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Archive for November, 2010

Benjamin Franklin recognized that by the magic of compound interest he could will a sum of money that would provide a continuous stipend of funds that could underwrite the cost of an award in perpetuity, forever. He did exactly that in his July 17, 1788, will by directing his executors to provide “100 pounds Sterling” to the superintendent of Boston Schools for an award medal to be presented to the most deserving male student each year.

This was to become known as the “Boston School Medal” the first of which were hand engraved silver discs. Later, dies were made and medals were struck, and even later the medals were struck by the Philadelphia Mint, but ultimately by a metal working firm in Boston.

What must be noted, however, was the administrators of Franklin’s funds did not adhere strictly to Franklin’s original intentions. Boston grew to have more than one school, and a medal was bestowed at each school. Then the school administrators wanted to award a medal to the most deserving female student. The need for medals increased and the funds available ate into Franklin’s endowment.

The female medals – which they named the “City Medal” – required raising additional money. Even so, Franklin’s endowment eventually ran out. To their credit, Boston City Fathers assumed the obligation of continuing to bestow Boston School Medals and Boston City Medals. To their discredit they had mismanaged Franklin’s endowment.

Thus, one of the first medal award programs in America became a textbook example of the need for better management of such recognition activities.

A medal award program – the plan for the administration of the bestowal of medals for some beneficial purpose to mankind or some field of endeavor – should include a number of activities. These include how often the medal will be awarded, the criteria for selection of the recipients, the ceremony for the presentation, the form of the medal, and whether the medal is bestowed alone or with a certificate and/or a monetary award as well. A final activity is the publicity of the award, the presentation is a public relations goal to benefit, not only the medal recipient, but also the sponsoring organization.

Money for the program needs to be certain. Often a fund is established – occasionally specified in a will by a sponsor or donor – for the long-range bestowal of the medal on a periodic basis. Otherwise the sponsoring organization must assume the total cost on a yearly basis.

The medal frequently takes on a memorial to either the benefactor or to some notable person in the field. One or the other of these is often chosen to be portrayed on the medal, and the medal is named for this person.

The most famous of these award medals in existence – Nobel of worldwide fame, or prominent American awards such as the Carnegie, Pulitzer, Caldecott, Newberry, and Peabody – are known to promote scientific, medical, literary or beneficial achievements such as lifesaving or peace. To this list of famous medals can be added the thousands of medal programs that are perhaps known only within their own immediate field.

Two entities are prominent in establishing and maintaining medal award programs: nonprofit organizations for one; colleges and universities for the other. In each case medals are awarded for the personal activities of individuals the sponsor wants to encourage. In most instances these are beneficial activities for the betterment of mankind but it can also be for the advancement of the sponsoring organization.

It is the most beneficial method of rewarding good behavior. Every mother knows this for every child: reward good behavior, punish bad behavior. Medal awards could be considered an institutional form of this parental activity. Plus the medal is an honored object, widely respected, with a long heritage of rewarding outstanding activity. The recipient’s pride is boundless.

Award medal administration. All too often, it has been noted, the administration of medal programs is assigned to inexperienced employees of the organization. Thus the sponsor is not obtaining the full benefit it should receive from its medal award program.

The biggest mistake is not recognizing the most important tenants of medallic art:

Bestow a medal to an individual; bestow a plaque to an organization.

The next biggest mistake is to think that the bigger the medal the greater the prestige. Wrong! A six-inch medal does not intrinsically have twice the prestige of a three-inch medal, because prestige is built over time. It starts with the quality of the medal in its creation, the choice of a top medallic artist, the preparation of an exquisite design, and often the portrait that appears on the medal. Prestige is also developed by the caliber of those who received the medal.

The present writer is familiar with the administration of the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal. Here is an example of the best in award medal management. It has adhered to founder Andrew Carnegie’s desires, set about in his will, for over one hundred years. [I was a consultant for their 2004 Centennial Medal.]

First, the organization has managed the original funds well, seeing that the endowment has grown. It has awarded Hero Medals to qualified recipients as often as needed, sometimes as many as a dozen in one year. It has a policy for vetting each recipient, an investigator who examines each candidate’s case, sometimes after the death of the individual.

In cases of extreme need, as for the education of children of the recipient, the Carnegie Hero Fund provides funds for those educational costs. Other such needs are provided on an individual need basis. The Fund is well managed to be able to do this.

In contrast, when I was a medal dealer, one of my customers was the president of a southern university (which will remain nameless). He purchased from me selected medals: the name of an organization or a reason for their issue could not appear on the medal, but they had to be somewhat generic in nature. He then issued these as his institution’s award medals. That was cutting corners to the extreme!

