Archive for August, 2012

This is the third 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. 

Ancient Coinmaking Illustration

Ancient Coinmaking Illustration

BEFORE coin presses, there was man and manpower. Ancient coins were struck by two men, one holding a die on top of a metal blank on top of  second die. The second man wielded a hammer, more like a sledge, for he needed to create a maximum amount of power to drive the top die into the blank and force it into all the cavities of the second die.

The dies even had names. The bottom die was called the anvil die and was usually the obverse of the coin. The upper die was called the pile die, usually the reverse. There were no set rules which should be obverse or reverse. But it was easier to reseat a partially struck piece back on the anvil die for a second blow if needed. Obverses usually had higher relief, with a larger cavity than a reverse, thus easier to place  back in position.

To lessen the need for such great striking force ancient coin makers experimented with heating and softening the metal blank. But this only caused uneven metal flow outward causing sawtooth edges of spikes and voids. The name for this was hot tears.

Hammered coinage.
For 2300 years coins were made by hammer blows on unheated blanks. Two men striking one coin at a time, one wielding the sledge, the other removing a struck piece and placing a fresh blank in place (and perhaps saying a prayer the sledge man hit the pile die and not his fingers!)

This manual process, known as hammered coinage, proceeded under the management of a moneyer; it was the major method of coinmaking from 640 bc until as late as 1662. A moneyer typically kept one of every16 pieces as his pay, as he enjoyed his monopoly. It is no wonder they rejected the introduction of any mechanical means of coin making.

Instead of a man wielding the sledge, why couldn’t the sledge be lifted by a pulley and dropped down a channel to affect the blow? This was the concept famed artist and inventor Lenardo da Vinci (1500) developed when he theorized how sheet metal could be blanked, and the blank be struck. His concept was brilliant; he visualized the same press doing both operations back-to-back. We have no record that da Vinci’s press was ever built, but he made sketches in his notebooks which have survived.

[In the 1950s IBM underwrote the building of da Vinci’s press from his notebook drawings. This press can now be viewed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.]

Primitive hammer presses (called klipwerk) were in operation for over a century in Germany and Sweden prior to 1763 when they were illustrated in a German encyclopedia. In Sweden the concept of the hammer was modified to a tilt hammer press. Powered by men or horses on a circular tread mill, the power was transferred by a capstan, this raised an arm with the hammer on the end; it would then trip and fall for the blow, the die slamming into sheet copper.

The copper plates were heated before this striking, and the plate was moved from a center strike to the four corners where the die struck there as well, all in quick time. This is the well documented method of manufacture of Swedish plate money from 1644 to 1776.

Screw presses for striking coins were “invented” in 1506. An Italian, Donato Bramante (1444-1514) modified an existing press (perhaps a fruit or olive press) that year for striking lead seals for Pope Julius II (1503-13). Other early screw presses where built by Nicolo Grosso and used at the Florence Mint for blanking at approximately the same time.  Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini employed such a press in 1530, again for Papal seals, but further, he illustrated it in his book on goldsmithing.

The screw press was further developed by Max (or Marx) Schwab in Augsburg, Germany, in 1550, who also improved on the rolling mill to draw plates for preparing metal for blanking. His rolling mill was immediately accepted by goldsmiths in Germany, but Schwab wanted his equipment used for striking coins. He was unsuccessful in selling his equipment to the Venice Mint, where he first offered it, but the French ambassador learned of his improvements and ordered a set of his “engines” for the Paris Mint. These were installed in 1751 and operating early in 1752.

Screw press operation. Forstriking coins, blanks had to be ready in quantity. Three or five men operated a screw press. One was the coin setter, he removed the struck piece and inserted the next blank. Two or four men were spinners, they operated the balance arm, swinging it back and forth. Lead weights were added to the balance arm to give it more strength about 1740.

Screw Press in Operation

Screw Press in Operation

Straps were attached to the ends of the balance arm enabling two spinners to pull on opposite ends sending the  spindle – the stem with large gears – crashing down with great force onto the blank. The die on the end of the spindle, called the pile, forced the blank into the stationary anvil die forming the design on both sides. The coin was struck.

