Archive for July, 2012

This is the second of several reports on the basic information, the basic knowledge of minting coins and medals. These facts are so important they should be embedded in the repertoire of everyone associated with the medallic field and, certainly, everyone within the firms which make these.

COMPOSITION is the material of which coins and medals are made. Numismatists use that term where others might think of “metals” or “alloys.” The broader term is used because medals are infrequently made of nonmetal material, as will be mentioned. The other meaning of the term “composition” – the arrangement of elements in a design – should not be used in numismatics to lessen the confusion between the two meanings.

Note that the metals used for ancient coins, even hundreds of years before the birth of Christ are still those same metals used for coins and medals today:  gold, silver and bronze. The ancients did not have some great insight, but rather they had metalworking experience.

These metals had been worked by man for centuries before (as early as 4,000 BC for bronze. China’s choice for early coins was bronze, India was silver, western countries preferred precious metals silver and gold. These three metals, employed for the world’s earliest coins, possessed the most desirable characteristics required for coin making. They also possessed desirable wearing qualities for circulating, then as now.

Metals In A Coinage System.
As coins of different denominations were created to facilitate commerce, a  coinage system was established. Higher denominations required more costly metals. Thus two and three metals were employed. These could be coins of pure metals or several metals combined to form an alloy in which to strike the coins.

A coinage system that employs two metals, as gold and silver, is called a binary system. The Lydians, who first struck coins in 640 BC, developed such a two-metal binary system in 550 BC.  When a system has three metals, as gold, silver and bronze – or any three metals pure or alloyed – for its coins is said to be on a ternary system. If four metals are employed it is a quaternary system.

In 1920 Great Britain reduced the precious metal content of their coins by half, going off the sterling standard. They went from a ternary to a quaternary system. They continued striking .500 silver coins, with additional alloys, but eliminated silver entirely in 1946. Their crowns and shillings, formerly struck in silver were thereafter struck in copper-nickel. (Their coinage system was decimalized in 1968, but their coins still continue to be struck in copper-nickel.)

(Clad compositions, which became popular in the late 20th century, have obscured these “-nary” designations; future metallurgical grammarians will be required to redefine these terms.)

Coinage Metal Alloys.
The earliest coin makers learned that pure metal, particularly gold and silver, was too soft to withstand the harsh conditions from circulation. These metals, as with most coinage metals, were alloyed. The popular alloy of sterling, for example, has a silver content of .925, added to .075 copper for strength and hardness. This alloy proved satisfactory as a coinage composition, to strike, to circulate, to retain its color and its value. Later coin silver was introduced with a greater alloy of 90% silver, 10% copper.

Coins were struck in these alloys through the years, except for occasions when the precious metal content was reduced for political reasons: creating debased compositions. In the 19th century copper nickel was introduced and numerous experiments were made in other minor coinage metals.

Modern Alloy Problems.
The gradual rise of primary metal costs in the 20th century has brought economic pressure to change coin compositions. As mentioned, Great Britain stopped using silver in coins in 1920 (all except Maundy coins). The United States stopped striking silver in circulating coins in 1964 (except for silver coins sold to collectors and bullion coins sold to investors). These changes were brought about by the increase in the market price of silver. Coins struck in alloys without precious metal became a token coinage.

In 1965 U.S. silver coins (of 90% silver) were worth more for their silver content than their face value. The obvious event happened: coins were withdrawn from circulation and melted. Gresham’s law came into effect: coins with least intrinsic value replaced in circulation coins of greater intrinsic value, “bad money drives out good money.” This caused a severe coin shortage and widespread trouble for all small commercial transactions. Other countries confronted similar problems; the problem was worldwide.

U.S. Treasury officials were faced with some difficult decisions. What also influenced the solution were the millions of vending machines and fareboxes that were engineered to accept silver coins (including tests of surface resistivity). What was needed was a lower cost alloy that could still be accepted in all those venting machines. The solution was to strike coins in a clad composition. With a layer of silver, or silver-like metal, on each side of a lower-cost base metal, the total costs of blanks would be less, but this would still meet the requirements of the vending machine industry.

In 1981 a similar situation occurred with the price of copper, effecting the striking of cent coins. Here again the solution was a clad composition of copper coating a zinc base metal. In the United States, cents struck from 1982 forward were of copper clad zinc composition.

(The clad technology also created a new industry – manufacturing the clad strip and supplying this, or blanks cut from the strips, to the mints. It was also a brilliant solution for what could be done with all the skeleton scrap after the blanks were cut out. Copper coated zinc scrap, for example, could be melted, and with little reformulation – addition of virgin copper – poured into ingots of – bronze! Scrap technology must be taken into consideration with every decision of coinage composition.)

In each of these solutions the color and appearance of the prior metal was retained (as well as surface resistivity – necessary for vending machine detectors). It is interesting to speculate what the next major change in coin compositions will require and when this will occur.

Nonmetallic Compositions.
For centuries mint officials have wrestled with the problems of composition of the coins they were required to strike. Metal shortages, fluctuating prices, new technology, wartime metal needs, economic and political factors have all influenced coinage metal needs. Mints have experimented with substitute compositions endlessly. It continues today as substitutes for copper and zinc in cents and perhaps a substitute for a copper-nickel five cent piece, are high priorities as these metal prices have risen beyond the face value of the coins.

In 1868, for example, a Boston firm patented a composition it called Diatite. Unheard of today, it was one of the many unsuccessful coinage compositions, with only two tokens in existence as evidence of this experiment.

In 1865 a dentist and amateur metallurgist, Lewis Feuchtwanger, was more determined. He proposed to the U.S. Mint a nickel-silver alloy as a coinage metal; it contained copper, nickel, zinc, tin, antimony and other metal elements. The Mint wisely refused because of the multiplicity of components (This would have been a scrap technology nightmare.) However, the U.S. Mint later did strike copper-nickel cents, 1856-65, which was not entirely satisfactory, but an altered alloy was satisfactory for five-cent pieces, 1865 onwards. Feuchtwanger designed and issued storecards in his own composition, all struck by Scovill of Waterbury.

In 1942 the U.S. Treasury considered producing cent coins in plastic. In other times the media listed in the adjacent chart below have been considered to replace metal alloys for coins.

But where most nonmetallic compositions are found is in tokens, and to a smaller degree, in medals. Tokens have been struck or fabricated in most all of the materials listed in the chart. Medals, likewise have been made in more than half of these. The experience found among nonmetallic compositions for tokens and medals have given experience to mint officials not to use these compositions for coins. They still wisely use metal for coin compositions.

