marketing of this medal.

With this success, Bill Louth charged the pair to increase the membership which by then had slid to 800 a year, and to increase the profitability of the medals since Medallic Art Company had, in effect, subsidized the Society for 40 years.

The Crams were able to push the membership back over a 1000. For increasing the profits they proposed to issue current medals in both bronze and silver. And, if Bill agreed, go back and reissue the early medals in silver.

At this time, Medallic Art was planning for the marketing of medals for the American Bicentennial in 1976. This, obviously, would be a great occasion for issuing medals, which, did indeed, prove true. But it was also a great occasion for Bill Louth (and the two other owners, Julius Lauth and Francis Trees) to sell the company.

They found a buyer in Donald Schwartz, who owned two other family companies. They did not need his full attention, he was looking for another small company he could manage full time. Medallic Art, with its potential for American Bicentennial business, was ideal. Schwartz raised the money among ten stockholders and the purchase was finalized January 1972.

The first major problem was that the plant in New York City was too small, the property was owned by the Trees family who wanted to sell and new equipment was needed. Ultimately a 22-acre site in Danbury Connecticut was found and a new plant was build which was completed in June 1972.

The Society of Medallists was part of the deal. It came with Medallic Art Company.

Silver medals were issued along with the bronze beginning 1973 (#87) and continued until 1979 (#100).  Schwartz liked the idea of reissung the early Society issues in silver and this began also in 1973 and ran from #1 through #49.

A subscription for a membership received two bronze medals and the cost in 1972 was $16. Under Schwartz the membership cost rose (ultimately to $120 a year) the number of members fell. Sales of the silver, once as high as 250 fell to 50 in 1979.  To save expenses Schwartz dismissed the Crams.

He replaced the Crams with retired museum official Joseph Veach Nobel as art director. Under Nobel’s influence he introduced a great variety of sculptural art into the series. But also included models by two foreign artists.

By this time, 1989, Bob Hoff acquired the Company, moved it to Sioux Falls South Dakota. Hoff attempted to continue the Society issues, but had not obtained the membership list in the acquisition. After issuing medals through #129 Hoff allowed the Society to cease.

Before I finish with this Introduction of The Society of Medallists I would like to relate some of the charming things found among these early medals.

Concordant.  Issue #15 Love by Robert Ingersoll Aitken is like sculpture in-the-round – the reverse is the back side of the obverse figure – said to be concordant.

SOM-Issue15  Concordant

SOM-Issue15 Concordant

Hidden self-portrait.  Issue #7 by Carl Paul Jennewein placed a tiny cartoon portrait of himself in his monogram signature.

Family affair.  A father and son, and a husband and wife prepared Society issues.  Adolph Weinman (#39) is the father of Robert Weinman (#69). Laura Gardidn Fraser (#1) is the wife of James Earle Fraser (#45).

Famous photograph.  Issue #31 Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima was sculpted by Rene P. Chambellan after the famous World War II phtograph by T. Rosenthal.

SOM-Issue 31  Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima

SOM-Issue 31 Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima

Most charming of all!   Cat and Mouse (#115) by Robert Weinman.

SOM-Issue 115 Cat and Mouse

SOM-Issue 115 Cat and Mouse

When I was hired in 1966 by William Trees Louth, then president of the Medallic Art Company, I was charged with the task of cataloging all the medals that the company had made. There were no rules on how to catalog medals. I faced a chore of large proportion without any owner’s manual, without any guide book about how to do it.

In all, I cataloged 6,121 medals before I left the firm ten years later, then I cataloged 25,000 lots as a medal dealer in 35 auction catalogs. I had to name – or instruct assistants – on how to create a name for every one of those medals!

Thus I had to learn rather quickly how best to name a medal and put this in writing. I had to hone my technique with each new problem name. Those written statements became rules I could follow which made my task easier and provide uniformity in style of medal names for any large group of medals, any collection.

Three elements in medal names.  Every person and object in the world has a name. Medals are no different. An early concept I learned was that medal names could be formed from three elements, with one, two or all three of those elements in one name.  These are:

  • A person’s name – The person portrayed, or a person’s memorial, or a person honored, or a sponsor, or even the issuer of the medal. A person’s name could also be the name of a medal.
  • An Event – an anniversary, a convention or meeting, victory in a battle, any of hundreds of events in man’s history can be the subject of a medal, and therefore become the medal’s name.
  • Issuer or sponsor. An issuer is a person or organization which publishes a medal, pays to have it made and is in control of its distribution whether it is free or if it is sold. A sponsor is a person or organization that pays for the making of a medal, as for, say, a contribution to a non-profit organization, as a corporation underwriting the cost of a professional organizations award medal.

