Archive for February, 2011

One area of medal issuing is of vital importance to a private mint. It was the centerpiece of Medallic Art’s sales activity for forty years from the time of the Great Depression until the time of the American Bicentennial. Every potential medal customer should be asked a simple question.

That question is: “Do you have any significant anniversaries coming up?”

What a birthday cake is to an individual a medal is to an organization. It can be the centerpiece of any anniversary activity. A well-designed medal can be the emblem, the logo, the symbol of that anniversary. It can dramatically reflect the past and inspire the organization’s thrust into the future.

And it serves as an artistic memento of that important milestone of the organization’s existence. It makes a great gift to everyone associated with that organization – employees, suppliers, clients. Also it exemplifies management’s statement as to the organization’s position and importance to society.

The earlier an organization starts planning its anniversary the better.  Normally this is one or two years in advance of the anniversary year. But one example is a textbook case of what can be done. That was for the American Museum of Natural History for their centennial in 1969.

The New York City institution began planning its centennial activities four years in advance!  By the time the actual centennial year arrived it had ready a promotional drive from which all the world learned of its existence, its activity, and its accomplishments.

It ordered its medal two years in advance of its anniversary year. Fortunately it had an artist on its staff who was savvy enough to design a medal that captured the essence of the Museum, its holdings, and the delight of its visitors. The medal featured the skeleton of a dinosaur, one of its featured exhibits.

The medal, MACO 1967-48, of course was struck by Medallic Art, also in Manhattan at the time, crosstown and 20 blocks south from the Museum, adjacent to New York’s Central Park and a Mecca for museum goers. Illustrations of the American Museum of Natural History Centennial Medal appeared everywhere. In advertising, on billboards, on giant banners hung outside the museum building, on transit cards in the city’s subways and busses.

American Museum of Natural History Centennial Medal

American Museum of Natural History Centennial Medal

The medal image was even imprinted on the napkins served with meals in the museum’s cafeteria! There was no limit to how an attractive medal design can serve as the symbol of an organization’s anniversary celebration. No birthday cake was in sight, but the image of the centennial medal was everywhere.

The prospects for anniversary medals are boundless. Obviously, firms serving the public head the list, the bigger he better. But also nonprofit organizations, trade associations, foundations; colleges and universities actively celebrate their anniversaries with medals.

Perhaps the area of greatest profit, however, is State and City anniversary medals.

The two biggest in Medallic Art’s history were California Bicentennial in 1969 and Illinois Sesquicentennial in 1968. Ronald Reagan was governor of California at the time of the bicentennial. There was a committee in charge of the bicentennial celebration, but the governor was kept informed of the medal progress. He took an interest in the medal and even visited the plant in person on a business trip to New York City.

The Illinois Sesquicentennial was so important, and medal sales were so strong, the firm purchased a press in Germany to strike proof surface medals for that one medal alone. The press was flown to NYC! Imagine those costs! But the profit on that one job alone paid for the press and the shipping expense.

More importantly, the Illinois medal was so successful, the firm ultimately hired the director of the Illinois medal sales, Mal Hoffman, to head up the American Bicentennial sales campaign for that upcoming national event!

But don’t overlook city anniversary medals. A collector in Illinois has a collection of over 15,000 medals of American city, town and municipality anniversary medals! A collector in Kansas is writing a book on the state anniversary medals. These medals have a strong heritage among citizens in their area – and often later, among collectors.

Related to anniversary medals is another area of importance to private mints. That is product milestone. Example: General Motors 50 Millionth Car Medal, MACO 1954-4. The firm even struck medals for individual GM divisions.

General Motor's 50 Millionth Auto Medal

General Motor’s 50 Millionth Auto Medal

So every salesman should inquire, not only about upcoming anniversaries, but also these questions:

“What is your organization’s founding date?”

“When was your oldest product first started?

