Once medal dies are made, they are rather permanent. They last a long time. And once the initial issue of medals are struck from those dies there is always the possibility those same dies can be used to strike again. This is a decided advantage for award medals. But it may a disadvantage for other dies, as their very existence creates invitations to be struck at some later time.
There is a vast terminology for the reuse of dies. It involves several factors that determine the exact term. Factors such as authority, legality, type of manufacture, and intent of the issuer all bear consideration. Here are the six most used terms for reusing dies:
- Reissue. A second or repeated issue, after a lapse of time, by an authorized issuer, struck from original dies, and with only a slight change, if any, in form or price.
- Restrike. A numismatic item struck from original dies but at a later time than the original issue – coins struck in a year later than the date they bear, medals struck after an interval of time and regular issuing has ceased.
- Replica. A copy of a numismatic or medallic item, similar to but differing somewhat from the original piece.
- Reproduction. A copy of a medallic item made with or without authority from new models and dies or in a different media or composition, usually in poorer quality than the original item.
- Revision. A second or subsequent design replacing a prior design not considered satisfactory for further reproduction.
- Reworked. A die, design or model in which additional touching up is done after it has once been used or accepted.
The permanency of dies is exhibited by the fact some 400-year old dies of Papal medals have been resurrected to be used anew to strike fresh medals. Old dies tend to become brittle so care must be taken in their reuse. Also, old dies often exhibit sinking – the preferred term is sunken die since it happened in the past – where the striking surface becomes compacted, recessed, and uneven from long use.
Papal medals often exhibit these domed, uneven surfaces because they are struck over long periods of time. They are in demand to chronicle Papal portraits from centuries in the past.
The Paris Mint apparently never discards a die. It still has some that were created in the 1400s. It stores these on heavy mobile shelving that move on tracks like railroad tracks.
On occasion it has restruck selected early dies from their die vault for a series it calls “original dies” through their Le Club Francais de Medaille. Dies as early as mid 1600s have been struck obverse and reverse side-by-side in soft tin rectangular plates. Each piece is serially numbered in a series limited to 300 such strikes.
The soft tin is capable of obtaining an impression from the old and brittle dies, without fear of breaking. However, the tin is not a medium for creating permanent specimens. The tin is so soft a fingernail will dent it deeply; extreme care must be exercised in handling these pieces as anything heavier than a paper clip dropped on them – or dropping the item itself – will damage it extensively.
In normal custom the Paris Mint encourages world medallic artists to submit models in which it selects those to issue in medallic form. These are kept “in stock” and restruck whenever the previous press run has been exhausted. Only in the last decade have then added the actual year it was struck on the edge. But the term “Paris Mint restrike” is rampant among collectors of Paris Mint medals.
The disposition of dies is a major problem whenever a medal maker goes out of business or wishes to downsize. The present writer has been involved in several of these.
August C. Frank Company. This medallic firm in Philadelphia, founded 1894, was purchased by Don Schwartz September 11, 1972. The third generation owners wanted to keep part of the business (sprinkler manufacturing) but wanted to sell off the medal business. Schwartz contracted for the shipment of all the dies to Medallic Art’s plant in Danbury.
The trucker emptied all the dies into 55-gallon drums and loaded these on his flat bed truck. He finished on a Friday and delivered the shipment on Monday. Unfortunately it snowed over the weekend. The open drums were filled with snow which melted and the drums contained water in addition to the metal dies.
I had the chore to inventory the dies. Fortunately, Medallic Art hired a retired August Frank employee, William Neithercott, to assist me. We commandeered the heat treating department, dumped out the water-soaked dies on the floor and picked up rusted dies, brushing off the rust until we could identify the design on the dies. We placed similar dies in cardboard boxes, until we could match obverse and reverse. We filled hundreds of cardboard boxes, mostly labeled with topical subjects of the die’s design.
[Contact with an old-time August Frank employee did have some benefit. I interviewed him on several occasions to learn some interesting technology. One of which was how the Philadelphia Mint (and medal makers in Philadelphia) applied a patina to a medal to obtain the famed “mahogany finish” of the 19th century This was published in Robert Julian’s book, Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century, page 35-36 in the Introduction.]
Note: Mahogany Finish is a double-heating process that was employed by the United States Mint and private medal makers in the Philadelphia area in the last half of the 19th century. It provided a deep, dark patina finish which ranged from chocolate brown to red-brown, It resembled mahogany wood, hence the name. To create such a desired color a medal was heated until cherry red, picked out of the fire with tongs, doused in cotton-seed oil, then covered with powdered red lead, which adhered to both sides. It was placed back in the fire for a second time for a prescribed time reaching the color desired.