Handy & Harman Medal

Obverse, reverse and edge of
the Handy & Harman Medal.

Compositions for medals.
Unlike coins, medals and medallic objects have no restrictions on composition; medals are far more democratic. They can be made in any permanent composition. Obviously firms in which their product is a suitable coinage material, may request their medals made in their product material. In 1966 Medallic Art Company created a medal for Handy & Harman, a major supplier of silver and bronze, for their 1967 centennial. The bimetal was struck in bronze with a silver inlay covering half the obverse design (catalog 1966-006).

Before plastics were developed, Bakelite, Vulcanite and hard rubber were materials employed for many products. I remember one medal issued by a firm which manufactured combs in hard rubber, active in the last half of the 19th century.  Obviously its medal was made in hard rubber. The term for this category of medals is called product medal.

Despite the wide variety of metal compositions available for striking medals, the old standard – bronze, silver gold – still are most popular today. This is particular true for award medals with an obvious rank of medals. Three or more classes of awards can be created with additional divisions of medal size and plating, gold-plated silver – vermeil – below solid gold, and above silver.

Bronze, time honored, is even more desirable in that it can be given a patina finish, much like statues. The intent of the firm’s Society of Medalists was that each issue be given a different patina. This became unpractical after the 20th issue.

Numismatic medals.
Numismatists like many different compositions in any individual medal, it provides them with a separate VARIETY.

One of Medallic Art’s first customers, Thomas Elder had the firm strike four or five metal varieties in 1910. Recently, a chemist, Thomas Wilfred, had his New York Numismatic Club Presidents Medal struck in six different metals for his 1983 medal

Coin And Medal Compositions               

A. Metallic

  1. acmonital
  2. albata
  3. alpacca
  4. aluminum
  5. aluminum bronze
  6. argentin
  7. bath metal
  8. brass
  9. bronze
  10. copper
  11. copper nickel (cupro-nickel)
  12. chrom-steel
  13. electrum
  14. german-silver
  15. gold
  16. goldene
  17. iron (ferrous)
  18. lead
  19. manganese
  20. nickel
  21. nickel-brass
  22. nickel-silver
  23. oroide
  24. orichalcum
  25. palladium
  26. pewter
  27. platinum
  28. silver
  29. space metals
  30. sterling
  31. tin
  32. titanium
  33. tombac
  34. type metal
  35. white metal
  36. zinc

B. Plated Metals

  1. bronze gilt
  2. gilding metal
  3. goldplated
  4. rolled gold
  5. sheffield plate
  6. silverplated
  7. vermeil

C. Nonmetallic

  1. bakelite
  2. boxwood
  3. ceramic
  4. glass (crystal)
  5. hard rubber
  6. horn
  7. ivory
  8. leather
  9. plastics
  10. porcelain
  11. soap
  12. steatite (soapstone)
  13. stone
  14. terra-cotta
  15. vulcanite
  16. wax
  17. wood (bois durci)

Some Compositions Terms

Acmonital.  An alloy of stainless steel.
Albata.  Alloy of nickel, copper and zinc; an early name for nickel-silver.
Alpacca.  Onetime trademark for an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc; a form of German-silver or nickel-silver.
Aluminum.  A very light-weight metal in silver-white color.
Aluminum Bronze.  A bronze alloy with five to ten percent aluminum. commercial aluminum bronze formula is 86 copper, 10.5 aluminum and 3.5 iron which is a high strength,
Amalgam.  Any soft metal alloy from which a medallic item is cast or struck; an alloy without specific formulation, as pot metal, which is pliable to some degree.
Anodized Aluminum.  A coating, actually a plating on aluminum which unlike other plating can be done in color.
Argent.  French, silver.
Argentin, Argentine.  Base alloy of tin and antimony, made to resemble silver; a white metal most always silverplated.
Base Metal.  An alloy or metal usually of low value to which plating is applied; or the chief constituent of an alloy, not a precious or noble metal.
Bath Metal.  A brass alloy once used for striking medals. Named after Bath England, it was invented by William Wood (1671-1730) an English ironmaster and owner of copper and tin mines in western England.
Bell Metal.  The bronze alloy for making bells can be used successfully for striking or casting medals.
Brass.  An alloy with the major component of copper, plus moderate zinc or tin content, which is highly ductile and has a yellow hue.
Britannia Metal.  A silver-white alloy of tin, antimony and copper, and often of zinc and bismuth.
Britannia Standard.  A fineness of silver, 958.4 parts per 1000.
Bronze.  An alloy of copper with additional metals of zinc and/or tin in small amount, infrequently with other metals as trace or impurities. Bronze is the world’s most popular alloy for coins and medals, irrespective of how they are made.
CastIron.  A ferrous metal object formed in a mold.
Coin Silver.  A fineness of 900 fine; 9 parts silver to one of alloy, usually copper; silver United States coins have been struck in this fineness from 1837 to 1964.
Copper.  A metal element, the basis for many coinage and medal alloys, making it the most useful metal in the field.
Copper Nickel.  An alloy predominantly of copper, to which is added nickel for hardness and a white color.
Cupro-nickel.  The term for copper nickel in England and France.
Engraver’s Brass.  A copper alloy that is a favorite of engravers because it is so well suited for all types of engraving.
Feuchtwanger Composition.  A three-component alloy employed for several private issue tokens – and proposed for United States coinage by its developer – but never accepted.
Fineness.  The quality or purity of precious metal in numismatic or medallic items. In America fineness is expressed as a decimal part per 1.000, as sterling is .925; in Europe it is expressed as whole parts per 1,000, 925 is sterling.
Fine Silver.  Commercially pure silver, usually .999 fine; silver with no alloy.
German-silver.  A copper alloy of silver-white color because of the presence of nickel and zinc, now called nickel-silver. There is no silver in German-silver or nickel-silver.
GildingMetal.  A base metal, an alloy of copper and zinc.
Gold.  The heavy yellow precious metal, idolized by man for eons, ideal for coins and medals for the highest value and most desirable issues.
Goldene.  A brass alloy resembling gold in which cheap tokens and coins are struck;.
Iron.  The metallic element, silver-white in color, but useful to man for its malleable and ductile qualities.
Karat.  A measure of gold based on 24 parts; 24 being pure gold.
Lead.  A soft bluish gray metal, a metallic element, often used for proving dies in modern times, also a material in which medals have been cast or struck.
Nickel.  A metallic element, of silver-gray color and often alloyed with copper and other metals for a coinage metal.
Nickel-silver.  An alloy of nickel, copper and zinc.
Oreide.  Obsolete form of oroide, the brass alloy.
Oroide.  A brass alloy resembling gold in color and brilliancy widely used in striking low-cost coin-like and token-like medals.
Pewter.  A high tin content white metal alloy, usually very soft and infrequently used for striking medallic items.
Phosphor-bronze.  A bronze alloy with very small amount of phosphor.
Pinchbeck.  An alloy of copper and 10-15% zinc.
Platinum.  A heavy, gray-white precious metal. Platinum has great strength, it never tones or corrodes, but has a very high melting point.
PotMetal.  An alloy without specific formulation but which is made by melting scrap in a pot, hence the name.
RedBrass.  A copper-zinc alloy with less than 15% zinc which has a characteristic bronze red or copper red color.
Silver.  A gray-white precious metal, which because it is highly malleable and coinable is widely used as the composition for coins and medals.
Space Metal.  A new metal alloy formulated in space, outside the gravity restrictions of the earth.
Sterling.  A fineness of silver, 925 parts per 1000 (alloyed with 75 parts copper for hardness).
Spelter.  A zinc alloy, or zinc solder, in which the zinc content is more than half.
Tin.  A very soft white to gray silver-colored metal; an element used in pure state, or alloyed with other metals particularly to form white metal or pewter. 7305-(010)05.4
Tombac.  A copper-zinc alloy.
Type Metal.  A lead alloy containing tin and antimony, it was readily available in letterpress printing shops until the mid-20th century.
Vermeil.  Goldplated silver or silver gilt. Such a composition has the texture, fineness, hardness and smooth finish of silver, but the color of gold.
Wartime Alloy.  Made of a substitute alloy during hostilities.
White Metal.  An alloy with a base of tin, with or without lead, and any of several other medals – copper, antimony, bismuth for the most part.
Yellow Brass.  A copper alloy of high zinc content which has a permanent typical brass golden color.
Zinc.  A silver gray metal that in pure state rapidly corrodes.