To give some sense of anniversary celebrations – in effect any year can be celebrated – here is a list of the names for significant anniversaries:

Anniversary Names

  • 1st – Anniversary
  • 2nd – Biennial
  • 3rd – Triennial, Triennium
  • 4th – Quadrennial
  • 5th – Quinquennial
  • 6th – Sextennial, Sexennial
  • 7th – Septennial
  • 8th – Octennial
  • 9th – Novennial
  • 10th – Decennial
  • 11th – Undecennial, Undecennary
  • 12th – Duodecennial
  • 13th – Tridecennial
  • 14th – Quadridecennial
  • 15th – Quindecennial
  • 16th – Sextdecennial
  • 17th – Septdecennial
  • 18th – Octodecennial
  • 19th – Novedecennial
  • 20th – Vicennial
  • 21st – Unicennial
  • 22nd – Duovicennial
  • 23rd – Trivicennial
  • 24th – Quadrivicennial
  • 25th – Quinvicennial, Silver Jubilee, Semi Jubilee
  • 26th – Sextevicennial
  • 27th – Septevicennial
  • 28th – Octovicennial
  • 29th – Novevicennial
  • 30th – Tricennial
  • 31st – Untricennial
  • 32nd – Duotricennial
  • 33rd – Tertricennial
  • 34th – Quadritricennial
  • 35th – Quintricennial
  • 36th – Sextetricennial
  • 37th – Septetricennial
  • 38th – Octotricennial
  • 39th – Novetricennial
  • 40th – Quadricennial
  • 45th – Quinquadricennial
  • 50th – Quinquecennial, Semicentennial,Semicentenary, Jubilee, Golden Jubilee
  • 60th – Sextecennial, Diamond Anniversary
  • 70th – Septecennial
  • 75th – Quinseptecennial, Diamond Jubilee
  • 80th – Octocennial
  • 90th – Novecennial
  • 100th – Centennial, Centenary
  • 125th – Quasquicentennial
  • 150th – Sesquicentennial
  • 200th – Bicentennial, Bicentenary
  • 250th – Semiquinquecentennial
  • 300th – Tricentennial, Tercentenary
  • 350th – Semiseptecentennial
  • 400th – Quadricentennial
  • 500th – Quincentennial, Semimillennium
  • 600th – Sextecentennial
  • 700th – Septecemtennial, Septcentennary
  • 800th – Octocentennial
  • 900th – Novecentennial
  • 1000th – Millennium, Millenniary, Millennial
  • 1500th – Sesquimillennium
  • 2000th – Bimillenary

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Without upsetting machines we could not have high-speed coining. Yet few people know about them, particularly the coin collecting community. The later do recognize that something happens to coin blanks before being struck into coins, because they refer to coin blanks as “type one” and “type two.”

Screw type coin press

Screw type coin press.

Early coins were struck on screw presses – one at a time – and the need for a perfectly round, perfectly shaped blank was not that great. Coin blanks at the time were hand fed into the screw press with a blank nearly the size of the coin being struck.

Amazingly, while two men swung the arms of the screw press driving its shaft up and down, the coin setter flicked off the struck coin and placed the blank or planchet into position for the next striking. Once they established their rhythm, they could strike 20 or more coins per minute.

Industrial Revolution

The actions of one man, Mathew Boulton (1728-1809), of Birmingham England, changed all that. He joined with a partner, James Watt (1736-1829) who had invented the first successful steam engine, to seek new ways of putting the power of steam engines to good use. Boulton had inherited a metalworking factory, so this was an ideal association.

Boulton was a manufacturing genius. He had the ability to put together all the right factors – men, money, and machines. He was so resourceful in this that he is credited with being a notable pioneer in the Industrial Revolution. His search for products to make eventually led him to produce coins. He established the Soho Mint in 1790. He hired away from the Paris Mint one of the most talented coiners of all time, a Swiss die-engraver and engineer, Jean Pierre Droz (1746-1823).

Under the direction of Droz, they altered the screw press to be powered by the stream engine, but the increased power and increased speed brought forth many new problems. Nevertheless, Droz was capable of solving all of these. His talents extended from making the dies, using stronger iron (supplied by Benjamin Huntsman, who in 1756 had invented a method of making crucible steel), cutting dies on a French reducing machine developed by Jean Baptiste Dupeyra, to improving the screw press and adding an automatic feeder.

Droz had brought the technique of that feeder from Paris. While at the Paris Mint in 1783, he and Philippe Gengembre had jointly devised a way to feed the blanks and remove the struck pieces while the screw press was still manually operated.

