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Archive for October, 2011

Lumping art medals in with tokens and the multitude forms of tokeniana was never a good fit in the first place. I know how it came about and the reason why all forms of non-coin diestruck pieces are called “exonumia.”

But I believe it is now time to undo the connection between the two fields. There are a multitude of reasons for such a separation, both technical and commercial. To support this proposal I will examine the characteristics of each, list my reasons to part ways, and offer the reader a pledge in this editorial appeal to disconnect the two, to change a very large segment of established numismatics.

While I would like to see Art Medals divorced from all other forms of numismatic collectibles under the collective umbrella of “exonumia,” I recognize the problem is akin to separating Siamese twins. Tokens and medals go together like bread and butter, Laurel and Hardy, night and day.

The problem is with the word “medals.”

The problem is not with the word “tokens,”  but rather “medals.” The word medal has changed meaning and has been misused for nearly a thousand years. I wish it had a finite definition, like dynamite, and would have remained that precise meaning for all time. But such is not the case.

A form of medal – medallion – first meant a trophy brought back from the Roman wars carried on a staff above the heads of the victorious warriors. In 1438 Pisanello (Antonio Pisano, 1397?-?1455) created a small metal relief portrait object to be hung around the neck like a pendant. His cast object was soon called a medal. (Later Pisanello earned the title, Father of the Art Medal.)

Royal families in Europe liked Pisanello’s relief medals so well they commissioned other artists to copy Pisanello’s format. These families exchanged such family portrait medals with other royals like we exchange family photographs today. A handful of Renaissance artists kept busy fashioning such portrait medals for royal families and wealthy merchants who imitated royal princes.

Later the term meant obsolete coins. British author, poet, man of letters and member of Parliament, Joseph Addison (1672-1719), wrote a book – Dialogues on the Usefulness of Ancient Medals – that was on ancient coins. (To their discredit librarians have assigned it a Dewey decimal number under medals not coins!)

Worst of all perhaps, today unknowledgeable people use the term medallion for just about any form of medal (when it means a large medal). Current usage has so further corrupted, transformed and misused medals in so many forms the word today does not have a clear meaning at all. Just click on Views in Google, type in Medal and see what comes on screen. The result turns my numismatic stomach.

I hold the word medal in high regard, having a decade of hands-on experience working in a medal plant in the 1960s-70s where I was trained in medalmaking. I learned the extent to which craftsmen must perform their tasks with great skill and devotion to fashion the finest art medals. I was trained to appreciate these manufactured products as art objects.

The experience brought me in contact with a vast archive of the finest 20th century art medals. I had to catalog these art medals and I was exposed to a cadre of modern American medalists, the sculptor-artists who created these miniature works of art with their bas-relief models from which these medals were made. My medallic education was not complete until I learned to appreciate both art medals and the artists – the medalists – who created them.

Just what is an art medal? Working with William Louth, president of Medallic Art Company, together we formulated a definition that took us months to put into words (I wrote of this experience in a previous article published in TAMS Journal, September/October 2011):

Art medals are medallic works of art, ranging in size generally from two to ten inches; they must be reproducible – by casting, striking, or other metalworking techniques – but one important thing they are not:  They are not struck on coining presses.

Token-Medal marriage and the birth of the private mint.

With medal the elder of the two terms, medals became joined at the hip with tokens when a coin shortage in England caused enterprising Birmingham metalworkers in somewhat of a cottage industry to carve dies and strike British penny-size discs.

Hard-pressed merchants employed these tokens bearing the name or nature of their business to make change. Endless varieties of these homemade coin substitutes exist as the demand by merchants spread throughout the English commercial nation.

An Ipswich businessman and part-time minister, Reverend James Conder (1763-1823), began collecting these and cataloged them. They became known as Condor tokens. The minister joined the two terms forever in the title of his catalog, An Arrangement of Provincial Coins, Tokens and Medalets, first published in 1798. Tokens and medals as a compound term have been married ever since.

Boulton Portrait

Boulton Portrait

Birmingham also became famous in the numismatic field, not only for the term “Birmingham minters” which was a pejorative for false coin, but very much so for the birth of the private mint. It was Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), who established his Soho Mint in Birmingham in 1789. Numismatists owe their most esteemed gratitude to Boulton for he did more to advance numismatics – coins, tokens and medals – than any other living soul.