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This is the first of several reports on the basic information, the basic knowledge, of minting coins and medals. These facts are so important they should be embedded in the repertoire of everyone associated with the medallic field and, certainly, everyone within the firms which make these.

EVERY coin and medal struck for the last 2,650 years – since the first coin was struck in 640 BC – exists because of one technique:  engraving. Creating the lines and cavities in a die to reproduce a design in objects struck from that die is the result of engraving.

The surface containing the relief design rises and falls from a background is a special form of three dimensions called bas-relief (the “s” is silent, its pronounced baa-relief). I prefer the term modulated relief for the images of devices and lettering of varying height shown on that surface.

Medallic Art Dies

Medallic Art Dies

Three stages.
Die engraving over time has evolved through three stages.  For the first 2500 years the only method to create those dies was for a skilled craftsman to hand engrave them — to carve away little portions of the surface of iron to form a completed die. By the use of hand tools he crafted a die with cavities the exact size of the object to be struck from that die.

Because this work was tedious, mechanically inclined craftsmen sought a method to mechanize the hand work. A progression of instruments were developed, the most successful were those that cut a die from an oversize pattern, in effect a die-engraving pantograph which cut the surface of the die from a much larger pattern.

The large pattern from which the die is engraved was created by a sculptor, who in effect, replaced the hand engraver. The pattern was mounted in a reducing pantograph by a craftsman who set the machine to operate. With an electric motor it operated unattended cutting a die any size desired. Also the pattern could be used again so several size dies could be made from a single pattern. Or it could cut a hub or master die from which many dies could be made.

At first it was the central design, the device alone, which was  modeled as the pattern to cut into a die. Lettering and stars or ornamentation was added later, by hand punches. It was not until 1899 that a French inventor, Victor Janvier, patented his die-engravng pantograph that could cut the die entire, lettering and all. His “Janvier” machine dominated die engraving for the entire 20th century.

With the 21st century we see the rise of computer engraving. The image is entered in a computer as X and Y coordinates for height by width. The depth of the image is the Z factor. Three factors at each point of the image, and as many points as the resolution of the image requires. This data is then fed into a controlled milling machine which cuts the entire surface image into the die in the size die required.

  1. Hand Engraving Only method of engraving for 2500 years, still used infrequently at present.
  2. Die-engraving Dominated all die making 1900-2000; cutting Pantograph devices alone at first, then entire sides, everything at once.
  3. Computer Engraving Increasingly used to cut dies to be major technique following year 2000.

Engraving Terms.
Cutting a die by hand is called hand engraving. Engraving dies to be used in striking is called diesinking. Engraving dies by use of master punches is called hubbing. Engraving by various mechanical implements is called machine engraving. And now we have COMPUTER ENGRAVING.

Engraving an existing item – a medal say – to personalize it after it is struck or cast (as name of a recipient) is called inscribing. One “engraves” a die, but “inscribes” a medal.

Die engraving is different from “engraving” found in most reference works, which refer to the preparation of printing plates for prints or paper money; we call this flat engraving (as for line or surface engraving). This engraving has no relief. It creates two levels of surface: one surface that prints and one that does not.

During the 19th century “engraving of dies” and “diesinking” were considered the same, synonymous (and listed as such in trade directories). Later in that century diesinking came to mean hubbing of dies. These terms now all have more explicit meanings, all within the required duties of the engraver and the overall concept of die-making.

Die Engraving Overview.
Engraving of dies was always done in iron before the development of steel (and always in steel afterwards). Iron and steel have the amazing property of being hardened and softened at will by heat treating. Thus the engraver can cut the design in soft iron, it can then be hardened and thousands of impressions can be made from that iron die.

Engraving of dies is considered a form of carving, cutting away small bits of metal to form the relief design. More often than not, this is negative carving to strike positive objects. But some hand engravers are so skilled they can carve positive – called CAMEO ENRAVING – or negative with incised cavities.

The engraver must know his tools (see list). These implements are also made of steel, but obviously are harder than the iron DIE BLANK the engraver is cutting. These tools create the lines and cavities that reproduce the relief design and lettering by creating modulated relief surface.

Burin.  An engraving tool with a diamond or lozenge shaped cutting edge, often used for engraving lines, lettering or fine detail in dies.


Burnisher.  The tool for polishing the surface of metal; made of metal or stone, a burnisher smooths a metallic surface to effect its polish.



Chisel.  A tool, flat and pointed at the end, used by engravers to handcut a die, or by chasers in their work.

Engravers’ Ball, Engravers’ Block.  A vise to hold a die or medallic item while some form of hand work is performed on it – engraving, chasing, inscribing, proof polishing or such.

Graver.  A cutting or shaving tool used by an engraver to handcut metal (as a die or flat engraving).

