Archive for May, 2010

DURING the more than one hundred years of the company’s existence, different founding dates have been celebrated at different times. This seems to have been at the whim of the president of the company each time. Of all the firms in America which should give particular attention to its founding date, it should be Medallic Art Company. After all, it has helped thousands of organizations, firms, institutions, trade associations, and universities  celebrate the anniversary of their founding. But it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what event was actually the “founding” of the medal making firm.

We view these founding dates in the most permanent way possible – on medals, anniversary medals! – in addition to advertisements, publications and such. What could be better documents than the company’s own anniversary medals? Here then is a list of these dates, as each president of the firm interpreted what he considered the company’s founding date.

Medallic 50th Anniversary Medal

Medallic 50th Anniversary Medal

This date has no evidence to support it. It was first celebrated in 1950 when president at the time, Clyde Curle Trees issued this 50th Anniversary Medal. The reason he did this was to help celebrate a new building that housed the firm in Midtown Manhattan. As full owner of the firm, Trees became wealthy immediately following World War II from millions of military decorations the firm produced. For months the tiny firm ran three shifts around the clock making the Victory Medal, American Theater, Good Conduct decorations and dozens of campaign medals for the U.S. Government.

Trees bought property with his freshly acquired money. In addition to property in White Plains where he build a home, he acquired two adjacent lots on New York’s East 45th Street with existing buildings that he refurbished and merged into one with the shop on the first floor and offices on the second. He acquired these in 1946; it took two years to connect and renovate the two buildings, plus another two years to move in the equipment and completely occupy it. He wanted to have an open house celebration in 1950, so he arbitrarily called this year – by sheer fiat! – the firm’s fiftieth anniversary.

Clyde held an open design competition among sculptors for that 50th Anniversary Medal and to his surprise he received hundreds of entries. He awarded three cash prizes and a handful of honorable mentions in addition to the winning entry won by Bruno Mankowski, issued as the firm’s official Fiftieth Anniversary Medal (50-26).

1900 Again
In 1960 when the president was then William Trees Louth, Clyde’s nephew, he issued a 60th Anniversary Medal. If Clyde said 1900 was the firm’s founding date, who was his nephew to disagree? Later presidents, Don Schwartz and Robert Hoff both employed this erroneous date in promotional material and advertising. All despite no evidence whatsoever as the accuracy of this year as the firm’s actual founding.

Medallic 25th Anniversary Medal

Medallic 25th Anniversary Medal

While the Weils – Henri and Felix – were still in charge of the firm in 1928, they issued that year a 25th Anniversary Medal. This date has some credibility, slightly! It is believed the pair chose this date as the year Henri went to work for the Deitsch Brothers. Henri worked for these German manufacturers of ladies handbags in New York City by providing the metal filigree trimming, then in fashion, on the firm’s major product, leather bags and such. He cast these in silver, but later found he could have them struck, quicker and at a lower cost (see next paragraph).

It was this year in which Henri Weil, while on vacation to his native Paris, learned of a machine that he foresaw as aiding his creation of the metal trimmings to the ladies handbags. He telegraphed his employers back in New York City of his find – the Janvier die-engraving pantograph – who immediately replied for him to buy the machine and learn its operation before returning to New York. They demanded he bring that machine back with him. He did. So this is the year the first Janvier is imported into America, by Henri Weil, for his employers, the Deitsch Brothers. However, this year, or the next – which could have been considered a founding date – was never immortalized on a medal.

This year was the date of the first medal made by use of that Janvier — not for ladies metal findings, which had fallen out of fashion — but for medallic reductions as a means of making use of an otherwise idle machine). That first medal was the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Medal by Bela Lyon Pratt. Below the photo is the entry for that medal in Dick Johnson’s Databank of American Coin and Medal Artists (under the listing for Bela Lyon Pratt).