Boulton’s contribution to numismatics.

Matthew Boulton had inherited, at age 29, a metalworking factory from his father. Boulton joined forces with James Watt (1736-1819) who had invented and patented the steam engine. Boulton built a separate factory (1775) to manufacture Watt’s steam engines. He then proceeded to seek new ways to use – and new products to create – using these steam engines. An early product was buttons, this lead to his desire to strike coins.

He build coining presses, based on the screw press in use at the time, powered by Watt’s steam engines. These were so successful they enabled him to obtain his first coinage contract (1786).  In effect he established the first private mint, the Soho Mint (1789). Boulton hired accomplished engravers, first Jean-Pierre Droz (1789), then Conrad Heinrich Kuchler (1793); he won a British coining patent (1790), and struck Britain’s cartwheel copper coinage (1797).

His employment of Swiss die engraver and engineer Jean-Pierre Droz (1746-1823), enticing him away from the Paris Mint, was an inspired move for many reasons. Droz not only prepared dies, but also improved equipment, created new coining methods and processes. Only one of which was edge thickening of blanks, which the British called “rimming” (but Americans call “upsetting”), necessary for automatic feeding of blanks at the time (which Droz and Philippe Gengembre had invented back at the Paris Mint in 1783) and for high speed coining later on.

Droz inspired Boulton and Watt as what could be done at a private mint, not only to be able to strike coins and tokens, but also large size medals. Droz created the Battle of Trafalgar Medal bearing Lord Nelson’s portrait which Boulton gave to each of the military officers (with edge lettering made by a segmented collar mechanism, virole brisée, invented by Droz). Droz became, in effect, not only the first factory artist in the coin and medal field, but also minting technology’s most ingenious engineer.

Boulton’s development of the steam engine and his metalworking factories – including the Soho Mint – was to make him a leader in the Industrial Revolution.  His innovations at the Soho Mint, aided by Droz and Watt’s help, led to improvements at every step of coin and medal manufacture, from die engraving, to hubbing, to blank preparation, to striking.

Not only did Boulton strike coins – and make the equipment to manufacture them – he also sold that equipment to national mints, even setting up complete mints in Spain, Denmark and Russia. It can be said, without question, that Matthew Boulton was the Father of the Private Mint.

Boulton spurned many offers to make tokens like those coin substitutes his fellow Birminghamers struck off in their cottages. Instead he advanced minting technology, and when he issued medals, they were the finest his advanced technology could produce. He recognized, at this early stage, medals – particularly high relief art medals – were different and should be respected more so than native tokens.

The need for a non-coin term.

The term “exonumia” was coined in 1960 by numismatist Russ Rulau. He was seeking a term to cover all the items numismatists might collect that are not coins. At that time a new organization was being established just for the collectors of these non-coin numismatic items.

At first, it was planned to include paper money, but this class of numismatic collectibles was quickly spun off; paper money collectors ultimately formed their own specialized organization. Everyone then recognized that paper money did not fit with what the organizers had in mind, the tokens and medals that were to be the prime interest of the new organization.

The organizational meeting was held during the 1960 Atlanta American Numismatic Association convention (at Atlanta coin dealer Blaise Dantone’s home, who had invited all numismatic notables for a pre-convention gathering). I was there and observed the proceedings. Choosing a name was one of the first items of discussion.

Should the new organization be called Tokens and Medals or Medals and Tokens?  Numismatist Eric Newman spoke up at the meeting noting the inevitable use of initials for the organization’s name. He said: “TAMS are what you put on your head, MATS are what you step on.” So tokens took top billing.

Russ Rulau reasoned he wanted a single word to apply to this class of collectibles, and their adherents, even if he had to coin a new word. He chose exo- a prefix meaning from or outside of, and numia, meaning money or coins. The person, therefore, would be an exonumatist.

At the time I was editor of Coin World, where I took a slightly different view of exo- plus numia. To me it meant outside of numismatics. I said so in a Coin World editorial, critical of the term.