Milgrain Tool.  A beading tool with a wheel of hemispherical cavities that leaves a trail of precisely and uniformly formed beads.

Oil Stone.  An abrasive stone for sharpening engraving tools, a whetstone.

Punch, Puncheon.  A tool made of steel containing a letter, figure, dentile, ornament or a part of a coin or medal design used to press into softer steel to make a die, or to counterstamp a numismatic item.

Spitz, Spitzstick.  A pointed graver; an engraving tool with a long sharp pointed end.

Transfer Wax.  Wax in ball or sheet form used by engravers to transfer a drawing, design or lettering to the surface of a die to be hand or machine engraved, or to the surface of a medal to be inscribed.

Basic die engraving techniques.
The engraver is responsible for the steel he must use and the preparation of a blank die he must make into a suitable die. The choice of the steel is most critical. The best iron or steel available must be employed, otherwise in use the image will sink during prolonged striking, or worse of all break, starting at an edge.

Prior to 1756 all dies were made of iron; in that year an English manufacturer, Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), invented a method of making crucible steel that proved most useful for dies. Matthew Boulton used Huntsman’s steel for the dies at his 1790 Soho Mint and the mints throughout the world used Huntsman steel for a century and a half – until 1950!

Steel for dies is ordered from steel manufacturers by type of steel, diameter, hardness, and whether oil or water hardened. It usually is supplied in long rods called bar stock, although other shaped stock has been used for dies, as square or hexagonal. (Round is ideal for many steps in making and using a die, turning on a lathe, locking in the press, and as a final point, orientation of the obverse and reverse properly.)

The bar stock is cut on a band saw to approximate height of the finished die. Next it is milled smoothed and both ends made exactly parallel. The working end where the design is to be cut is polished. If the engraver does not do this, then it is done by a tool and die worker, a separate person in a large mint or medal plant. At this point it is a die blank, ready to be engraved by any method, hand or machine engraved.

Laying out the design for hand engraving.
The surface of the polished die blank is next coated with Chinese white, a watercolor paint. An engraver will wet the tip of his finger and spread an even coat over the entire surface to be engraved. It dries quickly and the design can be drawn with a pencil right on this white surface. (Or the engraver may use dye blue if he wishes, but in this case he must inscribe the design with a sharp pointed spitzstick or scriber.)

What the engraver draws is an outline of the intended design. This is called a cartoon. (One might think this word was named after comic cartoons but it’s the other way round – die engraving cartoons came first.)

The engraver can actually draw an original design right on the die. He will include lettering in its proper place in addition to the main device and all subsidiary devices – stars, dentiles and whatever else. Including too much detail at this point is not necessary as this surface will be removed for the most part before he gets to these.

Or, if the engraver has an exact size cartoon on paper, he can transfer this pencil drawing to the white coated die surface, called design transfer. This is accomplished by coating the back of the paper with graphite, laying this on the coated die and tracing the design. (This technology was used before carbon paper was invented, which, of course, could be used.)

If the engraver wishes to transfer an incuse image, say from another die, to an uncoated fresh die he fills all cavities with precipitated chalk, wipes off the excess, lays on this a thin sheet of transfer wax, places this on the bare die, and burnishes the back of the wax sheet with a burnisher.

Removing metal.
At this stage occurs what everyone typically attributes to an engraver – removing tiny bits of metal to form the design in modulated relief. The cartoon indicates where most of the unwanted dead metal is to be removed, mostly background cutaway. Formerly this was done with hammer and chisel, modern engravers now have pneumatic gravers that remove gross metal from the die surface in quick time with less muscle power.

At this point the engraver does not worry about the ridges left from the chisel or graver, however it is quite critical how deep he carves. The depth of this cutting will ultimately be the background or field of the piece struck from this die. The tool marks are removed by later lapping or stoning.

Then he turns his full attention to the main device. Here is where he cuts the modulated relief of the design with burin or graver. Each tiny bit of metal removed is called a bite. His skill and talent come into play in carving the portrait or feature of the design. The engraver must be an artist at this stage employing all his artistic ability. He is creating a miniature relief by sculptural carving, often in the negative.

He holds the burin or graver in the palm of his hand with his index finger lying along the shank of the tool. He points with this finger to where he wants to cut. He pushes with his hand down into the metal and scoops out a tiny bit of metal. This action is called palm push because the palm of the hand pushes on the handle forcing the point of the tool into and up out of the metal die surface.

We have assumed here the artist is cutting intaglio, carving the relief design in the negative for all the above. However, the artist can cut cameo, in the positive. Cutting a positive cameo die eliminates the need for frequent proving. The image is always in view. The cameo die has another advantage, it can serve as a device punch to hub into the working die.

Carving and using punches.
Before 1950 there were commercial punches of letters and figures engravers could obtain from typographic houses (which made type for letterpress printers – the rise of lithographic printing however made all letterpress obsolete and type houses went out of business). For most engravers the desired type, style and size, it seemed, was never available. Thus the engraver had to carve new punches for the correct lettering style and size he was seeking.

Imagine a letter on the end of a pencil point. In a sense, this is what the engraver must carve, exact size, and a different one for each different letter. (Thank goodness he can use the same “E” punch or any other repeated letter over and over – he only needs one for each letter.) It is “carve away” engraving to make a letter or figure punch and the final punch must have a sloping contour with a proper bevel, often turned on a lathe.

The layout for lettering will have a guide line or base line drawn or lightly inscribed on the face of the die where the bottom of each letter must appear. He may also inscribe a second guideline for the top of the letters. He does not punch the letters in order they appear on the die; instead the engraver most likely will choose a letter with a flat base, as an “E” to start (where top and bottom must line up with the two guide lines). Each letter is punched into the die individually.

When punching the lettering the engraver must be aware of four things at once: (1) the letter must rest on that base line, or fit precisely between the two if there are two  guide lines, (2) he must not tilt the letter, it must be upright, exactly perpendicular to the base line, (3) he must be aware of interletter spacing [“IE” should be further apart than say “OO”], (4) he must sink the punch to the same depth as all other letters. The last is most important because an “M” requires more pressure to sink than an “I” for example.

To insure correct positioning the engraver lightly taps the letter punch to get a faint image on the surface of the die. If it is correct in all respects, he replaces the punch – it must “seat” in that same impression – and taps the punch to the proper depth. If it doesn’t seat properly, or he moves the punch between blows, he will create a double image for that letter. Punching letters and figures requires experience; lettering by an amateur engraver, who perhaps cannot control all four requirements at once, is very obvious on the struck piece.

