William Louth had a long shopping list of chores for me to do when he hired me in November 1966 to come work for Medallic Art in New York City. In a small company one person does many different tasks. That was certainly true when I walked in the door January 4, 1967.
He showed me to my office that first day, formerly occupied by a member of the sales force, who had died, and as Bill said “juggled reference books” to generate sales leads. I had to earn my keep, by doing the same – generate sales leads of firms, organizations, municipalities, and such of upcoming anniversaries. A major portion of the firm’s business was anniversary medals.
Also I had to answer inquiries from the press, from collectors and from the public in general about medals the firm had issued in the past. As such, I was the staff numismatist. Bill knew I was the former editor of Coin World, so another major portion of my tasks was to publicize the firm and medals made by the firm.
Any writing chore of the firm came my way. This included speeches for Bill, advertisements for the firm, some sales literature, and, of course, those leaflets distributed with the medals (if a client didn’t provide their own).
Among all this were press releases. Write up the initial announcements of new medals as a news item for the general press, trade publications, and, of course, for the numismatic press.
But the most important task was to catalog all the medals the firm had issued. No one in the firm even knew how many medals the firm had issued. Bill set some fixed criteria for such a catalog. It had to show an image of the medal, both front and back. It had to list the client for whom the medal was made, and since most of our medals were made from sculptors’ models, the artist name was mandatory.
Also, to be useful for the sales department, the catalog entry had to reveal how the medal was used. If it was a product milestone for example, like GM’S one millionth car, how many other product milestone medals had we made? These were useful for salesmen to show prospects an actual sample medal.
Also such data as the technical aspects of the medal – size and composition. I also added topical names from the field of numismatics. A final datum was the location of the client – city and state.
My research for how to present or record all this information took me to several locations. I interviewed Ramona Javitz, a 90-year old lady who had created the picture collection at the New York Public Library. She had overseen the creation of a multi-million collection of pictures. These were housed in trays of tall envelopes extensively categorized by subjects. This was her secret, she informed me, was the topic heads to arranged so many images.
I had contacted Eastman Kodak for aid in recording the images. The salesman they sent immediately grasped the problem. He took me to the Time Life building in Rockefeller Center. They had a 6-million file of photographs, their index was an aperture card with piece of microfilm embedded. This contained an image of the photograph where the negatives were in a separate file.
While useful, each of these was not quite the answer to a catalog of medals. After three years researching how best to create such a catalog – and not having cataloged the first medal – I made my proposal to Bill.
Remember this was in 1970, before computers, and just at the beginning of widespread use of photocopying machines. My suggestion was quite simple. We photograph the medal with a 35mm camera. We cut up the proof sheets of those film shots.
We typed the descriptive lines on a 3 x 5-inch card and paste the photos in place. We then photocopy that master card as many times as necessary for as many ways in which the medal should be filed. While simple in theory, it did require extensive equipment.
The firm bought a special photocopy machine. The camera was rigged by our sketch artist to form a template inside the camera. We would focus the camera so a round medal would just fit inside that template.
We bought a special punch to cut out exactly 33mm circles from the 35mm photo proof sheets. We used a proportional-spacing typewriter to make print-like lettering on the typed cards. We bought special type characters of fractions so these could also appear print-like as well.
We bought a wooden library card file with rods in each drawer so a drawer could be used and the cards not fall out. Finally we bought special four-up card stock predrilled with holes already in them.
The system work! I began cataloging. I had to examine the shop files, write up the text, have a secretary type it, proof read what she typed.
Each step was super simple, but consuming of my time and that of one secretary.
Bill came up with the solution. We would hire college kids during the summer. This worked as well. Some were even employee’s children; happy to have a summer job.
They were easy to train, caught on quickly and were processing medals, files, typed cards, photocopied cards, and filed in the library card file, all in quick time. We cataloged over 2,000 medals in a 3-month period. We repeated this a following summer.