Time has been kind to Russ’s coined word, however – it has been accepted by numismatists, included in Webster’s dictionary, and even widespread use on the internet (including Wikipedia). He has had the last laugh over my original criticism (and he doesn’t let me forget it!).

But more to the point, in the intervening five decades, the Token And Medal Society has concentrated more on tokens than on medals. The pages of its journal – and the books it has published – have weighed for heavier on the token side of the scale than on is companion medal side (with one major exception: Bob Julian’s Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century).

The distance between the two fields was evident when, in 1998,

a new organization was established for medal collectors alone, Medal Collectors of America. This was intended to fill the niche, the void, that the medal field was not adequately covered by any national specialized collectors’ organization.

Medal collectors adopt a new organization.

Collectors of medals, particularly art medals, embraced the new organization and it has prospered. It now has its own monthly organ, MCA Advisory, still somewhat slim and devoid of advertising, but the content is strictly medal oriented. No tokens are to be seen.

This brings us to the point: Just what are the differences between the two similar collectibles? Mostly they are both struck from dies, but differ in their use and intent. Tokens have a value, expressed or implied, intended to serve a local area, in effect, a substitute for coins. Granted, some of their expressed value is in merchandise or services – good for a loaf of bread or some service. Collectors call these “good fors.”

Medals have no expressed value. They are not substitutes for coins – despite the fact they sometimes look like coins, made of the same metal compositions, and are often struck on the same presses.

Frequently they are struck at the same national mints that create coins, or at private mints. Medals serve a commemorative, historical, or award purpose. Or, they are medallic items of art – miniature works of art as art medals.

In that article, mentioned before, I explained this difference between art medals and token medals in an attempt to develop a definition of art medals. The difference I learned – after months of careful determination – was the press on which they are struck. Token medals are struck on a coining press, art medals require a far more sturdy press, of greater pressure, and often of multiple striking.

Art medals differ from other medals and all tokens.

It is this later class of medals I would like to single out, to separate from the class of single-struck tokens and token-like medals struck on coining presses. It can be stated, the field of medals is so large that it covers a broad spectrum. Also medals have been manufactured by every production method possible. In addition to being die-struck – on every type of press – to casting, by every method of casting, to hand engraved, and even by photoetched and drop hammer metalworking technology.

There are medals struck on coining presses. So-Called Dollars fall into this category. They can remain in the category of exonumia. I wish to distinguish the art medals – those that are multiple struck, of higher relief, and given a finish or patina – those of somewhat greater substance from these single struck, lower relief medals.

The adjacent chart lists the differences of the two classes, but of more importance is the preparation of the dies. Token dies are often of simple design, sometimes of lettering alone. Medal dies are of more complex design, with devices and symbols, often with portraits, in addition to the required lettering, requiring far more preparation, far more artistic content.

Token dies require little planning and brief execution. A competent diesinker can make a token die in a few hour’s time. With simple equipment as letter punches, or more elaborate equipment, as machine milling pantographs – a Gorton or a Datron – a diesinker can even make a pictorial die in a morning’s time.

An adequately equipped toolroom located in any metalworking shop can make a token die. In fact thousands of token dies were made in America by rubber stamp firms in the 19th and 20th centuries with the simple equipment they possessed.

This was subordinated even further by the “stamp and stencil” firms who made what they called “medals” embossed on one side only on thin sheet metal. (Schwaab Stamp & Stencil in Milwaukee made such medal badges for two dozen U.S. state delegates to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892.)

Medal dies differ from token dies.

By contrast, medal dies require far more planning and execution. It is not unusual for a medallic artist to mull over in his mind a proposed medal design for weeks, often while doing other work, before he even attempts an initial sketch.

The artist imagines what he wants the finished surface to contain, images, symbols, lettering with emphasis on the main device. At the sketch stage he may modify the design over and over until he sketches an outline – called a cartoon – of what he will render into glyptic form later.

One seasoned medallic sculptor, Albino Manca, prepared over one hundred sketches for a proposed medal for the Museum of the City of New York 50th anniversary. Often the element of symbolism on a medallic item is of supreme importance. Not only must a medal design be pictorial, it must be significant in its symbolic meaning, appropriate to the subject at hand.