Diesinking and hubbing.
The engraver does not have to engrave every element on the face of that one die blank (although he can if he so desires). He can carve separate elements and bring them together by sinking them into that master die blank. He can engrave the device separately (even in cameo) making it a device punch. By diesinking he can get that image into that die; obviously it is too much to sink it by hammer blow, he must hub it by using a press, a screw press – or for even greater pressure a hydraulic powered hubbing press – to impress the device punch into the die.

The device punch must be hard and the die blank must be soft, thus heat treating is important at this stage. The two – punch and die – are positioned in the press and are squeezed to drive the punch into the die. Often a retaining ring is necessary to hold the punch in position during hubbing (creating this tube-like collar is the responsibility of the engraver or tool and diemaker). This is the hubbing function of diesinkning.

Hubbing always changes polarity. A positive punch creates a negative element in the die. The device punch carved cameo is ideal for pressing into the negative die. The negative die, then, can be used for striking. Or, instead it can become the master die and a hub can be sunk from it. Then working dies can be made from that hub. By the process of hubbing the engraver can go back and forth with a change of polarity each time. Multiple working dies are necessary for long production runs. A master die is “insurance” that another die can be easily sunk if the one in use breaks or deteriorates.

At any step along this process the engraver can examine the state of his work by proving. He can push soft material, clay or wax, into the die cavity or the surface of the die to give a quick look. For more detail, which is usually the case because the engraver is working on tiny areas of carving, he will want to make a metal proof. These can be a hot tin impression, called a splasher, which he can do right at his workbench; or a lead proof if he places the die in a press and softly impresses the lead.

The closer the engraver gets to the finished die, the more proofs he will make. He seldom makes any proof until well into the process. He usually does extensive carving in the die, then he makes a proof to check on his progress. This continues until he is completely satisfied with the total image. He will then harden the die and it will be ready to be placed into production.

Use of Sculptured Patterns in Engraving.
In an attempt to relieve the tedium of hand engraving, engravers and mint workers looked to the pantograph, the die-engraving pantograph, to aid in cutting dies. In constant development from its early crude form for nearly 150 years, these machines were in use at mints in Belgium, France and England. It required, however, a pattern in hard material to reduce the image while it cut the relief.

Engravers and mint officials turned to sculptors and wax modelers to create these patterns. It was not, as some believe, a model for the engraver to handcut the image in reduced size, but rather a three-dimensional surface that could be reduced by stylus tracing and mechanical pantographic reduction.

What the sculptor created was a bas-relief – a design of modulated relief attached to a solid background. Sculpture in wax was ideal, as well as those in clay and other media (the use of plaster of Paris came later). However, this had to be converted to a hard surface of the image for the stylus to trace over. These were cast in metal, iron was the first to be used, later copper was found to be more ideal for the stylus to ride over.

The first sculptor to prepare a bas-relief for medals in America was Ferdinand Pettrich (1798-1872). In 1841 he created a relief portrait of President John Tyler in wax for the Indian Peace Medal Series. At the U.S. Mint Franklin Peale (1795-1870) cast this in iron and used it to cut three size DEVICE PUNCHES of the 1842 Indian Peace Medal (on the Philadelphia Mint’s newly acquired Contamin pantograph, well suited for cutting multiple size hubs from the same pattern).  Each of these device punches was sunk into an appropriate size die blank and lettering added by punches.

Sculptor Pettrich’s presidential portrait was followed by John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1889) who furnished President James K. Polk’s portrait in 1846 for the same series. In 1849 Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886) created Zachary Taylor’s portrait, but these portraits were surpassed by Millard Fillmore’s, Franklin Pierce’s and Abraham Lincoln’s portraits by Salathiel Ellis (1803-1879) both in quantity and quality. It is believed the Philadelphia Mint replaced iron cast patterns with copper ELECTROFORMED patterns (GALVANOS) from Ellis’ models.

Rise of electroformed patterns.
Using iron patterns proved unsatisfactory, not only for the stylus drag, but also for the lack of finite detail. Models cast in iron could not reproduce the fine detail in the sculptor’s models. Reason for this was the meniscus formed at the juncture of all angular corners and, on coin and medal models in particular, where relief meets the field (called corner radius). This rounding of angles and corners occurs in all metal casting. It cannot reproduce sharp detail, notably the pointed junctures at the edges of relief and corner radii.

Fortunately an event occurred in 1837 to affect this. A German physicist and engineer, Moritz Herman Jacobi (1801-1874), developed an electro chemicalprocess he called “galvanoplasty” which today is known as electrolysis. This is the process by which electroplating takes place. But it can also be employed for forming objects from a mantel, core or pattern.

The technology was rapidly employed in England, for the silverware industry, but in France it was employed in the art field. Before long it was in use at the Paris Mint for making patterns for use on the die-engraving pantograph from sculptors’ models. Here it was ideal because all the detail in the sculptors’ models were reproduced in a copper pattern in far greater fidelity (in micron width!).

The metal pattern was called a galvano (from Jacobi’s “electrogalvanic” process). If the newly created pattern was positive to cut a die, it was also called a dieshell, if it was negative to cut a hub, it was a hubshell. (Electroforming changes polarity.)

This technology was in use for cutting dies on the die-engraving panotograph for the remainder of the 19th century and all the 20th century. It was replaced, only partially at first, by the use of epoxy for creating coin and medal patterns following World War II when it was developed.

Engraver’s use of engraving machines.
Because sculptors were asked to furnish relief models of portraits, more than any other subject to be made into patterns for dies, the first die-engraving pantographs were called portrait lathes.The engraver would make a hard surface cast of the sculptor’s portrait model and place this on the reducing machine.

In all instances these early engravers would utilize the sculptor’s bas-relief pattern to cut a positive image in steel. This reduction punch would then be hubbed into the master die. Lettering, subsidiary devices and rim elements would be added afterwards by punches and hand engraving.

In America, use of the die-engraving pantograph continued for 80 years to make reduction punches. This technique continued through the 19th century. It wasn’t until the invention of the Janvier pantograph that the entire die could be reduced and cut from the sculptor’s model of the entire design, lettering and all.

Tracer controlled pantographs.
In the last decade of the 19th century engravers and machinists devised pantographs to aid diesinking. One type of these was a tracer controlled pantograph where an oversize template model and template letters controlled a router that removed all the dead metal. It could carve out letters and leave the design as a flat undisturbed surface that required further diecutting.

The pantograph operator would have to manually control the router to mill away not only the background cutaway but also the surface metal to create the design. In effect this made this craftsman controlling this machine by hand as the engraver of the die. While this was quite satisfactory for letters, logos, architectural and other flat designs, it was left to the skill of the operator to create portraits, scenes and designs of highly modulated relief. Gorton was the major manufacturer of this style of pantograph.