Most of this was accomplished while Medallic Art was still in New York City. After 1972 and the move to Danbury the process continued. By the end of 1976 and the end of my employment, we had cataloged 6,121 medals. Finally we now know exactly how many medals the firm had made from the first – in 1907 – to the end of the Bicentennial era.
That library card file has served well in the intervening years. Wisely in the 1980s Bob Hoff entered all that data on to computer so now it is even more accessible. Rob Vugteveen currently has access to the original card file, ultimately destined for Medallic Art Company’s own museum.
My duties of publicizing the firm’s medal issues began immediately after I arrived at the firm. The first was a medal by Canadian sculptor-medallist R. Tait McKenzie, that MACO sold to the public, somewhat of a first.
To publicize the firm I got a photo essay “Home of the Art Medal” published in the December 1967 issue of Coinage magazine. This was from photographs by Larry Stevens. I wrote the text.
To strengthen my skills in publicity I took a night class in New York City offered by one of the professional PR organizations. Here I learned of PR Aids, a commercial firm that processed press releases. Ironically, it was located on the same block as Medallic Art, almost next door!
You could have preprinted press stationery, which they would store. Give them camera-ready typed text, a single photograph, and an order form. They would do all the work: print the releases, make the photos, address the envelopes, affix the postage, take to the post office. All for one fee. Boy, did I use them a lot. I was sending out releases every week or so.
The Society of Medallists was the firm’s captive medal series. I sent out press releases on Issue #75 by Herring Coe, a Texas sculptor, my first for this series. And later that same year, 1967, Issue #76 by Donald Miller, featuring five forms of life in a five-sided medal.
At this time it was common for a local newspaper to have a coin columnist or a stamp-and-coin columnist. These would often carry new issues of medals. I compiled my own list of these columnists around the country. In addition to normal news outlets – wire services and large newspapers – I would include these local columnists as well.
But the big story was the New York Times. I made a point to befriend a coin columnist at the Times, which had three while I was at Medallic Art. The best was Tom Haney. He would run items in his Sunday coin column virtually everything I would send him. There were times, in fact, I would back off sending him something because I was in every Sunday for several weeks running.
He got a two part award from the Numismatic Literary Guild. The Guild sent a plaque to the writer for the newspaper, and a medal to the newspaper to be given to the writer. At a ceremony they would switch awards. Tom told me after his ceremony, it was the first time ever he had been invited to the Times’ publisher’s office.
Contact with book authors was also part of my duties. Since Medallic Art dominated the issuance of Presidential Inaugural medals, no book could be written on the subject without MACO input. This was true for the first of these, by Richard Dusterberg, and later by Neil MacNeil. Both authors visited the plant where we could assist in providing them with accurate, vital data.
In 1974 at the height of interest in limited editions, Terry Kovel, the wife and co-author to Ralph Kovel, visited Medallic Art for a 2-day stay gathering a list our medal issues that could be considered of limited issue. This was published in their book, The Kovels’ Collector’s Guide to Limited Editions, published by Crown.
Here we should mention a book we did not aid. Andrew J. Kozar wrote R. Tait McKenzie, The Sculptor of Athletes, published in 1975. The author rushed into print without fully researching McKinze’s medals or contacting the company. Despite the fact MACO reproduced most all of McKanzie’s medallic work, the author made only one fleeting mention of the firm.
As a result his text on medals is obscure, omitting several sports medals that should have been included, and duplicating the Playground and Recreation Association Medal (1929-031).
There have been many more book authors in which we furnished data on medallic work. Some of these were for individual artists, as Lea De Long writing on Christian Peterson, on topical interests, as Jewish medals by Daniel Fridenberg, or Statue of Liberty medals by Paul J. LaJoie, or Einstein medals by Harry Flower.
My greatest delight however, as a medal publicist was getting a medal struck by Medallic Art company on the cover of Time magazine. This occurred in the January 24, 1969 issue for the Nixon Inaugural Medal by Ralph J. Menconi. Ironically, here again it resulted from activity on the same block as the New York plant. A photomontage was made by a photographer whose studio was directly across the street on East 45th from Medallic Art. Great way to end that year and this report.