The other two spinners would pull on their straps causing the spindle to rise. With the arm flying back and forth workers gave this press the nickname fly-press. The crew would change after 20 minutes, but they did this for 5 hours at a time, doing other work at the mint for a 10-hour day. The speed of swinging the balance arm was astounding: 20 to  30 times a  minute!  They had to develop a great rhythm!

While the screw press was a major improvement, it took more than a century to replace entrenched moneyers and hammered coinage. Moneyers fought the innovation despite the fact coins could be struck with a screw press in quicker time creating a far more uniform coin with a better rim  by cold coining. The screw press was introduced at the London Mint in 1551, the moneyers revolted, the screw press rejected, and it was not until 1662, 111 years later that it finally was in full use there.

The same thing happened in France. Schwab’s screw press was introduced to strike coins in 1552, but not until 1641 were coins struck in Paris on a production basis. The development of the screw press, delayed for over a century, was then widely accepted at mints around the world. It was first powered by men, and continued so, but some mints adapted it for water power, then for steam power.

Roller press.  Development of the roller mill led to the concept of impressing the rolled strip with the designs first, then blanking afterwards. The idea originated in Germany, but it was Nicholas Briot, who tried it first at the Paris Mint (1606-25), then at the London Mint (1633) and finally at the Edinburg Mint (1635-39).

Briot’s concept was unaccepted until Edinburg where he finally accomplished coinage by roller die (taschenwerke). Despite these early attempts in Germany, Scotland and Spain, this form of coining never surpassed the mill and screw, of rolling the metal, cutting out the blanks first, then striking individual coins.

[General Motors undertook an experiment in the 1960s in cooperation with the U.S. Mint. It built a modern version of such a roller press at one of its experimental laboratories in an attempt to revive this concept. But in operation the press creayed such high temperatures in the steel dies it melted the image on the face of the dies.]

Development of Coining Presses.  What the Industrial Revolution – and Matthew Boulton, Father of Modern Minting, with his Soho Mint – brought to coinmaking was the concept of how to do better repetitive steps, to improve the mechanization of striking coins. A blank had to be brought to a position where it could be impressed with both obverse and reverse dies, then the struck piece had to be ejected, the concept of cold coining. A German, with great mechanical insight, best solved this task.

In 1812 Deitrich Uhlhorn (1764-1837)   of Grevenbroich, Germany, began experimenting with striking. Instead of one die going up and down (as on the screw press) he employed a knuckle-joint to allow one die to retract enough for the piece to be ejected, the next blank inserted, and the continuous action controlled by a flywheel. This was brilliant and it worked.

By 1817 Uhlhorn had perfected this press; he patents it and begins building presses in a factory he establishes. His first sale was to the Berlin Mint, followed by other mints as they learned of his new press. Uhlhorn, and his sons after his death in 1837, were to build more than 200 presses over a span of sixty years.

Knuckle-joint press improvements.  With continued use, other improvements were adapted to Uhlhorn’s knuckle-joint press. The layer-on of placing the blank in position was one of these improve- ments, as was the feeding mechanism. A Frenchman in 1833 in Paris, Eugene Thonnelier (dates unknown) was to do more to improve Uhlhorn’s press than anyone. But he did not manufacture presses, he had no factory, he supplied drawings for presses to be built by local constructors.

The automatic feed eliminated exposure to loosing fingers as is present in all hand-fed presses. Prepared blanks were fed by hand into a tube that brought the blanks into position. Later improvements were made by Taylor & Challen which made Uhlhorn-style presses under license. Even in the 20th century, as late as 1961, Horden, Mason & Edwards placed the toggle mechanism beneath the feed table for a final improvement.

Modern coining presses have reduced the size of the flywheel, enclosed the mechanism with a covering (no moving parts exposed) and have changed the feed mechanism to an indexing plate. Some presses continue a horizontal feed with vertical die movement; but one German press has a vertical feed with horizontal die movement.

Modern presses are manufactured by Schuler and Grabener in Germany, by Reinhard & Fernau in Austria, by Heaton, Taylor & Challen, and Horden Mason & Edwards (now a division of America’s Cincinnati Milacron) in England, by Raskin in Belgium, and by Arboga in Sweden.