Greenduck Company. This Chicago firm, founded 1906, got its name from its two founders, George G. Greenburg (formerly with Childs & Company) and Harvey Ducgheisel, choosing the name Greenduck as the first syllable of these two men’s last names, intending it to be one word. However so many people used it as two words, it was adopted as two words by the company as well (date unknown).
William U. Watson, president, sold the company in 1962 to ERO Industries, Birmingham, England, which moved it from Chicago to Hernando, Mississippi. It was sold again in 1976 to Memphis businessman Elliot Sklar. Even after introducing new products, as casino tokens and Mardi Gras doubloons, the firm could not sustain further operations and went out of business 2004.
In the mid 1980s an agent of the firm contacted me. They wanted to dispose of a large segment of their dies. I devised a plan, submitted it to them, but the management took no action.
My plan was based to two premises: Every collector should own at least one pair of dies – to understand how coins and medals are made – and everyone who owns a die wants it struck in new items, often in a number of compositions.
I suggested offering selected sets of dies, at auction, with the proviso of having a small number, say no more than 20, of certain soft metal compositions up to maybe bronze. But never in the same composition of what it was originally issued. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the original issue whatever composition in which it was struck – I did not want to replicate existing specimens.
I assume the dies were scrapped when the firm went out of business in 2004.
The concept of copies – using existing dies or making new ones – is always suspicious. The intent is most important. Also to be considered is authorization, quality of workmanship, and how the copies are made: cast, struck, electrotype, or other. Below are listed 13 different kinds of copies, arranged somewhat in order of legality.
Deluxe Copy – Made with authority for sale to the recipient only in better materials or workmanship than the original (as a decoration prepared in a more precious metal – it was issued in silver, but the recipient may order it made in gold at his own expense).
Custom Copy – Made with authority for sale as a second or subsequent
copy (say for a second uniform) or to replace a lost original, or other official use; a custom order usually of one made by original maker and dies. Called replacement medal or sometimes jeweler’s copy.
Reissue – Copy made with authority after lapse of time without change from original issue and reuse of original dies to strike a new piece or a new production run.
Revision – Copy made with authority and with a change of design no matter how minute, requiring retooling the original dies or creating entirely new copy dies. Such change might be a new date, new logo, change of sponsor’s name, correct a design error, or similar reason.
Replica – Made with authority where a major portion of the previous design
is used to make a new coin or medal. Replication is the most common form of copy making. No unauthorized use here, and new dies or molds are used to make the new issue.
Collectors’ Copy – Made with authority for sales primarily to collectors or public; these copies are usually electrotypes (as copies sold by museums of specimens in their collections).
Reproduction – Made without authority and reproduced in a new model or composition. A large gray area of legality.
Facsimile – Copy without authority, closely resembling the original and made by any method, as costume jewelry medals.
Private Copy – Made without authority for private use; these copies are usually cast in plaster or metal and if sold may be questionable status (study copies cast in plaster for scientific or scholarly study are certainly legal; private metal copies in off metal are a gray area, but copies the same as the original are outright forgeries).
Imitation – Copy made without authority and technically not illegal; usually of poor quality, or a souvenir status (to be given away), or play money (as child’s play copies, or play coins).
Restrike – Copy made without authority from original dies at a later date (and often in deteriorated state, as struck from cracked or rusted dies).
Forgery – Copy made without authority and with intent to deceive.
Counterfeit – Copy made without authority and with intent to deceive and defraud both collectors and the public. Fake and spurious also denote a counterfeit status.
Study copies mentioned above have long history in the numismatic field. Copies made in plaster-of-Paris have been made by collectors and by museums. The American Numismatic Society formerly had a lady employee who made these for anyone for a fee. It is like a photograph, but in three dimensions. The British Museum employed one family – the Readys – who made electrotype copies of objects in their collections including rare coins, cast in copper! Over two generations, father and sons made more than 20,000 such copies.
Modern problems. The big problem today are copies from China. There are hundreds of such small manufacturers of copies in China, usually of coins with a value over $100. They make copy dies and use high grade metal to match existing coins. The quality is so close to originals that it is affecting the entire coin field.
In 1973 I found a belt-buckle at a flea market with an exact design from one of the Society of Medalists issues. It was made by the Bergamot Brass Works as I recall. I showed it to Bill Louth who wrote the company and stated that was a copyrighted design and the property of Medallic Art. The firm responded they had overlooked the copyright mark, and agreed to destroy the mold and all existing castings. Problem solved.
For medals, copies are not that severe a problem. At least not yet. In handling perhaps a quarter million medals over the last 60 years I estimate I have experienced less than ten serious medal copies. Most of these were copies of Inaugural Medals, one of Olympic medals, and one of the Society of Medalists designs made into a belt buckle.
For the web site of Medal Collectors of America I stated: “Fakes and copies [of medals] do exist, just as in coins. Copies of coins are made by crooks. Copies of medals are often made by museums for serious numismatists to study.”