Really good ideas need not always come from big organizations. In one case of which I am familiar – numismatic coin columnists – the sponsoring organizations sent a plaque to the columnist intended for his newspaper, and a medal to the newspaper, intended for the individual columnist. Along with this was the instruction for the newspaper to conduct a ceremony for each to exchange the proper awards.

One of my best friends was Thomas Haney, who wrote the coin and medal column for the New York Times. One year he won that award and he later told me: “I had worked for the Times for over twenty years and had never even been on the executive floor. I was called to the publisher’s office one day to exchange awards, and it was the finest day of my life!”

Credit that idea with good medal award program management.

Marketing Proposal. May I make a suggestion? Since Medallic Art Company is the leading award medal manufacturer in America, and award medals are a major segment of its production every year, that the firm underwrite the cost of preparing a Manual of Medal Award Management.

This book should be written by a seasoned writer with experience in both business and art. It should be on the shelf of every nonprofit organization in America and the president of every major college and university.

That one book could lead to more business than any other activity I could name, save for having a salesman call on each of those institutions every month.

Resources. There are a number of books on American awards. Below is a list of these from my databank on American Artists.

A W A R D S,    A W A R D   M E D A L S    A N D     R E C I P I E N T S

{1956}  Brook (Herbert)  The Blue Book of Awards. Chicago: Marquis–Who’s Who, 186 pages.

{1969}  Gale Research Company. Awards, Honors and Prizes. Detroit: Gale Research Company.
Volume 1 (American) 16 editions through 2000.

{1969}  Gale Research Company. World of Winners; International. Detroit: Gale Research Co.
Volume 2 (Foreign):

{1977}  Stuart (Sandra Lee)  Who Won What When; the Record Book of Winners. Secaucus, NJ:
Lyle Stuart Inc. 488 pages.

{1978}  Walter (Claire)  The Book of Winners. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 731 pages.
Published & copyrighted by Facts on File.

{1979}  Europa. World Dictionary of Awards and Prizes. London: Europa. 386 pages.

{1988}  Gregory (Gregory W.)  Awards & Decorations of U.S. State Military Forces.
Vandenberg AFB, CA: Patriot Press. 530 pages.

Award medal study. Attached below is a study I started on an analysis of the first book listed above (the first 20 pages of Brook’s Blue Book of Awards). It was more useful to me for its historical aspect rather than its current status of these awards. It dramatically reveals that sponsors don’t understand the basic tenant: give a medal to an individual; give a plaque to an organization.

M  E  D  A  L  S
Medal Name Composition Page
Abel (John J.) Award bronze 1
A.C.A. Advertising Awards 4 silver, 1 gold 1
Acheson Medal gold medal, bronze replica 2
ACS Award in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry gold 2
Adams (Herbert) Memorial Medal bronze 2
Addams (Jane) Medal actually a plaque 3
Agassiz (Alexander) Medal gold 4
Air Force Exceptional Service Award gold 4
Air Force Medal of Freedom bronze 4
Air Force Medal for Merit bronze 4
Air Mail Flyer’s Medal of Honor bronze 4
Alexander (W.A.) Trophy gold 5
Alfaro (Eloy) Award Medal bronze 5
All America Selections
Horticultural Achievement Medallion
silver 6
Allied Artists Oil Painting Honor bronze 6
Allied Artists Gold Medal of Honor gold 6
Allison (Irl) Piano Guild Medal gold 6
Alpha Chi Omega Achievement Award Medallion gold 6
Alpha Delta National Writing Awards gold, silver 7
Alpha Epsilon Delta Distinguished Service Award gold 7
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Award of Merit Medal
bronze 7
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Gold Medal
gold 7
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Medal for Good Speech on the Stage Medal
bronze 7
American Artist Magazine Citation Medal bronze 8
American Automobile Association
National Champion Drivers Award Medal
gold, platinum & diamonds 9
American Cancer Society Award silver 9
American Cancer Society Divisional Award bronze 9
American Citizen Award gold 9
American College of Chest Physicians Medal gold 9
American College of Radiology Medal gold 10
American Farm Bureau Federation
Distinguished Service to Agriculture Medallion
gold 10
American Home Achievement Medal oblong bronze 12
American Hospital Association Award of Merit gold 12
American Humane Assn Medal gold, silver, bronze 12
American Institute of Architects Craftsmanship Medal bronze 12
American Institute of Architects Fine Arts Medal bronze 12
American Institute of Architects Gold Medal gold 12
American Institute of Architects School Medal bronze 13
American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal gold 13
American Institute of Graphic Arts Medal bronze 13
American Irish Historical Society Gold Medal gold 13
American Iron and Steel Institute Medal bronze 13
American Iron and Steel Institute Regional Technical Meeting Medal stainless steel 13
American Legion Auxiliary Distinguished Service Badge bronze on ribbon 14
American Legion Distinguished Service Medal gold 14
American Medical Association Distinguished Service Medal gold 14
American Medical Writer’s Association
Distinguished Service Medal
gold & plaque 15
American Medical Writer’s Association Honor Award Medal gold & plaque 15
American Petroleum Institute Gold Medal gold 16
American Rhododendron Society Gold Medal gold 16
American Society of Mechanical Engineers Medal bronze 17
American Society of Metals Gold Medal gold 17
American Society for Metals Medal for Advancement of Research bronze 17
American Underwriters’ Medal gold 19
American Watercolor Society Gold Medal of Honor gold 19
American Watercolor Society Silver Medal silver 19
America’s Democratic Legacy Silver Medallion silver 20
Anderson (Hans Christian) Prize Medal bronze 20
American Society of Heating & Air Conditioning Engineers F. Paul Anderson Medal gold 20
ANNA Painters’ Competition Medal gold, silver, bronze 21
Appert (Nicholas) Medal of Institute of Food Technologists bronze 21