With Boulton’s backing and Droz’s talents each of these problems were addressed, often creating new equipment and new methods of coining. Of course, Droz also solved a problem with blanking: as coin blanks are sheared from the rolled, milled strip of metal, they are often left with sharp burrs on the trailing edge.

If the blanks were not perfectly round, or those burred edges were prominent, it caused jams in feeding the press. If greater minting speed was to be achieved, Droz knew he needed blanks in large quantities that were uniformly edged and perfectly round for the automatic feed.

At first they hired young Birmingham boys – some as young as 8 to 10 years old – to put a handful of blanks in a leather bag and shake the bag. The blanks knocked against each other and “deburred” the edges.

Remember, this is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, so they had to find a better, faster way. Next, they tried putting the blanks in a barrel and rotated the barrel, a process similar to what is called “barrel tumbling” today. This tumbling process is accelerated by adding steel balls smaller than the blanks to knock against each other. The steel balls can be sieved out later.

Droz’s solution was a method of pre-forming the blanks. He recalled a technique of edge thickening developed in 1649 by Frenchman Pierre Blondeau (ca1620-1664), which was later improved upon by another French engineer, Jean Castaing, who in 1685 developed a device of adding edge lettering or edge ornamentation.

Both these methods were similar in that they forced the blank between two grooved bars, one fixed and one that moved back and forth. Boulton, who had been working on the problem of edge thickening at his metalworking factory since 1788, had to wait until it was solved by Droz in 1797.

Droz devised a way to force round blanks between a rotating grooved disk with a fixed bar in the shape of an arc with a similar groove. He mechanized this rimming action with the rotating disk, powered by the factory steam engine.

At the Soho Mint they called this method “rimming” and the machine a “rimmer.” These terms are still used in England today.

In America we call this action “upsetting” and the equipment an “upsetting machine.” At the U.S. Mint they call it an “upsetting mill.” Elsewhere it has been called “edge marking” as well. So much for the terminology.

Further improvements

A later contemporary of Boulton, Ralph Heaton (1794-1862), founder of the Heaton Mint, obtained one of Boulton’s rimmers and modified it slightly. He manufactured these rimming machines and sold them to mints around the world along with presses he manufactured after having acquired the rights to build Uhlhorn-style coining presses.

His firm, Ralph Heaton & Sons, patented a device in 1859 that fed blanks into the rimmer to further speed up the total process. In the United States, the Heaton rimmer was modified slightly. Instead of a vertical rotating disk, a different method was developed at the Philadelphia Mint with a horizontal wheel forcing the blanks between this rotating, grooved disk and a fixed, grooved arc-shaped bar.

A further development occurred at the British Royal Mint. In 1860, a mechanic working there, Meredith Jones, developed a method of rimming with the groove on the face of the rotating disk. He called his machine the “Jones Marking Machine.” It had the advantage that it could be easily altered for different diameter blanks.

Upsetting Among Mint Secrets

Knowledge of this machine, like that of many mint techniques, was among the most closely guarded secrets at many national mints. A topmost secret was the aperture collar and how to upset blanks. All during the nineteenth century, mint personnel were pledged not to reveal any facts about these techniques, presumably to prevent counterfeiting. The penalty was to have a hand chopped off!

Upsetting Machine aka Rimming Machine

Upsetting Machine aka Rimming Machine

Modern upsetting machines still perform the functions of their predecessors. Using collectors’ terms, type one blanks are those before upsetting, type two after. A type one blank fed into an upsetting machine travels in a channel on a spiral track through ever smaller and smaller walls which forces the blank’s diameter to become less and less. The metal at the edge builds up on both surfaces, thus making the blank thicker around the circumference, ideally suited for striking raised-rim coins.

By pressure and rolling, the pre-forming of edges by the machines accomplishes the following:

  • Remove the burrs and smooth the edge
  • Round the edge
  • Make the blank perfectly round
  • Thicken the edge for a raised border – edge thickening – a typical metalworking process
  • Make every blank a uniform diameter, always several thousandths of an inch less than the aperture in the collar used in the coining press.
  • Reduce wear on both dies and collar.

For proof blanks, upsetting provides a prepared edge ready to create a sharper and more angular point at the rim-edge juncture on proof surface coins. Ideally this should be close to a 90-degree angle without any excess metal forming a wire edge.