Modern improvements of this machine, even computer control, have made this a quick and low-cost method of die engraving. Ideal for most dies, medal manufacturers use this in contrast to sculptured models. However, it produces less artistic, somewhat flat, mechanical images, particularly of portraits.

Computer engraving.
The computer will not design a coin or medal, but, like a burin in the hand of the engraver, it will aid the engraver to enter the design and determine the amount of depth each point should cut into the die or matrix.

Mints and medalmakers around the world were eager to accept the new technology, the most recent step in replacing the tedious act of hand engraving dies. The success of computer engraving may yet be proved to be limited, much like the use of the tracer-controlled pantograph introduced a century earlier. Both technologies have their place and will continue to be employed by the minting industry. They will not, however, replace the artist who must create the design nor the sculptor-medallist who creates more advanced designs.

The advantages of computer engraving is not only “fast and cheap” but also its versatility to alter a design, to modify it, to test a new concept, to hone the relief to a satisfactory image. As such it is ideal for simple images, as graphic designs, most trademarks and buildings. Where it falls short are very complex or highly detailed designs, but most notably, portraits!

One word describes what a sculptor working in clay or wax can accomplish that a computer cannot: vivify. In art it means “give life to.”  A sculptor can give life to a portrait, make an image of a real person, so it seems the person is staring back at the viewer. He is alive in sight of the relief. In contrast, computer generated portraits are stiff, frozen and lifeless.

Computer Technique.
The computer engraver can start with a flat drawing, a cartoon, or create this on the screen. At each point on the design, called a pixol, X and Y coordinates are determined by the computer. The operator chooses the depth at this point, the Z coordinate, to fix the sculptural or dimensional effect, creating a bitmap. All these coordinates are stored in the software. A visual image is shown on the screen of the CPR. The operator moves through the design indicating the modulated relief.

When finished, the accepted digital design will then be transferred to a milling machine which does the cutting as controlled by the digital file. Afterwards, burrs and rough corners from the milling tool must be worked as with any other touchup of dies.

Is it possible to look at a coin or medal and tell how it was made, by hand engraving, die-engraved reduction, or by computer design?

Diagnostics: How A Coin or Medal Was Made

No hard and fast rules differentiate a hand engraved die from one made from sculptor’s models and dies cut on the die-engraving pantograph  or by computer design by looking at any coin or  medal. The difference, if any, is quite subtle and often difficult to detect.

Technically the only difference is where the rise of relief meets the background or field (called corner radius). and, perhaps, the crevices. Because of the rounded point of the stylus and cutting point on the pantograph and computer milling machine, which cannot enter these areas, these appear less distinct, less angular and more rounded. Also sculptors tend to fill up the model with detail more so than hand engravers, and occasionally vignette the surface (detail covers more of the model with less clean field) or with texture in the field.

  • Generally, a hand engraved die will appear with sharper detail, steeper rise of relief, deeper crevices and a greater background area (smooth field).
  • Generally, a die cut on a die-engraving reducing  pantograph will appear with smoother, softer detail, slightly more sloping sides of relief, and less field area.
  • Generally, a die cut on milling machine from a computer design will appear similar to that of a pantograph, depending upon the shape of the cutting tool.

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MY original conversations with Ross Hansen, prior to coming aboard for him, touched on discussions of a medallic museum.

Previous owners of medal making firms had similar ideas. Bill Louth wanted such a medal museum in Danbury Connecticut but could not convince Don Schwartz to build it after he sold the firm to Don. The Medallic Art plant included a 22-acre track of land with ample room for such a separate building. Trouble was, the 1976 American Bicentennial came along, everyone was so busy, no one had time to even think about a museum. After the Bicentennial was over, medal business declined to a previous level, there was no further discussion of a medal museum.

Joseph Segal had the same idea at Franklin Mint. After he built a new plant at Franklin Center, he erected a separate one story building over a basement vault. What the Franklin Mint Museum displayed became a showcase for the other products the firm marketed. So what started out as a medal museum slowly evolved into displays of modern manufactured collectibles gradually replacing medals the firm was famous for creating originally.

I spent two weeks with Rob Vugteveen, Medallic Art Project Manager, in August 2010. He had come East to meet with me for a week, and spend the second week at the Boston national convention of the American Numismatic Association where we shared a booth in the bourse room of the convention.

We discussed so many aspects of a medallic museum during those two weeks. We drove north to Stockbridge to Chesterwood, the studio of Daniel Chester French, now a National Historic Trust. We photographed the original plaster model of the “French Head” the obverse model of the Catskill Aqueduct Medal that had been adopted as the company’s trademark by a previous president of the firm, Clyde C. Trees.

We also traveled south to New York City where we drove to each of the locations in the city (often now a high-rise building or a parking lot) which had been the home of the firm in the early years, right up to 1972 when the firm moved out of the city to Danbury.

We also visited the American Numismatic Society, the largest numismatic museum on the East Coast. Here Rob was taken into the vault where he saw how more than a million numismatic items were sorted and stored. He also saw the extensive library – largest numismatic library in the world – and displays currently on view.

Understandably he came away from these excursions with ideas how to build the medallic museum he had been charged with creating from the ground up. Concerns for such numismatic museums include the obvious such as security and protecting the specimens in such a collection. Another concern is the small size of the artifacts to be displayed.

Coins and medals are meant to be viewed close up, inches from a viewer’s eyes. Also numismatic specimens generally lack color, struck in a monochrome metal. This presents a challenge to create attractive displays, let alone adding pizzazz to such exhibits.

Other approaches to numismatic display are available.The Philadelphia Mint has recently, last July 3rd, opened the spectators tour gallery and exhibit rooms for public viewing after an 18-month period.

This rare form of a numismatic museum shows how coins and medals are made. The galley walkway, 40 feet about the production floor, allows the public to view from above the coining presses in operation and, in a separated room, see how medals and commemorative coins are struck.

This building – and that public gallery viewing area – is a tribute to one woman, Eva Adams, who was Director of the Mint 1961-1969. She oversaw Congressional fundraising, design and construction of this mint building during her administration.

She insisted that public gallery – eyes in the sky – be part of the building’s architectural design. It was dedicated August 1969.

It should be noted Eva Adams was also a director of Medallic Art Company, albeit for only a brief time. Bill Louth named her a director following her 1969 departure from the Mint. She resigned the following year to run for office in the American Numismatic Association. She felt it would have been a conflict of interest to serve on the ANA board while MACO was making all the association’s medals. Of course, she won election twice, serving on the ANA board for four years.