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Can the relationship between the Institute of Heraldry and the Medallic Art Company be described as “requited” – of mutual admiration and gratitude? The answer is a resounding “yes.”  Respect for each organization is the mantra for the other.

While the Institute of Heraldry (IoH) is a military organization, housed on a military base and headed by a military officer, it is staffed by nearly three dozen civilian employees. It services – of providing heraldic design and related symbolism for a variety of end products – exists for all military organizations, but also to all government branches as well.

Thus it might design a shoulder patch for dozen-man military unit in a far-off war theater in one instance and a revision of the presidential seal for the White House for another. Of all the many U.S. government agencies and organizations the IoH can be credited with a high level of creativity and efficiency. It performs its functions well.

The Chief Officer of the IoH, a military officer in one of the three branches of the service, has changed often in the twenty years I have observed the organization. A new chief is appointed as his predecessor’s tour of duty expires. Thus it retains its military management. The civilian staff remains intact for the most part and that retains its experience and knowledge of its heritage.

Of all the end products the IoH may design, those of most interest to Medallic Art Company are, of course, decorations, medals bestowed for meritorious service and often of exotic design; and campaign medals, given to all who participate in a given military or naval action, all of which have some accouterment for wearing, as on a uniform. In addition, the Medallic Art Company is also interested in what is ignobly called by military medalists “table medals,” – since you can’t wear this medal, it must lie on the table.

While the IoH maintains a “bid list” of slightly under one hundred American firms, companies who are certified to manufacture the military insignia the IoH designs, only a handful are capable of striking highly detailed decorations or the long production runs of campaign medals.

Medallic Art Company has a long history of producing military medals, but this was not so in its earliest years. Following World War I, a Victory Medal was required to be given to every person who was a member of any branch of service. Herbert Adams was appointed by the War Department to oversee the production of this medal.

The sculptor James Earle Fraser was chosen to design the medal. Fraser was a very picky artist and modified his design often, working over and revising his design. He had asked the Weil brothers, Henri and Felix, to make wax reductions and galvano casts of his design each time, then changing it again as he saw a way to improve the image.

This continued for a number of times, all of which the Weils did without any prior agreement of the cost, either with Fraser, or with Adams.  Once Fraser and Adams had agreed to the design, the Weils made hubs and dies, and struck sample medals. These all had to be turned over to the government.

By this time Clyde Curlee Trees had joined with the Weils. The trio drafted the specifications of how the medals were to be produced from the dies they had just created. The required number of medals was three million. They thought they had an inside track for the striking some of these medals. They would be happy with even a third of that contract.

Since they did not have the presses – nor the capacity – for such a production, Trees negotiated with Scovill in Waterbury, Connecticut, to do the striking, and Medallic Art Company would finish the medals, mount, and package them.

The trio came up with a quote of 75 cents apiece for such a quantity and daydreamed of the profits a million medals would generate for them. When the bids were opened they ranged from 17 cents each to over a dollar. The War Department awarded a million-medal contract to that 17-cent bidder, Aronson of Newark, New Jersey, and two other manufacturers “out west.”

While the trio were heartbroken over the loss of a contract they believed they had a lock on, they still had the invoice to submit for all those wax reductions, galvanos, hubs and dies. Henri and Felix came up with a modest cost.

It was Trees, however, who pushed the amount to $3,000. Trees submitted the bill. Immediately he was called to Adams’ studio. Felix went with Trees to meet Fraser and Adams there.