Upsetting Machine Close Up

Close up of an Upsetting Machine, aka Rimming Machine.

A Collector Asks…

In 2004, one of my readers on E-Sylum, Chris Faulkner, asked two questions about upsetting machines: how do they work and who uses them?

Obviously they are used by coinage mints, but who else?

I live near the Naugutuck Valley of Connecticut where machine shops and metalworking plants are on every block in every industrial area (after all, this was the home of Scovill Manufacturing and the Brass Industry for 150 years). Some of that industry still exists in the area today.

The obvious answer is many of these plants that strike anything “coined” – that is, struck between dies at room temperature – use the upsetting technique. This includes buttons, small parts, washers, rings, the list is lengthy. Some odd-shaped parts are coined from round blanks because of the ease and speed of striking these. They are then trimmed to shape afterwards.

I learned of the upsetting machine close up when Medallic Art Company bought its first coining press in 1967. We bought the press in Germany, but upsetting machines are made in England (and still called “rimmers”). The firm could not obtain one right away.

My boss, Bill Louth, happened to mention this to Eva Adams, then Director of the U.S. Mint. “We have some we’re not using,” she said. “I’ll lend you one.”

Sure enough, until a new one came from England, Medallic Art Company used a U.S. Mint upsetting machine for upsetting blanks to strike medals! The first of these were the Illinois Sesquicentennial Medal of 1968 in silver dollar size. The company soon had its own delivered from England and returned the borrowed one.

Today, Medallic Art Company and Northwest Territorial Mint use upsetting machines to prepare blanks for a wide variety of medallic and bullion products.

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Political Satire Medals

Four medals that Medallic Art struck for Robert Julian (writer of the catalog on U.S. Mint medals) satirizing four presidents.

AMERICAN politics has appeared on American medals since George Washington was president. During the entire 19th century, politicians used medals to identify themselves, tout their causes, and trumpet their slogans.

While anyone could have a medal made at the Philadelphia Mint, the United States Treasury early on wisely ruled that no political medals could be struck by the Mint. That regulation alone helped to firmly establish a medal industry in America. It gave rise to one- and two-man diesinking shops in the largest cities that supplied political candidates with the medals they desired to distribute to voters.

One has to remember that not every voter in mostly rural America could read, and here was a low-cost item bearing the candidate’s name and usually his portrait. These medals could be handed out freely, but you just could not have the Philadelphia Mint strike them.

A few mint medals did slip by however. A Lincoln Medal of 1864 bears on its reverse the inscription: ABRAHAM LINCOLN AN HONEST MAN THE CRISIS DEMANDS HIS RE-ELECTION 1864.  This dime-sized medal, called a “Cabinet Medal,” is part of a series of small medalets struck at the Mint bearing the portraits of notable presidents and widely muled1 with each other. (That Lincoln medal is Julian PR-35 of U.S. Mint medals, King 112 of Lincoln medals, and DeWitt AL 1864-72 of political medals – collectors love those catalog numbers!)

What killed off this custom of dispersing small political medals was the invention of the celluloid pinback button near the end of the 19th century. It provided the name of the candidate, sometimes his portrait and occasionally a slogan, similar to political medals. These could be made, often in color, at a much lower cost than political medals, and they are still popular today.

Those 19th century political medals are widely collected, perhaps because so many were made for so many candidates over the entire century. They have their own organization, American Political Item Collectors, and, of course, catalogs of these.

One of the largest collections of political medals and related items was amassed by J. Doyle DeWitt, president of Travelers Insurance of Hartford, Connecticut. Of course, his original 1959 catalog, A Century of Campaign Buttons, 1789-1889, aided in collecting these items. Nobody complained that he called these medals buttons (some did have tiny holes at the top to attach to a pin to be worn). He ended his catalog in 1889, because that was the beginning of the celluloid pinback buttons.

DeWitt included other items along with the medals in his collection. This included portrait badges and shell badges, ultimately to include ferrotypes – with an actual photo inserted in a metal shell frame. To this he added all the other political paraphernalia, flags, banners, ribbons, paper objects – the variety is endless.

He donated his vast collection to the University of Hartford where it is located today. I had the pleasure of poring over its contents when the first curator, a very knowledgeable Edmund B. Sullivan, was in charge. Sullivan wrote three books on the collection, including Collecting Political Americana.