So the medallic artist has the freedom of unlimited images he may try out – in his mind or on paper – before he accepts one he is most comfortable with. He modifies and polishes the images until he is satisfied. Then he renders the sketch into bas-relief form by modelling, either in clay, or wax, or plaster, or more recently, on the computer. It is in the modeling stage the artist can add detail and texture to his images – this is what gives medals their charm!

From this oversized fixed image a hard-surface pattern is made (formerly in metal, more recently in epoxy). This pattern is mounted on a reducing machine – the best is the Janvier – on which the die is cut to the required size. This amazing process renders the modulated relief in that metal pattern with supreme exactitude while simultaneously cutting cavities in the steel die in reduced size to form the images to be stamped into metal blanks.

Token makers seldom employ this artistic effort or employ the luxury of detailed relief charm found on art medals. I can think of only one or two tokens that were modeled oversize and reduced. Thus the difference between tokens and medals is evident in stark contrast.

For all these reasons, the author proposes the field of art medals should be separated from the field of token interest. Since the field of tokens – and their related collectibles – is now so closely connected to the term exonumia, the only path seems for art medals to go it alone, to distance the art medal field from the exonumia field.

Strong reasons to separate the two fields.

But the differences in design, die preparation – and the press on which they are struck – are not the only reasons to single out art medals from the multitude of exonumia items. They differ in other characteristics and physical appearances as well – most obvious of all, by the finish or patina applied to the medal after it is completely struck up.

Art medals – like bronze statues – are clothed in one of many patinas which add color, protection and further significance to the total work of art. Tokens, on the other hand, have no applied finish, their two surfaces, both obverse and reverse, are left to tone naturally.

Some writers have attempted to make size a diagnostic of the two numismatic forms. Art medals – as stated in its definition mentioned above – are, generally, more than two inches diameter; token medals are, generally, less than two inches. But these are not hard rules. Both kinds can exceed these boundaries.

Every collector in the numismatic field, it seems, knows art medals differ from token-like medals. But for the last fifty years collectors have kept both types in the same family, in the same company of each other.  They collect both kinds, as they should, often within the same topical or specialized collection.

Therefore, I proposed the field of art medals be a separate field unto itself, divorced and no longer be lumped in with all the items of exonumia. I do not propose that any collector limit what he collects, I could never presume to do that. Every collector chooses his own topic, collect both, collect all in one topic, several topics, or whatever.

But please consider this proposal: Whereas, art medals are in a class unto themselves based on every aspect of their existence – how they are made, their artistic content, the status of their creators – they rise above most exonumia objects.  If that is considered elitist by some collectors, so be it. Even if art medals are not considered a class above token-medals, they should be considered in a class by themselves.

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How are medals “used?”  A question often asked by clients inquiring about a medal award program for the first time. The answer is “They don’t have to be utilitarian. They are miniature works of art that symbolize the recognition an organization has chosen to bestow on a deserving individual.”

“It’s like a painting you put on a wall. Most often a medal is in a case the recipient can open and display as on his mantle, or closed and put in a safe deposit box. It is that valuable to the recipient. A medal is a permanent, artistic, documentary evidence of that person’s achievement. He will venerate it for his lifetime – it should be the highest quality and the most artistic the bestowing organization can afford.”

That statement should be embedded in every medallic art salesman’s repertoire. He will use it often.

He should also embed in his mind the most important maxim in the recognition world:

Give a person a medal, give an organization a plaque.  

Medals are viewed close up and personal. Plaques are viewed on a wall, to be seen by many. Unfortunately, this rule has been so neglected over the years – often by organizations facing an award program that is new to them — that the form of the award has become indistinct. They are not aware of the subtle qualities and applications of each form.

Pulitzer Prize in Bronze

Pulitzer Prize in Bronze

Case in point. The Waterbury, Connecticut newspaper, the Republican-American, in 1936 won the Putlizer Gold Medal for a series of articles on labor strife in that town. What does a newspaper do with a medal? It usually resides in the Publisher’s office until he realizes the inherent value of a gold medal and consigns it to a safe-deposit box, where it resides, unseen, for years.

How much better would it have been as a plaque to be placed on a trophy wall, perhaps with other awards won along the way by that organization.