Longfellow Medal

Longfellow Medal

1907 Longfellow (Henry Wadsworth) Medal [issued by the Cambridge Historical Society; this was the first medal dies cut by Henri Weil on the first Janvier die-engraving pantograph imported to America, while working for the Deitsch Brothers, in what was to later become Medallic Art Co; medals were struck in gold, silver and bronze by Tiffany & Co]. . .Deitsch 07-A, Baxter 218, Storer 1976

Auctions:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BMP 1:4261; CAL 28:413;

J&J 12:438, J&J 18:429

Collection: American Numismatic Society. .0000.999.6005
Collection: Cornell University Johnson Art Gallery . . . 322
Illustrated: M10 {1923} Storrer Massachusetts, plate . .  33
Illustrated: M42 {1987} Baxter. Beaux-Arts Medal, p . . 57
Illustrated: MA1 {1988} Stahl. Medal in America, p . . 164

How Tiffany & Company learned of Henri Weil’s capability of cutting dies is unknown today. It is a tribute, perhaps, to the networking of artists. Henri, having been a sculptors’ assistant for more than 15 years, was among the sculptors’ “in crowd.” He knew all the major sculptors in New York City and they knew him. This must have spread elsewhere as Bela Lyon Pratt was a Boston sculptor. Word spread. Networking was in force even in 1907!

This date can be pinpointed to the exact day, Lincoln’s birthday: February 12, 1909. On that date the Deitsch Brothers incorporated the medal business and did so as “Medallic Art Company.” The name had been suggested by a medal collector and Lincolnophile, Robert Hewitt Jr. Not only did he suggest the name, he ordered a medal to be sold to collectors, a Lincoln Medal. Two celebrations dominated that year, the centennial of Lincoln’s birth and the Hudson-Fulton celebration in New York City (with additional festivities up and down the Hudson River). Henri Weil was active cutting dies for both these celebrations.

This year the Weils obtained control of the company. Henri Weil bought the Janvier die-engraving pantograph and what he thought was the entire medal business from the Deitsch Brothers including the name “Medallic Art Company.”  But it required a separate purchase to obtain the name (as the Deitsches had surreptitiously sold all the dies and patterns Henri had made to a competitor, Davisons & Sons of Philadelphia – to Henri’s competitive disadvantage as this included the ongoing series of the Circle of Friends of the Medallion).

At first Medallic Art Company was operated by Henri Weil alone and this continued for five years. Felix was in partnership with Jules Edouard Roine, as Roine & Weil, a sculpture shop concentrating on creating reliefs and making galvanos. The brothers, Henri and Felix, shared their earnings, no matter who earned what, where, and this continued forward. As Henri got busy making medals he asked Felix to join him. Felix refused, until 1915, when his partner Jules became ill and wanted to return to France. A brief time after Roine  left, Felix closed the sculpture shop and joined Henri as the brothers worked together thereafter as Medallic Art Company.


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Checklist For Modeling A Medal

1 Background plate.
You must prepare a background plate upon which to build your model.  If the medal is going to be struck, and the dies are made by reduction from your model, you may make this background plate any size from 9 to 15 inches in diameter. Choose a size you are comfortable with for your modeling. (The die-engraving pantograph will reduce this to the exact size die or dies required.)

2 Border and Rim.
For a round medal the background plate is made from a template. It is ideal to include a border and rim in the template design. Build a removable post in the center of a wooden board 4 or 5 inches larger than your intended background plate. Attach a piece of wood or metal (aluminum is ideal) that will swing around this center post. Cut the contour of the background, border and rim into this template. You may wish to build a slight slope from the center to the outside border (this will create a “basin” upon which to build your relief). These background plates are sometimes called basins because of this slope (this is mandatory for coin relief models where all relief is required to be below the top of the rim for several technical reasons). A basin is not necessary for medals since they do not circulate. and have no need to stack like coins.