In Felix own words:  “To make a long story short, I must say that our secretary [Trees] convinced Adams and Fraser as to the propriety of the amount of the bill, which was duly paid.”

But that is not the end of the story. The quality of the 17-cent Aronson medals was so poor that in Felix’s mind, the government should never have accepted them.

True to that statement, Aronson never received another order for medals from the government. And, over time, the government came to realize the inherent medallic capabilities and quality of work of Medallic Art Company.

By the second World War, the company was well entrenched in this activity. The War Department ordered those World War I medals. By 1924 ordering medals was the responsibility of the Quartermaster General. It was the accelerated needs of World War II, however, that brought about the Army Heraldic Department, in place by 1949 and charged with furnishing heraldic services to all branches of military service.

Public Law 85-263, dated September 1957, ordered the Secretary of the Army to furnish heraldic services, not only to the military branches, but to all areas of the federal government. The Institute of Heraldry was established in 1960.

Over the years, Medallic Art would bid continuously for medal jobs initiated by the Institute of Heraldry. They remained on the bid list, and entered all those bids under the following:

Bid Number    E.I. #13-1030480

Gold License  TDGL 14-0152

Medallic Art was producing decorations and campaign medals long after World War II. The firm often ran three shifts around the clock. It rented space near the little shop on East 51st Street in midtown Manhattan to set up tables where ladies would sew ribbon drapes on campaign medals. I found one order in the files for three-quarters of a million medals in the late 1940s for delivery at specified dates over a six-month period.

All this made Clyde Trees a wealthy man. He set up a new firm, Chapline Realty Corporation, where he placed all the profits and purchased two buildings on East 45th Street in New York City, ultimately to became the firm’s plant, and residential property in White Plains, New York. He was also featured in an article in Fortune magazine!

Staff sculptor. A long list of medals is noted among the company’s archives for the Institute of Heraldry. But the staff sculptors at IoH are also listed there as well, for both IoH items and their own freelance medallic work. Most notable of these was Lewis J. King and Donald A. Borja, the later even created the 99th Issue of The Society of Medalists.

This writer visited the Institute of Heraldry with film producer Mike Craven on one of his trips to the East Coast. (Mike would fly in from California; we would rent a car and drive to potential film locations. On the week we filmed Elizabeth Jones for The Medal Maker, we visited the IoH. Mike had rented a very expensive film camera, but refused to leave it in the car as we entered the IoH building. He carried it with him the entire time!)

We met with sculptor Borja, and I interviewed him for my artists’ databank. His sculptor studio was down a long hall at the end of the building. What impressed me as a researcher even more was the Institute’s library between the studio and the offices. I could have spent a month in that library! I realized then the exceptional resources – both literary and personnel – that the Institute of Heraldry possessed.

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So Important for Medal Making!

“TANKS for the memory!” Sorry to start with a pun, but your plating tanks are very important for modern medal manufacturing. With apologies to Bob Hope’s theme song, your plating tanks are helping to create medals which provide very fond memories for a lot of medal recipients.

Plating – the process of electrochemical deposition of one metal on another –provides a versatility that is so necessary for the full spectrum of metal finishes required for modern medals. It has been used for 160 years in America and has replaced an even earlier technology of firegilding that was practiced by the Renaissance craftsmen in Europe and Japanese swordmakers in the Orient.

Metals of an inexpensive alloy or composition, such as copper or bronze, are plated with a more expensive metal, like gold or silver. Thus the plated objects are manufactured of a low-cost alloy but given the finish, color, and texture of the more expensive metal.

Medals can even be struck in silver and then goldplated. This is called vermeil (pronounced ver-MAY, the word and custom is French, of course). The end result is the color of gold with the sheen of silver. It also has the weight of silver which is more than that of any base metal, but less than that of solid gold.

Plating uses the same technology as electrolysis, which I wrote about in MONDAY REPORT #14 – August 2, 2010. Tanks similar to those used for casting electroforms, die shells, and galvanos, are also used for electroplating. Both technologies pay homage to Moritz Herman Jacobi (1801-1874) the German engineer who developed the process of electrolysis, and to Luigi Galvani (1745-1798) the Italian scientist who first observed electric current.

Both processes use direct current electricity at very low-voltage. A circuit is created from a rectifier which converts commercial alternating current electricity to that low-voltage direct current. (Why not use alternating current from a normal electrical outlet? – Well, it would deposit the metal in one instant and remove it the next as the electric current alternates back and forth!)