But the enterprising Waterbury publisher ordered Medallic Art Company to make oversize relief plaques. That’s exactly what it did from the artist’s original patterns, making exact replicas of their gold medal cast as galvano reliefs and given a permanent patina finish like the bronze work of art that it is.

The publisher had the galvano reliefs mounted on the wall of the building’s vestibule where everyone entering the building would see them. That’s how a medal should be displayed by an organization!

The scope of award medals is so large that this form alone occupies the major production of Medallic Art Company. There are two types of organizations that dispense the greatest number of award medals – non profit or trade organizations and educational organizations, colleges and universities.

Medals are bestowed to individuals to recognize some activity the organizations desires to encourage. It is a trait familiar to every mother. You encourage good behavior in children and punish bad behavior. Bestowing medals is a form of encouraging good, or outstanding, or exceptional behavior.

George Washington Peace Medal

George Washington Peace Medal

In America, colonists recognized this trait early on. Americans bestowed Indian Peace Medals – silver oval medals with the Great White Father George Washington’s portrait – to Indian chiefs to instill peaceful coexistence with white settlers.

This became so popular and so widespread, that medals of a lesser size were required for chiefs of lesser status. Big chiefs got the biggest medals. Ultimately the U.S. Mint was required to strike medals in three sizes to accommodate all the tribal chiefs.

Early American award medals. Our country’s first award medals were called a Premium. The word, first used in England in 1601, originally meant a reward or prize (before it took on monetary or insurance meanings). It’s an obscure term today.

It was thought the British would have been the first to apply the term to award medals, but the earliest known such medal is the Magellanic Award of the American Philosophical Society – named after Magellan the explorer and established in 1786 – it was originally called the Magellanic Premium.

Also medals established in both countries at the same time bear this out. Count von Rumford (an American-born scientist, Sir Benjamin Thompson, 1753-1814, a physicist who investigated heat and was knighted by George III) established in 1796 the Rumford Prize Medal in England at the Royal Society of London and the Rumford Premium in America at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

(The British medal did not bear the word “premium,” the American medal did until 1839. It was renamed when it was engraved by Moritz Furst to be struck at the U.S. Mint; its legend reads: RUMFORD MEDAL FOR DISCOVERIES IN LIGHT OR HEAT.)

Another medal bearing the name “premium” was the Scott Premium of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, established early 19th century but unused after mid-19th century. Few medal programs survive from this period until today and none retain the term “premium” in their name, hence the present obscurity of the term.

Prize medals are another form of award medals.  Medallic items are also used as awards in a contest, race or game where there is competitive action and more than one contestant. (A medal awarded without competitive action to one recipient only is called a recognition.)

Bestowing a medal as a prize is as old as the Roman games, and has continued throughout the civilized world for thousands of years taking on other, often more gaudy forms, such as trophies, cups, bowls, sashes, belts and such.

Prize medals have earned a number of names, including: Victory Medal (first or most victorious), Grand Prix (chief prize), and others such as the Grand Prix de Paris (a horse race since 1863), and Grand Prix de Rome (a French government art prize to study in Rome).

While the Olympics have awarded Olympic medals since their modern inception in 1896 – and what is more vivid than the top three winners in Olympic games receiving medals on neck ribbons on three stair steps – these are at the top of the food chain.

The great proliferation of sporting events in the last century has led to a deterioration of the quality of sports awards medals. A trophy industry has arisen with such completion that current sports medals can be obtained for less than a dollar each.

Previous Medallic Art Company management eschewed this portion of the medal business. They felt this class of medals was beneath the dignity and integrity that MACO wished to maintain.

Medal rank.  Money, certificates and privileges often accompany better award medals as prizes. Occasionally a number of prize medals are awarded at one time (as in a race, for first, second, third, etc. place). Several systems of medal rank have evolved; the most obvious are gold, silver and bronze, in that order. Recall the Olympic medals?

Others struck in select compositions are:

  1. platinum
  2. gold
  3. vermeil
  4. silver
  5. bronze gilt
  6. silverplate
  7. bronze
  8. white metal.