Modern Political Medals

Issuing political medals continues today, but less so for campaigns. They are more often issued for inaugurations – the official installations of successful political campaigns – and for fundraising. And, oh yes, for satirical purposes. Medallic Art Company struck a series of five medals for Robert Julian (the same Julian that wrote the catalog on U.S. Mint medals) satirizing four presidents and Douglas MacArthur.

It should be noted, however, that politicians are different from all other people. (Isn’t that a true statement!) Custom has evolved that you can put a politician’s portrait on a medal without having to obtain his permission. Such a proviso exists for no other group of people. It is an invasion of their private rights (and if they are a celebrity they will demand a royalty for doing so). I guess politicians feel the more exposure the better.

A search of Medallic Art Company’s archive of medals reveals ten with a Democrat as either the name of the client or the name of the medal. This contrasts to 58 with a Republican name. These are mostly for the national committee, occasionally for a state committee (one Democrat, three Republican), or even a local committee. The purposes of these medals are widespread – inaugurations, fundraising, conventions, and such in addition to outright campaign medals.

I do not believe the political party disparity is due to any bias in the firms officer’s or salesmen’s political beliefs. Since it is their business to strike medals for any client, their own personal politics should not apply. It is apparent, however, Republicans are far more likely to issue a medal than Democrats for any kind of event.

Campaign Medal Confusion

Just to make things interesting there are two kinds of campaign medals in the numismatic field. Political campaign medals, just described, and military campaign medals. The later are issued to military service personal who serve in a military or naval campaign. They are hung from ribbon drapes and intended to be worn on a uniform. They are collected by members of the Orders and Medals Society and will be the subject of a different article later on.

J.F. Kennedy Presidential Inaugural Medal

J.F. Kennedy Presidential Inaugural Medal

Presidential Inaugural Medals

Medallic Art Company dominated the issuing of presidential inaugural medals for three decades. These are the pinnacle of the political medal spectrum and a prize piece of medal business. This series is so important it likewise deserves a separate article all their own. There are three books on the subject, one of which was published (by the author) as a collectors’ guide.

1 The word “muled” is used to describe a coin or medal that is minted from two dies that were not originally intended to be struck onto obverse and reverse of the same medal.

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The medal “Inspiration” was originally issued in 1974 and in many ways was a noteworthy first. This press release was obtained after a dear reader wanted to know more about the medallion.


Silver Issue Number One Presented to ANA Museum

Bal Harbour, Fla., August 16—”Inspiration,” the first fine art medal struck in America that opens up to reveal two additional surfaces inside—in effect America’s first multiple part medal—was exhibited to the collecting public today at the convention of the American Numismatic Association meeting here this week at the Americana Hotel.

The 2 1/4-inch medal is the creation of Frank Eliscu, a Connecticut sculptor, and is issued by Medallic Art Company of Danbury. The innovative work features the mythological horse Pegasus, symbol of inspiration.

Inspiration Medal Obverse

Inspiration Medal Obverse

Pegasus is shown on the obverse being released from the hand of God; the two inside surfaces show Man capturing Inspiration; and the reverse shows Man and Inspiration in harmony. The unusual medal breaks apart to reveal the two inner surfaces, convex and concave images of the same design.

This novel work of art is struck in both bronze and silver. William T. Louth, president of Medallic Art, will present serial number one of the silver version to the American Numismatic Association.

In a ceremony planned to be held Saturday, August 17th, during the awards presentation, Virginia Culver, president of the national collectors’ organization, will accept the unique silver two-part medal for the organization’s numismatic museum in Colorado Springs.

Inspiration Medal Reverse

Inspiration Medal Reverse

As a work of art, sculptor Eliscu was required to prepare three models—the two inner surfaces were made from the same bas-relief pattern—and to provide an interlocking rim design for the interface surfaces. He solved this design problem by creating a ring of flames, symbolizing earth, for the convex and concave surfaces.

This ring of flames design, no two of which are alike, ingeniously permits the two halves to be put back together only one way. Thus the medal breaks apart to reveal the inside designs and easily fits back together as a complete unit.