From that rectifier the direct current passes to a bus bar placed over the tanks. It is wired to a bar from which positively charged anodes are suspended. The current passes through a liquid solution (containing a salt of the same metal as the anode, the metal being plated). The current continues through the negatively charged cathode – which receives the metal being deposited – and back to the rectifier, completing the electrical circuit. When the electricity is flowing, metal is forced from the anodes into the solution and plated out of solution onto whatever is acting as the cathode.

The metal base must be thoroughly cleaned and free of corrosion, dirt, and grease in order for electroplating to create a uniform new surface over it. The new metal must bond with the base metal. Metals that alloy well together, such as copper and gold, are easily bonded by plating; those that do not – for example gold does not bond to iron or aluminum – must first be electroplated with a metal that does. Thus iron is first electroplated with copper or nickel before it can be goldplated.

Metals intended to be plated are chemically cleaned or degreased to remove any corrosion or contamination. At this stage the metal is said to have an activated surface, and it is highly receptive to tarnish. The medals should be placed in the plating tanks as soon as possible, before any tarnish starts. (Or they can be placed in a cream of tarter bath as a holding solution until they are ready to be plated.)

The size of the tank is determined by the size and number of the objects to be plated at one time. Formerly, at Medallic Art in New York and Danbury, the largest tanks were three feet deep by six feet long. These were used for electroforming and could make a copper tablet up to that size maximum.

For plating medals the tanks could, of course, be smaller. Tanks for silverplating were of a size to hold a rack of medals, six to ten medals at a time, so the silver tank was deep enough to accommodate that rack. I don’t remember its dimensions, but it could be less than two feet square. The gold tank was the smallest of all, as gold medals were plated one at a time.

The tableware industry was the first to embrace plating. This occurred in the England where two cousins, George and Henry Elkington, obtained Jacobi’s process and, developing it further, patented silverplating in 1840. The technology passed to America, first at Scovill Manufacturing in Waterbury, then in 1847 to Rogers Brothers for use in silverplating tableware.

But it was the jewelry industry in America that developed electroplating to a fine art, even using other metals to enhance the aesthetic beauty of their products. Rhodium, iridium, palladium, and nickel have all been electroplated on jewelry items.

Silverplating any object gives it all the surface characteristics of silver. It does not have the weight or fineness of solid silver, of course, but resembles silver in all other aspects. Silverplating of bronze medals is widely done in medal manufacturing and continues to be important at the present time.

As the cost of silver rises, clients may come to request their solid silver medals be replaced by silverplated base metals to reduce costs. In the past, however, when silver was less than $2 an ounce, it was less costly to strike medals initially in solid silver that were smaller than silver dollar size (1½-inch). It was less costly than adding the separate silverplating step. Today as silver is more costly, even those 1½-inch medals could be more cost effective to strike in bronze and silverplate.

Silverplated medals do not need to be edge-lettered to identify their base metal. All precious metal objects, in contrast, need to be hallmarked – to identify the fineness by inspection alone. This came about since silverplated items look so similar to solid silver. Hallmarking was established to indicate precious metal content. A law passed in 1906 requires American made products to be so marked.

Solid silver medals can be identified in words or numbers: STER, STERLING, 925 or .925 all mean sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver. Solid silver is marked FINE, 999 or .999, since it is at least 99.9% silver.

Goldplating is most often accomplished on bronze or copper alloys (which are, in fact, called “gilding metal”). While most metals can be gilded, some will not bond with gold – iron and aluminum are examples. Even so, these can be given in intermediate plating with a metal, like copper or nickel, and then goldplated.

Brass is also a popular composition for goldplating. Both metals have a similar yellow hue, and this is a reason for the choice of brass. Even if the goldplate wears away or a small portion is removed to reveal the underlying brass, it may not be that noticeable because of the similar color.

Yellow gold is free of impurities, but tiny amounts of other elements in natural gold will color (change the hue) slightly. White gold has silver or platinum impurities, pink or red gold has copper impurities, green gold has iron impurities, and the very rare black gold has bismuth impurities.

Each of these, except black gold, can be obtained by goldplating, either in the tank at the time of goldplating, or afterwards. Yellow gold is obtained by “pure” goldplating without any other metal ions in the plating solution. While white gold could be plated with silver or platinum, the same results can be obtained with tin (as sodium stannate) or nickel in the plating solution. Copper is introduced into the solution for a pink or red gold. For a green gold effect, the object is plated with silver (potassium silver cyanide) and lead acetate.

All of these techniques have been used in the jewelry industry, and there is no reason similar techniques cannot be applied to medals.

Other concepts within the subject of electroplating need to be mentioned. Listed below are those terms with a brief definition:

Anodized Aluminum. A coating, actually a plating on aluminum which, unlike other plating, can be done in a variety of colors.