With two sizes of dies in three compositions:

  1. large gold
  2. small gold
  3. any vermeil
  4. large silver
  5. small silver
  6. any bronze

At the bottom of the list are satire medals struck in tin and lead in metal rank as the last place medal (struck in lead) and next to last (struck in tin).

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Amid a cascade of publicity and fanfare, the U.S. Mint released their latest medal issued on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the attack on, and destruction of, New York’s World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. The low relief medal is more coin-like than medal-like.

As desired, it received widespread notice in both the mainstream press and the numismatic press. Response has been supportive, comments have been favorable and sales, I hear, have been brisk. The design, notably, is at a level above what we have been accustomed of seeing on usual U.S. Mint products.

The design, however, is more graphic than glyptic. It was presented to the Mint authorities, and the required vetting committees, as a drawing, as graphic art. Illustrations in the press were of this two-dimensional drawing and its appeal was built on this rather stunning graphic rendering.

But great graphic art does not guarantee a great medal design.

The difference is that third dimension. Or as some say while graphic art is two dimensions, bas-relief, required for coins and medals, is two-and-a-half dimensions. It is not full three dimensions because that third dimension must rise from a flat background.

Always Remember US Mint New Medal Obverse

Always Remember US Mint New Medal Obverse

Obverse design is distinctive, Lady Liberty holding aloft a lamp, what the Mint’s release calls a Lamp of Remembrance. The legend above (in shadowed lettering on the drawing) is strong and succinct. Perhaps even reflective of “Remember the Alamo” – a motto embedded in American history. Could this have been better stated as ALWAYS REMEMBER SEPTEMBER 11TH  along with the year dates?

The handsome Lady Liberty is well designed, with perfect facial features. Her crown of laurel leaves was an inspired touch of charm. The hair, however, is too coarse, like spaghetti. I hear a seasoned medallic artist of two generations ago ringing denouncement in my mind. “Its like a bowl of spaghetti dropped on the subject’s head.” A statement he oft repeated to his student sculptors.

The twin panels were a perceptively inspired design motif. The panels are separated by textured surface indicated by clear fields of the strong vertical elements. The italic words in that sentence are the true medallic terms to describe the background of this piece.

The two vertical panels are indicative of the twin beacons of light, installed at the sight where the Twin Towers stood, according to the Mint’s description. Unstated, but in everyone’s mind, the twin panels are of distinctive connotative symbols of the Twin Towers. What’s an exceptional design!

The three buttons on the subject’s sleeve are ideal. That earns a gold star. But the number of pleats in the subjects skirt below the bodice are too numerous. It breaks the Rule of Three that the designer so wisely employed for the number of buttons. More than three of any repetitive element in medallic design becomes uncomfortable to the viewer’s eye. More than five and its boring! Too much of a good thing.

Since viewing a coin or medal is so concentrated, we are looking at an art object less than two inches in diameter, such design must be extensively compressed while being minimized. The design must tell a story in very limited space! Yet the viewer’s eyes seek detail – and this can even be extensive detail – on the device as long as it supports the theme’s structure.

Most coins are the size of a fingernail or two, most medals less than the palm of your hand. Designers cannot afford the luxury of unnecessarily repeated elements. The pleats could have been improved by fewer in number, or perhaps broken up with a tassel hanging down from the belt.

Always Remember US Mint New Medal Reverse

Always Remember US Mint New Medal Reverse

Reverse design is of a stylized eagle superimposed on a field of undulating rays, positive on two-thirds of the background, incuse on one-third. The rays are indicative, symbolic of cascading water from the monument built at the site.

The stylized eagle is devoid of features. The modeler missed the opportunity to add the fine lines of feathers which would have vivified the eagle. This is so easy to do in the clay model, to ultimately be reduced on the die-engraving pantograph. This would have added the realistic detail which enhances and adds charm to a medallic model, it is one of the desirable characteristics of medallic art.

Since the U.S. Mint has mothballed all their Janvier reducing machines and replaced this die preparation method with computer modeling and reduction, we can only expect to see more stylized and silhouetted designs in the future, more symbolic and less realistic. Present engravers doing “clay and plaster” modeling will be replaced by artist-technicians who will model only by “computer engraving.”

While computer engraving is one modern tool in the engraver’s tool box, it should not completely replace long established methods of modeling and die preparation. That fine detail on the eagle’s feathers is but one example where the old method out-performs the new.