Newly revamped exhibition room of the Philadelphia Mint opened July 3.

Newly revamped exhibition room of the Philadelphia Mint opened July 3.

Coining press of 1702 on view at new exhibition at the Philadelphia Mint.

Coining press of 1702 on view at new exhibition at the Philadelphia Mint.

The Philadelphia Mint’s revamped gallery and exhibition rooms were professionally prepared by Quarterfoil, a museum exhibition specialty firm of Laurel Maryland at a cost of  $3.9 million.

Days after it opened a writer for E-Sylum, Ben Gastfriend, visited the Mint and the new public areas; he reported the following:

I visited the Philadelphia Mint on Saturday. After passing through the security checkpoint, the self-guided tour began at the bottom of an escalator, with a display of both present and historic gold coins, bullion coins, and commemoratives.

After ascending two escalators, and walking down a long corridor, I reached the famous hallway overlooking the production floor. It was immediately clear that this area had been revamped.

Colorful placards positioned along the hallway between the large windows showed the various stages of the coin-production process: Art, Die Making, Blanking,Annealing & Upsetting, Striking, Inspecting, and Bagging.

Though there was not much activity on the production floor because it was the weekend, the exhibit material interspersed throughout the tour made up for it.

In the center of the hallway was a giant spool of coining metal that was partially unrolled and formed into a railing of sorts. Mounted on the walls were master hubs (engraved and blank), obverse and reverse dies (examples that had and had not been struck), collars (with and without reeding), blanks, planchets, and finished coins.

All these materials were mounted in a way that encouraged visitors to touch them and observe closely. The electronic touch-screens (all but one were operational) allowed visitors to explore the production floor in detail.

After the circulating coin exhibit came the exhibit on the production of medals and commemorative coins. As I gazed into the dark medal-production room, a cart of about 500 3-inch medals with a handwritten sign “annealed and ready for a second strike” caught my eye. There was also a nice display of Indian Peace Medals and Presidential Medals.

Back down one escalator into an area labeled the Mezzanine was a selection of artifacts, historic coins, medals, hobo nickels, old coining presses, iron gates from the 1901 Philadelphia Mint, and Peter, the stuffed U.S. Mint eagle. …

The designers of the new tour did a good job. It is much better than the former; the process is presented in an intuitive and hands-on fashion, and the number, scope, and presentation of artifacts has been improved.

That description entices readers to want to take the Mint tour as soon as possible – myself included.

I detect from that description, however, that the entire tour and exhibits are aimed at the general public, not necessarily the sophisticated numismatist, who is familiar with much of the Mint’s activity.

It should be noted, a public museum must meet the needs of all levels of viewers. Teach a little. Tell a lot. To all!

I am impressed the Mint placed hubs and dies out for the public to touch. That’s good. I hope the viewer becomes aware of the vast amount of effort and talent that goes into making each design and die. For coins, I hope it discourages counterfeiting.  It should be obvious that so much preparation and effort is required to strike a single coin.

What ideas come to mind for a medallic museum from the Mint’s new showcase?

  • Show activity actually happening. Put a coining press and a medal press in the museum operating during all hours the museum is open.
  • Put a Janvier machine on display actually cutting a die.
  • Put a designer at a drawing board and a hand engraver actually cutting a die at his work bench; both on view at all times.
  • Build exhibits of numismatic items that can be viewed close up. I like to view obverse and reverse next to each other, with ample description.
  • Encourage education, with symposiums, classroom lectures, visiting speakers.
  • Build a library and underwrite scholarship.
  • Publish, publish, publish. In every format, print and electronic. Books, pamphlets, posters, postcards, more.
  • Gift Shop. Oh Blessed Art Thou Gift Shop! Ideally museum viewers would be buyers of what they see struck on those presses, copies of artist drawings, medals struck from dies by those hand engravers. Plus all the published works and products of the field.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a two-story gift shop for an important reason – it generates massive amounts of revenue. So could a medallic museum gift shop.

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FOR MORE than ten years I have been studying the future development of the coins and coin denominations of the United States. Our coinage system and the coins themselves drastically need revision. But the institutions which have the power to change our coins have been hesitant to act and we face the most inept situation in that two of our coins now cost more than their face value to make!

At present we have a situation where the zinc industry is lobbying Congress to retain the one cent coin, even though it has passed its time as a viable coin of commerce. The cent coin needs to be abolished, like Canada has done earlier this year. The cent denomination will still exist, transactions can still be made in cents and dollars, it is just the final amount will be rounded off to eliminate any necessary payment of cent coins.

What is needed is to study our entire coinage system with an unbiased view, establish a well thought-out plan, and have this vetted by all organizations and institutions which have an interest in the outcome.

Better yet, invite these organizations to have a part in forming that basic plan. They could be represented on a committee to study and make recommendations for what coin denominations the U.S. Mint should manufacture – and their characterizes.

One of the fields of American commerce with the greatest activity in circulating coins is the vending machine industry. Their trade association would be ideal to be involved in determining what coins would be best for future circulation.

As a numismatist, I would recommend a numismatic association as well.  This is important because there are forces in existence at present which desire to replace coins where all transactions are electronic transfer of payments. This would be a death knell for the hobby of coin collecting which needs new coins issued every year, if only a change of date or mintmark.

I won’t say numismatics is at a crossroad. But it is a serious situation, which, if not confronted, could lead to the elimination of modern coins.  (We would still have ‘old coins” to collect, but new issues keep new people entering the field, as evidenced by the Statehood Quarter series.)

What I propose is to establish a study group – a Committee for Determining America’s Future Coins. The committee would do some creative “think tank” reasoning. Then make a report of their recommendations.

The recommendations can be as specific as metal formulas for coin compositions to reconfiguring new cash registers of the future – where perhaps no one touches the coins, the machine does all that. To perhaps, embedding a microchip in high value coins which records, say, the last ten transactions.

We are in a new century. We need not utilize last century’s coinage system. Below is a letter I have written to the new executive director of the ANA to initiate the formation of this Committee.

An Open Letter to Jeff Shevlin, ANA Executive Director

Jeff Shevlin, Executive Director
American Numismatic Association
818 N. Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO  80903

Dear Jeff:

There are very strong forces in existence today that if allowed to continue will ultimately abolish the need and use of coins. Namely, the electronic transfer of money. If we are to see the continued use of coins in the future  – of viable coin denominations, the continuance of our hobby with new coin issues, and the sheer existence of numismatics! – there are some actions that must be taken fairly quickly to ensure the abolishment of coin issuing will never happen.