Bleed, Bleeding. Exposure of the base metal of a plated piece, from wear or from too thin a plating (occurring from flash plating).

Bright Plating. An enhanced coating by addition of more than one type of metal anode in the electroplating process.

Electroless Gold. Coating by immersion in liquid gold baths.

Electrolysis. The physical and chemical process of passing a low voltage direct current through a liquid electrolyte containing a solution that carries ions of anodic metal to deposit on the cathodic work.

Electroplating. A very thin coating of metal applied by electrolysis on a coin or medal to improve its surface metal, color or finish.

Firegilding, Firegilt. An early form of goldplating where a mixture of gold and mercury is applied to the surface to be plated, then the object is heated to drive off the mercury.

Flash Plate. Very thin plating; minimum required to cover areas desired.

Gilding, Gilt. Covered with gold; the application of gold to an object by any process.

Goldwash. A light goldplating after a piece has been bright dipped or polished.

Hard Goldplate. An enhanced goldplating by the addition of a small amount of other metal in the process of goldplating.

Heavy Goldplate. A special goldplating in which a tiny amount of silver – as one part per 50 of gold – is introduced into the electrolysis to effect a harder gold surface; also called bright plating or hard goldplate.

Immersion Gold. A coating of gold by melting the precious metal and inserting a medallic item into the dip solution.

Mordant Gilding. A process of depositing gold on a metal surface, much like firegilding.

Mosaic Gold. A very cheap gold coloring process using stannic sulphide.

Parcel-gilt. Partly gilt; goldplated only on a part of a medallic item for the effect of a contrast of metals or their color.

Reverse Plating. A striping away of an unwanted layer of surface metal; the removal of the outermost layer from a plated item, usually silver or gold in unsightly condition; electrostripping.

Sheffield Plate. An early form of silver bonded to copper by fusion, then rolled to desired thickness.

Silverclad. A base metal bonded or clad with silver, of which the silver may be pure, sterling or other alloy.

Silvered. A metal finish, actually a coating, of gray color with a metallic luster.

Silverplate, Silverplating. Depositing a layer of silver on a piece of base metal by the process of electrolysis.

Silver Strike. A term in electroplating meaning the flash plate of silver prior to other metals being electroplated on top of this.

Test Cut. A purposely made cut into the edge of a numismatic item by unthinking people to ascertain the item’s base composition, usually of a plated piece.

Vermeil. Goldplated silver or silver gilt.

X Gold. Extra heavy goldplate.

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Medal makers generally can strike a metal in any “medallic composition” – bronze, copper, brass, silver, gold, copper-nickel, nickel-silver, and such. To do this requires a heavy press – a screw press in the early days, knuckle-joint and hydraulic presses in the 20th century, and later coining presses when these became available to private mints.

Token makers generally struck tokens in softer metal, aluminum, white metal, and the like, because they did not have access to heavier presses. I believe some even struck tokens with the hand-lever “seal press” used for embossing documents. Others did not bother using a reverse die at all – they simply made one-sided, embossed “medals.”

Most token makers were a group of firms in the “stamp and stencil” industry. These firms offered a wide range of products, including rubber stamps, tags and checks, stencils, nameplates, seals, marking devices, and some even sold the seal presses in addition to making the embossing dies for use in those presses for notary embossing.

At first these stamp and stencil firms were located in cities of major industrial activity. But as business increased across America, these craftsmen followed, and soon they were in every major city.

The tokens these firms made were often struck with dies made entirely of hand-punched letters: “Good for 5c” or “Good for a loaf of bread” with the merchant’s name. These were the coupons of the 19th century, used as a way of increasing business. A few bore an illustration of the merchant’s product, but most were entirely lettering, with no design at all.

Merchant’s tokens by the millions were made by stamp and stencil firms. Because they exist, they are collected. While not priced quite as low as some common postage stamps, most merchant’s tokens are 10- or 25-cent items, even today. Some of these tokens did not mention the location of the merchant, thus an entire service is offered in the token field of identifying “mavericks” – the location of these mystery tokens issuers.

In contrast medal makers were mostly the engravers of the dies, often one- and two-man shops in the 19th century. Perhaps one proprietor was the engraver, the other operated the press. If a client wanted a decent medal, however, or one larger than what these shops could strike, the client had to go to the Philadelphia Mint. The U.S. Mint did this work at cost, even up to the Second World War, or the client could go overseas to have a large medal struck there.

It wasn’t until the Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1892, that a medal industry could be said to exist in America. This one event was a boon for one die-sinking firm, S.D. Childs & Company, which had been in Chicago since 1837. Other firms followed. August Frank came to America that year but wisely established his firm in Philadelphia, where workers knowledgeable in the craft were already located.