Build a surface of clay around the post to the outer edge. Place the template on the center post and by rotating the template scrape the surface clay until you have the required smooth surface of the background, the border and rim on your model.  Remove the template and post. Fill the center hole with clay. Cast this in plaster about 1-inch thick. This is your master background plate. It is negative. Cast two positives upon which to build your models, one for the obverse model, one for the reverse. Positive casts are also ideal for a number of similar medals, like for modeling a series of medals.

The border and rim act as a frame for your design on the struck piece. The border also aids human beings in picking up and holding onto a medal, particularly a large medal. (Finger ridges grip the ridges in the border, so it is desirable to model several levels in the border – the larger the medal the greater the number of border elements.)

3 Flange.
When you make a positive plaster cast from the negative master background plate be sure to include about 1 to 2 inches around the model outside of the border to create a flange. With a long strip of 4-inch wide medal (galvanized iron is ideal) build a circular fence around your model (on top of the wooden board or around it if it is circular). The metal fence will corral the plaster in place until it hardens.

The flange is required for the ultimate pattern made from your model to be mounted on the die-engraving pantograph. Clamps, attached to this extension, are required to hold the pattern securely in place. It is important!

4 No undercuts.
Burn this requirement into your memory and psyche.  A die cannot be made with undercuts. It could not strike such a medal if it could, and the medal would not release from such a die. Remember “no undercuts!” [Casting in metal also requires the ability to release from the mold. The only casting that can accommodate undercuts is a rubber mold.]  Thus, paint a sign above your worktable, so you have to see it every day:



5 Bevel.
The sides of all relief and lettering must have a slight bevel. Each medal making process has its own requirement. It is ideal to model a bevel (also called draft or taper) to accommodate all. Vertical relief from 0° to 2 ½° is called holding taper. Not only is it impossible to cut into a die, or strike, it would be impossible for the die to withdraw from the struck piece.  Hand engraved dies can accommodate a 5° to 10° bevel where the dies can strike and the struck piece release from the die.

However, since you are creating a model that will be reduced on the die-engraving pantograph, this technology requires a minimum 15° bevel, draft or taper. Early in your modeling career it would be wise to create the sides of all relief and lettering with a minimum 15° bevel and maintain this throughout your career. A 15° bevel on relief or lettering is about the slope of a sharpened pencil. Tip: check the bevel of relief by holding a pencil upright next to your modeled relief. Light will show at the base of the relief if the relief is too steep.

6 No tall projections
No tall projections in the die – no deep troughs in the model.  Tiny tall projections in the die tend to break off in long striking runs. Examples: the center of the letter O, or a human figure with arms akimbo, the area between the arms and body is vulnerable. Coin and medal makers have learned that if this is filled in somewhat it lessens the chance of breaking off (more mass in the die to stay intact). The French even created a term for correcting this situation: champs lavée (literally filling open areas).

The tiny projection can be ground off after the die is made, but how much easier is it to fill the troughs in a model with a tad bit more clay during modeling! In the struck piece this does not change the view to the human eye. Humans see the relief, not the height of the background behind it.

7 No congruent mass.
This is more the concern of the medal designer, but the modeler should be aware never to place high relief directly opposite high relief on the opposite side of the coin or medal. Metal has to flow from the blank during striking into all the cavities of the die. If you have obverse and reverse dies with high relief cavities back-to-back in the same area it creates a problem for striking (both cavities compete for the same metal mass). It can be corrected on the press, but it increases the number of blows required, cost, pressman’s time and, often, his temperament!).  Best to redesign without great relief intended to be back-to-back (or lower the relief).

For medals that have a high-relief portrait on the obverse (large center cavity in the die), the wreath is very popular to have the cavities on the reverse away from the center, next to the border.  Get the concept?

8 Include three support points
The reverse requires three support points. Highly experienced medal modelers have learned a trick that reduces wear and adds years of life to a medal that does not have a reverse border or rim. By the simple act of modeling three high points on the reverse – you can often hide these in the design – for the medal to rest upon throughout its life. Medals wear in many ways. One of the most obvious is medals sliding around on their reverse, when lying face up, like in drawers or table tops. Wear on the entire reverse can be greatly reduced by the simple act of modeling three high points on the reverse.