Fortunately we have a strong ally, the vending machine industry. While this industry has continued with inadequate coin denominations – and plagued with problems of paper currency in their machines – they are one of the greatest users of coins in our economy. We assume they would want to continue to use coins in preference to any other system of collecting payments for the small transactions generated by their vending machines.

Therefore I propose the ANA, as the largest coin association, join forces with the largest trade association of the vending machine industry for the purpose studying what coins – denominations and specifications – would be the most viable for future use in America. In effect, establish a Committee for Determining America’s Future Coins.

This committee would determine not only what coin denominations are necessary, but also their specifications – composition, diameter, thickness and such. Further, it could make suggestions as to design but the basic factors are the important considerations since designs can change often.

Organizations which have an influence in Future Coins should be represented on this committee:

  • ANA – two members
  • Vending Trade Association  – two members
  • U.S. Treasury Department  – one member
  • U.S. Congress  – one member
  • U.S Mint – one member
  • Futurist Society – one member.

There is one person whose credentials recommend him to be the chairman of this committee. That person is François Velde. He has written a book on the subject of small coins in world coinage systems and is currently Chief Economist, Chicago Federal Reserve Bank.

For ANA to join with a trade association of the vending machine industry to sponsor such a committee would benefit both fields. It would benefit the numismatic field by insuring the continued, well planned, use of coins far into the future. It would benefit the vending machine field by giving them the most useful coin denominations and a time schedule to reconfigure their machines for the most efficient use in the future.

Heretofore the Treasury has made coin decisions on one situation or crisis at a time. This should be replaced by an overall established plan for the most efficient coinage system covering any circumstance in the future. This should eliminate such actions as issuing a dollar coin near the same diameter as a quarter. Or the continued manufacture of cents and nickels costing more to make than their face value.

Can you make an arrangement with the vending machine trade association to form such a committee?


D. Wayne Johnson

D. Wayne Johnson,
Corporate Historian, Medallic Art Co

Jeff Shevlin and Dick Johnson at the 2010 ANA Boston convention.

Jeff Shevlin and Dick Johnson at the 2010 ANA Boston convention.

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THIS WEEK I will discuss the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in declaring unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was signed by President Bush in 2006. It states, in effect, a person who has not been awarded a military decoration can not wear such medal, nor claim verbally he had won such military decoration. Called “Stolen Valor” in America, it is called “Medal Cheat” in England.

This is of interest to Medallic Art Company because the firm has made every one these U.S. medals and decorations in the past and plans to make these now and in the future (after acquiring Graco in Texas). The law had no direct effect on the makers of these decorations, instead, it was directed at people who abused the rights of those who were legitimately bestowed these military distinctions.

Like many legal decisions, notably, more than half the public was unhappy their opinion was not sustained in the Supreme Court decision. Collectors of military decorations were split. Their national organization – Orders ad Medals Society of America, OMSA – took the position that the law should be struck down. Many of the members who were veterans, however, wanted the law not only to be retained but perhaps strengthened.

After all, these veterans had served in the military and had legitimately been awarded many of the decorations covered by the law. The reasoning – correct in all aspects – was that anyone who had not served and been legitimately bestowed the medal should not be entitled to the right to claim such an honor.

OMSA’s position was the law was badly conceived. It needs to be rewritten. It perpetrated a previous requirement –U.S. Code 18 Paragraph 704, and specifically U.S. Code 36, Paragraph 903 for the Medal of Honor – which stated these medals were not to be sold to unauthorized persons, to anyone who had not been officially awarded.

The U.S. Code overlooked completely the right of collectors to acquire and legally posses these medals.

For more than half a century collectors got around this prohibition by trading for desired specimens. The purchasing of U.S. decorations by collectors became a subterfuge. Purple Heart medals – a popular collectors’ item – for example had a secondary market value of $35.

A collector would offer $35 cash and a postage stamp in “trade” for a Purple Heart. This was apparently legal despite the fact it was a sham purchase.

When I was a medal dealer I refused to engage in such a sham. I sold decorations cash outright. No trade necessary. Deep down I longed to be challenged. I was ready, I thought, to sustain the position that collectors had a right to purchase these artifacts, as any other collectible. I was ready to go to court, if necessary, over the injustice. Lucky for me this never came about.

Intent of that original Code was to prevent exactly what was intended under the Stolen Valor Act To wit: unauthorized persons should not wear decorations they were not entitled to. But neither the U.S. Code nor the Stolen Valor Art covered possession.

Both overlooked what was to become of these decorations upon the death of the recipient. It is these artifacts which enter the secondary market and become collectors’ items after the death of the owner. Medals of one’s parents are usually kept in the family and venerated. Medals of grandparents are not that desired – a large portion of these are disposed, most often sold.

As a medal dealer I purchased “grandpa’s medals” more than any other category.

This prohibition of ownership may be traced back to the 1880s when elaborate precious metal badges of membership among fraternal and descendant groups. Men’s’ badges had no such restrictions. But the badges of women’s groups – as the Daughters of the American Revolution and others – carried the stipulation if a daughter followed her mother in membership she could receive her mother’s membership badge. Otherwise the badge had to be returned to the organization on the death of the member. That certainly prevented wearing by unauthorized ladies.

The ladies’ organizations – bless them – recycled badges. By doing so, however, they reduced the number required, creating an artificial scarcity, particularly noted by collectors later on.

Numismatists have the right, it should be emphasized, to gather specimens, any specimens, they choose for their collections. But what should be done with all those millions of military medals and decorations not in collectors’ hands? In veterans’ hands at present, and all those who have died in the past?

I have a solution. All the insignia and medals received by one individual should be kept intact. That’s important. An option would be to add the individual’s photograph – and perhaps even his autograph, dog tags, any other small military artifact – this all should be mounted as one group.

There are firms which do this professionally with attractive frames, often incorporating an American flag. Then donate – or will – this framed group to the local museum in the individual’s home town. Local museums should accept these frames and create a “Wall of Local Heroes.”

Case of H.L.I Lordship Industries

Unauthorized Sale of Decorations

In December 1996  H.L.I. Lordship Industries of Hauppauge, Long Island, was fined $80,000 by the government. It admitted it had sold 300 unauthorized copies of the Medal of Honor to a man for $75 each who sold the medals at memorabilia shows.

Lordship Industries, which had done as much as $9 million a year in medals sales to the government, was removed from the Bid List maintained by the Institute of Heraldry, and prohibited from receiving further Federal contracts.

Also the firm had to forfeit $22,500 it had receive for the medals. The loss of sales to the government was 60% of the firm’s total business, a serious blow to the firm.

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