Five major families.  Then I learned every medal has a last name. That name is the medallic form of the item. It is as if the item belongs to a family, all of which are of similar type or form, all related. Like Smith for humans the most common name for medallic items is “Medal.”

Closely related to this family are the siblings “Medalet” and “Medallion.” Medalets are under one inch (25.4mm), medallions are large medals, over 3 1/16-inch (80mm). Cousins are “Plaquette” with longest side under 8-inch (20.32cm), “Plaques” over 8-inch.

Other family names in the world of medallic items are: galvano, relief, decoration, badge, emblem, ingot, medallic object, paperweight, plate, seal, token, key fob, watchfob.

The field is growing as multi-part medals and mixed-media medals were first created in the later part of the 20th century. Medals have been modified in several creative ways, by colorizing, by attaching items to make fabricated medals, and embedding material on the surface from relic metal to crystals. Each of these could be included in the medal name.

Rules for naming medals. 

Here, then, after all my experience are 15 rules for naming medals (from my list for cataloging):

4. Names

4.1  Last Word. All medallic items have a last name. It is the type of item it is. Obviously these include medal, medalet, medallion, plaque, plaquette, and the less common ones: galvano, relief, decoration, badge, emblem, ingot, medallic object, paperweight, plate, seal, token, key fob, watchfob. One of these is the last word in a medal name.

4.2 Put last name first of the name of a person that is also the name of the medal; all other elements of that personal name within parenthesis. A second person’s name in the name of the medal can be given in normal sequence. This rule grew out of a need to alphabetize thousands of names of quickly and accurately.

4.3 Capitalize the first letter of each word in the medal name (articles are exceptions – a, the – and some pronouns – of).

4.4 No abbreviations in the name of medals. Spell out everything. Saint, Street and all abbreviations.

4.5 No personal titles in medal names (no admiral, no doctor, no mister, no reverend, no military rank – exception made for Cardinal, however – use full formal names). Otherwise we have too many President X or King X medals in alphabetical lists).

We have three “General Washingtons” for example, it is more precise to identify George [who had no middle name], from John Macrae Washington and from William Henry Washington.

4.6 No nicknames in personal names; use full formal names. (Exception: Jimmy Carter who insisted on  “Jimmy” on his Inaugural medal – how informal and ignorant of medallic custom!)

4.7 Identify pseudonyms and stage names within parenthesis. If Mark Twain is the name of medal, put Samuel Clemens within parenthesis.

4.8 Use minimal punctuation in names. (A firm with three or more names with a comma or two in the firm’s name is the only exception that comes to mind.)

4.9 City identifiers are used to identify certain types of medals (e.g., storecards) and certain themes or devices; use name of city – and sometimes state where clarity is necessary – in name of medal to indicated such things as: expositions, monuments, public statues, conventions, buildings, churches, newspapers, Olympic Games (and bridges). And if it is in Springfield, the state must be added.

4.10   No comma between city and state in medal name (this is a name, not a mailing address).

4.11   Names of things – books, plays, songs, ships, airplanes, statues, works of art and such – which are italicized in normal text are not  italicized in medal names. They can be italicized in description.

4.12   Omit the word “Award” in a medal name. Such award medals are identified in descriptions by giving data within parenthesis. It is the Pulitzer Medal not the Pulitzer Award Medal.

4.13  Omit the word “Official” in a medal name. A description should be sufficient to identify the medal from any non-official medal.

4.14   Keep medal name as brief as possible. Keep the number of elements of a name to no more than three such elements if possible. As: issuing organization, named after person’s name, type of medal or award. (If there are four or more elements, pick the three most important.)

4.15   Proper sequence in naming a medal. Most medals are easy to name by the person or event featured. Other medallic items have as many as four elements that are necessary to be incorporated in the name, as: the sponsoring organization, its parent organization, the name of the award and perhaps an individual portrayed or honored. Here is an example:

Edward Adolph Physiology Medal

Edward Adolph Physiology Medal


The Edward F. Adolph award in physiology of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester contains four elements (in 19 words).

Its proper name as a medal (reduced to 13 words):

University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry Edward F. Adolph Physiology Medal

Note: the word “award” is not included in the name. The medal is the award.

4.16   Omit legal forms in medal names.  No “Inc,” “ LLC,” “Corp.” in medal names. Identity of the organization is satisfactory without this designation.

I HAVE my own definition of the word “lore,” since I use it so often in describing medals. Learning the lore about an item adds to its collectability and supplements the usual data about the medallic items of who, where and when it was made.  Lore means to me:

Specialized knowledge about a historical item that adds, allure,  interest and desirability to the item. 

In short it could be – the story behind the medal.