The undulating rays indicative of the cascading waters on the reverse breaks another medallic rule and tends to become boring because of the excessive repetition. How much better it would have been to show the actual memorial with its cascading waters. Or even better, perhaps, an aerial view of the site with the memorial and its waterfalls, where the eagle could be flying overhead.

Medallic art has an affinity for detail. This is added at the modeling stage, not often shown in original sketches. This is one great reason why medal designs are modeled oversize and pantographically reduced. All that elaborate detail can be worked into the clay, to ultimately end in the die and struck piece. Medalmakers say “If it’s in the model, it’s in the medal.”

The textured letters in the exergue below misses the opportunity

of a similarity with the lettering on the obverse. This is one of many art techniques of tying together the obverse and reverse. This can be done by using the same typeface or style of letters.

The two-word inscription, HONOR / HOPE is more evocative of a campaign slogan. Because of medals’ inherent longevity – which medal designers should always keep in mind – this might have little meaning to some viewer, say centuries from now. It would have been better as AMERICAN / MEMORIAL or even NEW YORK’S HONORED / MEMORIAL.

Unfortunately this piece is a coin design thrust on a medal format. It was so desired by Mint officials to be struck on a coining press that it falls flat as a medal design. A better design would have been more “medallic.”

Just who are you to criticize this design? you might ask. While I fondly remember a college art appreciation class, I have no formal art training. Mine came from on-the-job experience. I was trained for the decade I was employed at Medallic Art Company under the tutelage of Julius Lauth, art director and vice president.

I was educated in all aspects of medal making, with intensive instruction on how models are prepared with strong emphasis on the art of the medal and to greatly appreciate medallic artists. In fact, it was company policy to appreciate and respect the artists.

But more than that was the education I received from the senior artists themselves. In addition to Julius’ instruction, I learned greatly, somewhat in order, from staff artist Ramon Gordils, freelance artists Robert Weinman, Ralph Menconi, Marcel Jovine, Abram Belskie, Eleanor Platt, Ed Grove, Frank Eliscu. These artists took time to talk with me on frequent visits to the plant, or my visits to their studios.

I learned a great deal from Bob Weinman. I visited his studio many times for long conversations, and served as a chauffeur when the two of us travelled to New York City for meetings and shows. Those intense dialogs were priceless, better than any college training.

Also for over forty years I have handled – “touched and turned over” – hundreds of thousands of medals. This as medal collector, medal cataloger, medal dealer, medal appraiser, medal consultant and medal marketer, in addition to handling medals in a multitude of capacities at Medallic Art Company. That hands-on exposure and those contacts are my art credentials.

While it is easy to be critical, it is more useful to offer solutions. How can the U.S. Mint improve our national coin and medals? I can offer a few comments from the perspective of a commercial medallist, from experience enumerated above.

First, the U.S. Mint’s most egregious policy is to have separate artists design separate sides. The reason for this is, perhaps, expediency. They need to get a coin or medal into production as quickly as possible.

By so doing the Mint foregoes the possibility of creating a unified work of art. Artists have the ability to tie the two sides together – to create a diptych – one work of art of two panels, basically what coins and medals are. There are many art techniques to accomplish this. One mind needs to create both sides.

Instead of creating that unified work of art the U.S. Mint is applying assembly line methods to an art object. The end result is not a work of art, it’s a quickly assembled product. Coins and medals coming from the U.S. Mint in the last several decades is evidence of this misguided policy.

Second, give the artist time enough to think about a design concept; he needs days, sometimes weeks, to mull over in his mind, both conscious and subconscious. He or she needs to ponder how to present the concept of the coin or medal – its theme and symbolism – in the most artistic manner.

Three, recognize a drawing is two dimensions. A coin or medal is a bas-relief that makes it three dimensional. I have seen competent sculptors render a magnificent model from a crude sketch. Often that master sculptor is not a good sketch artist.  But choose one artist to both design and model that design.

Four, compensate the artist adequately for the art work he creates.

Remember coins and medals last forever. You are producing miniature works of art that outlast all other forms of art, longer than most creations of mankind, art, architecture or artifacts.

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