9 Contrast the elements with texture.
Where can you introduce texture into your model?  Consider a bust. You have facial skin, hair, clothing and background. Hair is its own texture, perhaps you want a smooth skin, then give the clothing texture! This gives contrast between the bust and the background, face and the clothing. Or you might want to mix it up. Sculptor Jo Davison once made a Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential medal with all elements textured. (Best to abide by the rules for a while; you can break all the rules when you are famous!)

10 Add detail.
That great lady sculptor Malvina Hoffman came up with the best advice for modeling a medal. She once said “It is better to model a simple design with elaborate detail rather than an elaborate design with simple detail.” Detail is added during the modeling stage. If you have a chance read her chapter on medals in her book Sculpture Inside and Out. Here are five things she said about medal design and modeling:

  • Eliminate unnecessary elements.
  • Employ appropriate symbolism.
  • Accent the important elements with authority.
  • Use care in spacing the design elements.
  • Execute the design with style.


11 Adding color to your medal.
Color can be added to your medallic creations with a patina (but that’s a subject for another article). The traditional way to dramatically add color to a medal – particularly an award medal – is to use enamel. If you wish to do this you must choose which enamel technique, they effect your modeling (you must add tiny fences in your model if you choose cloisonné). A recent development is to pad print color on the surface of a coin or medal.

But as a knowledgeable modeler you should learn the medallic code for color – it comes to us from Heraldry and is called tinctures. It is the direction of lines shading an area indicating the color. Here is the code:  horizontal lines indicate blue (heraldic term: azure), vertical lines mean red (gules), descending diagonal means green (vert), ascending diagonal is purple (purpure) and crosshatch, or Florentine, is black (sable). Also a repeated small dot pattern indicates gold (or) and no shading or texture means silver (argent). Would your model improve with a spot of color?

12 Model harmonious lettering.
You must learn to model lettering well, serifs and all. Study typefaces. Stylize the lettering to be harmonious with the theme of the medal. Take great care with interletter spatial relationships. A medallist who can’t do lettering well, should choose another profession, perhaps accounting, where he might be better with figures.


Develop your own style.
We have a long heritage of coins and medals – 2500 years for coins, 600 years for medals. That’s a lot of design to study. But study you must. Examine what was done by the Greeks and Romans two thousand years ago – greatest glyptic art ever created!

Study French medals since the middle of the 19th century, that’s when they started making models oversized and reducing these by pantograph.  Study the medals of the entire 20th century. What is good art to you? What is atrocious? (Both abound that century!) What makes good medallic art? Which artists created the best medallic art?

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A dozen techniques to make modeling for a medal easier, and, more professional.

IN 1964 the art director of Medallic Art Company, Julius Lauth, wrote an article “Modeling For A Medal” published in the National Sculpture Society’s Sculpture Review. He gave the three most basic requirements for sculptors to burn into their memory before they start creating bas-relief models to be made into medals. This information is timeless, it is just as useful today as it was in 1964.

Schooled in art and architecture, a youthful Julius just out of college, was hired by Medallic Art Company in 1931; he worked 42 years for the firm, except for a stint in the navy during World War II. As he rose through the ranks, from messenger boy to vice president and art director, he was trained in every stage of medal making until he could operate every piece of equipment in the plant. For the reducing machine he was trained by the founders of the firm, Henri and Felix Weil, who were the first to import the machine to America in 1906.

Decades later I was trained by Julius Lauth in turn, in all things medallic without the necessity of operating any shop equipment. Instead I was required to write about it. (Julius and I worked together on several projects, one of which was the grandest public relations efforts undertaken by the firm, the 75th anniversary exhibit of the National Sculpture Society where we gathered sample medals of every NSS member and mounted these on large panels along with a picture of each artist.)