I learned to seek out such a story for every medal I had for sale when I was a medal dealer at collector shows. When a prospective buyer asks to see a medal and he is holding it in his hand is the ideal opportunity for a high-quality sales talk. That’s the time to discuss the medal’s lore – to tell its history in as much detail as possible. Often it’s that lore, that story, that history, that sells the medal.

In an auction catalog, lore has the same importance. But the amount of space to tell the story is usually limited. You learn to pack a lot of lore into as few sentences as possible. You have to highlight its major points and feature the alluring details as space permits.

I also learned to discuss the Lore of a medal when answering an inquiry. These come to me from every direction since I have studied American medals and have specialized in 20th century issues, particularly those of the Medallic Art Company. The firm dominated the manufacture of the highest quality medals – art medals – for the entire 20th century.

For example, in answer to an inquiry sent to Medal Collectors of America — the letter was forwarded to me from the organization’s webmaster for a reply. The collector had a silver medal bearing the portrait of Michael DiSalle. He described its weight, identified the artist, mentioned the edgelettering: .999+ PURE SILVER MEDALLIC ART COMPANY 262.  He also asked if the medal was genuine.


With this basic information, identifying the medal was easy for me and gave him the background information he was seeking. This medal had an interesting history, of considerable Lore. Here’s what I wrote about that collector’s medal:

DiSalle Medal

DiSalle Campaign Medal

Your medal is known as the Michael V. DiSalle Campaign Medal, 1962. It was indeed created by sculptor Ralph Joseph Menconi (1915-1972) and struck by Medallic Art Company, then of New York City (later of Danbury, Connecticut, and later of Dayton, Nevada). It is MAco catalog number 62-87 [now 1962-087]

The medal was issued by Presidential Art Medals of Englewood, Ohio.

How they issued this medal is an interesting story. This organization began issuing half-dollar size medals of the presidents of the United States (struck by Medallic Art Co). This series proved so successful they commenced plans also in 1962 for a second series of the States of the Union.

Since they were located in Ohio, they wanted to issued the Ohio Statehood Medal as the first medal in this series (MAco 62-2-1). They contacted the governor’s office for a suggestion for the most famous Ohio citizen(s) to place their portrait(s) on this medal. (The ultimate decision was to place the Wright Brothers portraits on this Ohio medal.)

The governor at that time was the very Michael DiSalle you see on your medal. He became intrigued with their project and invited them to visit him. All four principles of Presidential Art Medals visited Governor DiSalle. He was running for reelection in 1962 and asked if they would strike a medal for his campaign. The answer was obviously yes.

But that is not the end of the story. Later DiSalle became associated with one of the Presidential Art principles, Max Humbert, and the two became very active in the issuing and marketing of coins and medals. DiSalle, who commanded  an impressive appearance, large in stature, voice and intent, was an excellent negotiator. He traveled in diplomatic and political circles, was often in the White House. The pair even solicited foreign governments for issuing their coins, somewhat like the Franklin Mint was doing at the time.

Michael DiSalle (born January 6, 1908) died September 14, 1981. The duo had done quite well and Max Humbert bought a home in the Bahamas or West Indies but continued to run a numismatic firm out of Florida.

The DiSalle medal was issued in three sizes. The 2¾-inch (70mm) you have was issued in bronze and silver. A 1¼-inch (32mm) size was issued in bronze and platinum, and a 13/16-inch (21mm) size in bronze and silver.

The 262 on the edge of your medal is a serial number. There were 2,000 issued this size all serially numbered. There were 1,000 issued in bronze unnumbered this size.

The medium size is the most common, 17,000 in bronze were struck and these were widely distributed as campaign medals (a practice that goes back in American history to Abraham Lincoln and before). Of the platinum, only 10 were struck and these were serially numbered.

The small sizes were all made into jewelry items (ideal for charm size medalets). For women, 25 silver medalets were struck, for 12 pair of earrings, and 524 bronze struck for 262 sets of earrings. For men 1,000 medalets were struck in bronze for 500 sets of cufflinks.

About the genuineness of your medal; I would have to see the medal, of course, to attest that it is genuine. However, I have never heard of this medal being copied. In fact, very few medals have been replicated of Medallic Art Company medals because of their high quality (it is so difficult to replicate this quality).

Collecting these would be a challenge, imagine the thrill of the chase to find and acquire these elusive items! Other than the platinum medal, you already have the most expensive silver medal. Good luck in your further collecting.

Editor John Adams of the MCA Advisor, where this reply to a collector’s inquiry was published, added his comment: “You ask a question of Dick Johnson and you get a world-class answer.”


Letter Answered: Michael V. DiSalle Campaign Medal MCA Advisory 9:7 (August 2006) p19-20.