Much of the charm of the medal is, indeed, opening it up to examine the inner design and fitting it back together. The medal is made to sustain examination over many years; its finish is such that its four surfaces are protected and will not mar despite this handling.

Inspiration Medal Raised Interior

Inspiration Medal Raised Interior

Creating an innovative medal such as this one came easy to artist Frank Eliscu. Not only is he an accomplished sculptor, author, and teacher, but also a craftsman in many media—crystal, wax, slate, clay—and an authority on casting bronze. In fact, he has written textbooks on most of these subjects.

As a young boy Eliscu modeled figures using candles softened in hot water. He studied at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, Pratt Institute, and under sculptor Rudolph Evans. With maturing study, increasing recognition and a growing list of commissions, came the development of a highly individualized technique which has remained with the artist during an active career.

Among his commissions include slate carvings, sculpture in the round, and heroic reliefs, all in distinctive Eliscu style. These are complemented by a number of well executed medals, notably a Society of Medalists issue, the Architectural League of New York Collaborative Medal, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica Bicentennial Medal.

Inspiration Medal Recessed Interior

Inspiration Medal Recessed Interior

His art works include “Atoms for Peace,” a 16-foot heroic bronze figure at Ventura, California, the “Shark Diver,” an undersea fantasy, also in bronze, for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, and “Slate Horses,” for the Bankers Trust Building in New York City.

He has had exhibitions in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and elsewhere. His work is widely represented in private collections and museums.

He has been much awarded, including the Bennet Prize for sculpture, National Sculpture Society prize, Henry Hering award, and others. He is a fellow of the National Sculpture Society of which he is a past president, an associate of the National Academy of Design, and a member of the Architectural League of New York.

Eliscu’s sculptural forms are, as one art curator once said, “Lean forms in action, wrought with sharp detail to give an impression of wiry strength and nervous energy.” This is certainly true in this innovative medal. Innovation and creativity are nothing new to Medallic Art Company. It has many firsts to its credit, including importing the first Janvier pantograph into America. This machine is credited with the finest reductions of sculptors’ models while it simultaneously cuts a die. Previously dies were all handcut, or only a portion—as a portrait—was reduced from a sculptor’s model. Medallic Art Company struck the first private medal series produced in America, the Circle of the Friends of the Medallion; the first medal with raised lettering on the edge from engraved collars.

The firm produced the first medal with a moving part, that of a magnet, for General Electric’s dedication of its West Milton, New York, atomic plant in 1955. It produced the first medal with a Braille inscription: a fine art medal for the Library of Congress Division of the Blind, the Francis Joseph Campbell Medal, 1966, by Bruce Moore.

The 70-year-old firm also produced the first bimetal medal—with a clad strip of silver on a bronze base—for the 1967 centennial of Handy & Harmon, the precious metal dealers.

It produced the first high relief proof surface medal in 1968 and the first collectors’ plate to be made by bas-relief medallic process.

So, innovation is not new to the Medallic Art Company. It has produced the first multi-part medal similar to several from Europe, the earliest known was “Jonah in the Whale” by French medallist Rene Quillivic.

With the creation of a new product often comes new terminology. D. Wayne Johnson, who wrote the leaflet which accompanies the “Inspiration” two-part medal, states that a study of names was undertaken for the new Medal and the kind of medallic item it is.

A member of the A.N.A. Terms and Standardization Committee, Mr. Johnson said “‘Two-part’ is the shortest term used by those employees of the medal manufacturing firm, along with ‘inspiration’—its name as a work of art.

“But ‘two-part’ implies correctly there are only two components. What if the next creation were of three, or more, parts? And one far-thinking client has already explored having Medallic Art produce a 12-component item.

“Therefore the best overall term must take into consideration these multiple parts. The best term, then, for medallic items of more than one equal components is ‘multi-part’ and ‘two-part’ for those which, of course, have two parts.”

“Inspiration,” America’s first multi-part medal went on sale at the American Numismatic Association convention today. In addition to a bronze variety, at $15, the silver version—which weighs eight ounces of 999 fine silver—at $120, there is also a half-bronze and half-silver version. This sells for $60.

The medals are all serially numbered, in fact twice, once on each part of the medal.

Inspiration Medal Serial Number

Inspiration Medal Serial Number

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