Medal makers were located in cities of great industrial activity. It required some service of the metal suppliers and metal-working industry for blanks, tooling and, in some cases, metal workers. Where a run of tokens could have been produced by one man doing every step of production, medals required more sophisticated equipment, management and craftsmen.

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Favorite, In-House and ‘Workhorse’ Sculptors

For the first two decades of its existence, Medallic Art Company did not choose the artist to make the models for the medals the company produced. It was just the other way around. The artists chose Medallic Art.

Founders Henri and Felix Weil were originally sculptor assistants and the company they built existed only to service sculptors. The sculptors received the commissions to prepare a medal, just as they would receive a commission to prepare a statue or relief, or whatever in three-dimensional form.

Fortunately Henri and Felix were among the “in-group” of these New York City sculptors. Every major sculptor in the area new them, and one even married their sister.

The pair could receive the models from the commissioned sculptor at just about any stage and carry it through to fruition. Even if the big-name sculptor gave them a clay model, they would know to make a plaster cast, and then have the sculptor approve that. Then they took plaster to the next stage of making a hard-metal pattern by electrocasting in galvano form.

From that galvano dieshell the Weils cut a die on their Janvier reducing machine. Once they had a pair of dies, they subcontracted the actual striking of the medals. For the final step, they “colored” the medals, giving the medals the necessary final patina finish.

They had all the skill, knowledge and equipment – galvano tanks and that Janvier – to carry the medal job from beginning to end, all except the presses to strike the medals. [They did not own a press until after World War I when they purchased a surplus press formerly use in the manufacture of war munitions.]

From 1929 to 1946

Once Clyde Curlee Trees acquired control of the company in 1929 he changed the philosophy of the company. Instead of waiting for a sculptor to bring them work, he wanted to solicit work on his own. He became his own best salesman. He mounted extensive letter campaigns to prominent firms pointing out the benefits of issuing a medal for a variety of purposes. Orders did start flowing in – slowly.

I believe at first, Clyde made the decision of what sculptor to award those new commissions to prepare the models for medal jobs he sold in strong consultation with one or both Weils. After all, the Weils knew all the sculptors who could perform the necessary and rather specialized bas-reliefs for medallic models.

Clyde joined the National Sculpture Society (NSS) headquartered in New York City. He used the Society as an ersatz employment agency. The sculptors they needed to prepare their necessary models were all members of NSS. He got to know each of the Society’s members, their strengths and capabilities of preparing the glyptic models he needed.

That was beneficial both ways, since National Sculpture Society members were the cream of the sculpture field, Clyde got top name artists! The artists often got a quick commission they could accomplish between larger jobs. Clyde even became an officer of the Society in the position of the society’s treasurer.

Once Clyde gained confidence he probably made the choice of an artist decision on his own. This continued through the difficult years of the 1930s Great Depression era. Then came World War II, his employees went off to war, and bronze metal became a rationed war material prohibiting him from issuing medals in any quantity. Then came the post-war period of producing military decorations that required long production runs with little need for sculptors’ models for new medals.

After this period Clyde Trees began training an employee who had been with him since he graduated from architecture college in 1930, Julius Lauth. Julius was named a company director in 1956 and became a “favorite son” to Clyde perhaps even more so than his own nephew, William Louth (note spelling is different–no relation) who he had hired in 1950. Bill was slated for sales, however, and Julius was molded for production with knowledge of those sculptors.

From 1946 to 1960

At what time Trees relinquished control of naming which sculptor should be assigned what job is not known. Julius joined the National Sculpture Society, as did Trees’ second wife, Francis Kimberle Trees, who followed Clyde as NSS treasurer on Clyde’s death. They all became part of the NSS family with close working knowledge of the sculptor members and their activities.

But Julius was secure in his position of making these important decisions by the time of Trees’ death in 1960. Trees left the company to three people, his widow Francis, his nephew Bill, and his oldest and trusted employee, Julius.

From 1960 to 1972

All decisions in the choice of a sculptor were made by Julius Lauth alone for the decade of the 1960s, right up to 1972 when the three owners sold the firm to Donald Schwartz.

All during the period since Clyde acquired the firm in 1929, sculptors were encourage to solicit medal work on their own, but these artists often did not have the temperament of a salesman. If they learned of a potential medal job, more often than not, they turned over the lead to Clyde Trees, let him sell it, and be content that Clyde or whomever would favor them with the commission.

The Seven Workhorse Sculptors

I don’t know who first used the term “workhorse sculptor.” It may have been myself. But the term is apt. It means a sculptor who would accept any commission, no matter how mundane, prepare it in a very professional manor, and meet a fixed deadline for delivering the completed models.