I would like to reiterate here Julius’ three principles he revealed in that article for the new medallist and, if I may, add to them. This knowledge will aid any sculptor who wishes to prepare the oversize models to be able to create professional models that can be made into medals. Artists must prepare the models suitable for that most magical machine of awe, the die-engraving pantograph, and in particular, the awesome Janvier pantograph.

Not only does this machine reproduce all the modulated relief on the surface of the artist’s model – now technically a pattern mounted on the machine – but it also cuts the die that can strike the medals (or a hub to make many dies). From the artist’s clay model to thousands of exact miniature metal replicas, the process, which may at first appear obscure, relies incredibility on the ability of the reducing machine’s mechanism to reproduce the modulated relief of the artist’s original model in precise proportion – and with complete fidelity! – to immutable steel of the die destined for striking.

Make your model sharp and crisp. Medal makers have a saying, “If it’s in the model, it’s in the medal!”  Thus every detail you want in the medal must be shaped in clay during modeling. Making an oversize model – and reducing this to the size of the required die – will diminish (and sometimes eliminate!) tiny flaws. But the clay models must include every detail no matter how small. The model must be absolutely complete, as perfect as possible, with every tiny detail present.

Rounding the edges of relief will give your model a “softer” look, particularly on low relief designs. But the magic of medallic art is to have relief with sharp edges where the sides of relief meet the top of the relief. Keep these junctures with full points. This gives your design the crispness so much desired in medallic art.

When you cast your clay model into plaster you will have one last chance to touchup – to strengthen a line, to make the hair a bit finer, to sharpen a serif on the lettering (and, of course, to remove any casting flaws). You are seeking to make sharp, crisp detail in the entire design in the plaster model you send off to the medal plant to be made into medals.  And, obviously, you need two plaster models, one for the front, the obverse, one for the back, the reverse.

What happens to your models then? Plaster models cannot be mounted on the reducing machine. A hard surface pattern needs to be made from your plaster models. When Julius Lauth wrote that article in 1964 the technology was to make electrogalvanic casts – galvanos – these were copper shells that made a permanent pattern of your model’s surface. This electrolytic process requires about three day’s time to form a galvanic shell. If necessary the shell is backed with lead to give it additional strength before it is mounted on the pantograph.

The process of making oversize models and galvano casts was developed by the French in the 1880s. So permanent is that copper shell, dies could be made today from 100-year old galvano dieshells. However, an epoxy material was developed in World War II that was ideal for replacing copper galvanos. An epoxy pattern can be cast of your clay model in less than three hours!  (The epoxy is a hard material, but not as permanent as a copper galvano – we have yet to learn the length of its useful lifespan.)

It is this pattern – galvano or epoxy – that is mounted on the die-engraving pantograph. This machine is set to trace the modulated relief on the pattern’s surface and transfer this in direct proportion to a cutting point that mills the face of a steel block, cutting all the cavities in the die that is your medallic design.

Generally, three separate passes are made on the reducing machine, using finer tracing points and correspondingly finer cutting points each time. Diemakers want all your fine detail to be reproduced in that die! After inspection the die is hardened and it can be used – along with its mate – to strike the medals in giant presses.

Julius Lauth ended his original article by writing: “The country’s distinguished medalists … are familiar with the demands of the art of the medal. They tell us it is particularly satisfying to see for the first time the newly struck medal so perfectly reduced, to see it brought down to the hand-held scale originally planned, to see the two sides put together as designed, and to wonder who, in some distant future time, may hold it, examine it or treasure it.

“Perhaps their beautiful examples combined with this bit of technical advice will encourage others to try Modeling for a Medal.”

  1. No undercuts.
  2. Bevel on all relief.
  3. No tall projections.
  4. Suggest color with shading.
  5. Contrast the elements with texture.
  6. Simple design with elaborate detail is
  7. better than elaborate design with simple detail.
  8. Prepare lettering in harmony with theme.
  9. Three support points on reverse.
  10. No congruent mass.
  11. Background plate.
  12. Border & rim.
  13. Flange.

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