Such an artist was a consummate craftsman and professional. It may have been an “easy” job – not the most desirable or most prestigious – but it kept the pot boiling and brought in a steady flow of commission dollars.

Over the years I believe seven artists could fall into this category of “workhorse sculptor.” Clyde Trees or Julius Lauth knew they could issue a commission to any one of these artists and get a pair of acceptable models in quick time, to the satisfaction of any client, no matter how critical that client might be.

Julio Kilenyi (1885-1959)

Julio Kilenyi was making medals as early as 1916 but was most active from 1920 to 1955. For a brief time in the 1920s he was a full-time employee at Balfour, but he later worked free-lance and did work for Whitehead & Hoag as well as Medallic Art, where he did 54 medals over three and a half decades.

Jeno Juszko (1880-1954, active 1929-1953)

Jeno Juszko was commissioned to do a series of plaques for a New York coin dealer and met Henri Weil, for whom he did a similar plaque (see Monday Report #1). Juszko did not become active for Medallic Art until Clyde Trees took control of the company; his active period was 1929 to 1953 during which he did 90 medals for the firm.

Rene Chambellan (1893-1955)

Rene Chambellan did a medal in 1921 – the Newberry Medal –that so impressed Clyde Trees that he started commissioning him in 1935, and he remained active until 1952. In all, Chambellan did an amazing 183 medals for Medallic Art Company!

Joseph Renier (1887-1966)

Joseph Renier became active making medal models somewhat late in his career, but even so he created an astounding 95 models that Medallic Art made into medals from 1951 to 1959.

Joseph DiLorenzo (1920-2001)

The term “workhorse sculptor” can certainly be applied to this artist, and I think I used this term with the artist’s son when he delivered the family medal collection to me to catalog for an exhibit in Fall 2011 at the Belskie Museum where I am curator of numismatic art.

DiLorenzo earns this accolade for two reasons. He was the first of this group to be commissioned to prepare models for series of medals – 17 total – often the only sculptor of the entire series. In addition to this he worked with other artists who designed the medal that he would then model such as illustrator Paul Calle, architect Louis Sullivan, book designer P.J. Conkwright, painter Patrick Kennedy, and other well-known artists of the day. While active from 1958 to 1989, DiLorenzo prepared 370 models which Medallic Art struck!  In addition he free-lanced to other medal makers as well, Metal Arts and Franklin Mint. His record will be well documented in his Fall Exhibition at the Belskie Museum

Rolf Beck (1901-1979)

Like DiLorenzo, he was commission to create models in series, 17 in all. Active from1960 to1990, he has 115 Medallic Art medals to his credit. We all know the stress of facing tight deadlines, and I recall one incidence where the pressure got to Rolf and he suffered a brief breakdown but recovered to continue his modeling marathon.

Patrick Whitaker (1918-1994)

He prepared models so quickly he became a favorite of Julius Lauth for medals of less than top-name clients. He was most active from1965 to1981 and is credited with 76 medals made for Medallic Art Company.

Ramon Gordils, In-House Sculptor

While the official company statement was “all work is done by free-lance sculptors,” we did have one in-house sculptor, Ramon Gordils. Hired in 1951, his stated purpose was to “backstop” outside sculptors work. He was an expert on touchup work. He could take another artist’s model and make it better, often touching up the lettering.

He was self-taught, but he was so good Julius would often just assign him to do the model himself intact. That is why there are 162 entries bearing his name in the MACO medal archives. And this reflects only his major efforts, not the hundreds of touchup jobs he did to make outside sculptors look their best and make their models shine.

Everybody loved Ramon, even the sculptors whose work he improved. He could be called a “factory artist,” but he was far more than that. He was a consummate professional who fully understood his craft and knew intuitively what made an excellent medallic model.

Favorites – Ralph Joseph Menconi, and Robert Alexander Weinman

It is personal nature, of course, but Julius could be assessed with the claim that he favored a couple of sculptors. Two of these would be at the top of that list: Ralph Joseph Menconi, and Robert Alexander Weinman.

Menconi had a nearby studio in New York City (56th Street cross-town from Medallic Art’s 45th Street address) – easily within walking distance. Weinman worked out of a barn converted into a studio on his estate in suburban Westchester County. Both were in the Medallic Art plant and Julius’ office often.

Both were friends of Julius as well as every person in the plant. Both were at the top of their profession, and both were master medalists, sculptors, artists, and craftsmen. They both produced top-quality medals for top-rated clients. Julius knew he could commission these two for any medal, right up to the White House!

One important fact on six of these artists, workhorse and favorites, they were second-generation sculptors. Their fathers were sculptors as well!

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