Medal Presses The first struck medals (Padua in 1390, Venice in 1393) were made on screw presses, but thediameter was limited, only medals smaller than 40mm could be struck with this type press. With the development of knuckle-joint presses the size was increased but limited by the pressure of the press, so larger presses were built. (Centuries later a 1000-ton press – pressure per square inch  – could strike a medal up to six inches in diameter.

The development of the hydraulic press in as early as 1852 led to greater versatility in medal striking. The action of a hydraulic press is best described as a squeeze, in contrast to the blow of a knuckle-joint press. Production of both presses must take into consideration work hardening. A knuckle-joint has greater production speeds but requires annealing more often. Hydraulic press production is slower but has greater surface movement. Both presses are in use in modern medal manufacturing.

Powering the press.  The source of power has changed in the last two hundred years. Early screw presses were powered only by man. The power was increased by longer balance beam, then by adding lead weights on the end. Power was also increased by more men pushing on the beam, up to four on each end.

Horsepower was used where the horses could walk in a circle deriving the power by a capstan. This was ideal for a trip hammer press, but not effective for a screw press. Then water power was employed, with power transferred by belts. This was ideal for the Uhlhorn and Thonnelier presses because the belts could be connected to the flywheels.

But steam engines, first developed by Boulton & Watt in 1775 and used in their mint as early as 1788, became the major source of mint power for over ninety years for most mints. It wasn’t until 1883 that electricity began replacing steam power, first at the Philadelphia Mint, then elsewhere; belting was eliminated and separate electric motors ran individual coin and medal presses.

Pressroom practice. The operator of any press employed to strike coins or medals, as a coining press or any type of medal pres, is a pressman.

A pressman reports to a pressroom foreman, who is responsible for all activity to produce the coins or medals. Operators of presses have always been called a pressman since 1819 (although Medallic Art Co has at times employed lady “pressmen”).

A pressman’s greatest responsibilities with automatic presses are:

  1. not to break a die
  2. to use the correct blanks for striking the order at hand
  3. to setup the press properly
  4. to insure the feed mechanism is delivering blanks to the press properly and continuously
  5. to frequently inspect the struck items during a production run.

The pressman must have a feeling for die clearance and die alignment during setup and that the dies are seated and locked in position correctly. He must know the correct gauge of blanked stock. He must be able to look at the relief and size of a die to determine the correct gauge to use in striking if it is not specified in the work order.

While presses are running the pressman must have a “sixth” sense of knowing his press is functioning properly by the sound it makes (and how fast he can hit the power button when he hears a clink or thud instead of a hum of satisfactory continuous striking).

He should know just about when a die is going to break and retire it before it can jam the press. (While obtaining the maximum use from a die is an admirable goal, it is less important than that of preventing a die from breaking on the press.) Also he must maintain the press or presses under his command in working order.

During inspection, a pressman must know what to look for. He must know the concept of highpoints (that the metal flow is filling every cavity in the dies by surface deformation). He examines these places on the struck piece under magnification on both sides.

He must be conscious of all the points of stress in a die (he must carefully examine the areas between lettering and the rim where stress is the greatest). He must also examine the rim/edge juncture in trying to meet (but not exceed!) this point with the most metal mass of the blanks. He should check the axis on both sides of the piece that they are properly aligned. His goal is to produce perfect struck pieces at all times.

Presses provide the means of producing multiple replicas of the image the artist created in the first place.


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two-pound modern British coin bears the edge lettering WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS, a quote attributed to Sir Isaac Newton. By fate, we find Sir Newton one of the participants in the development of the field by his position as Warden, later Master, of the London Mint (see entry for 1696).

A variant of Newton’s quote is “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us – we provide the shoulders for those who follow us.” Because of that truth, the development of art medals will continue as a vibrant field in the future.

Art medals, like their brethren coins, document current people and events and last forever! The longevity of both diminutive sculptural objects are unsurpassed by any other art media or form of artistic expression.

We know what figures of history really looked like — Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, obscure Kings of the Middle Age, Columbus — by their portraits on coins, and medals. (Cleopatra was not the raving beauty of an Elizabeth Taylor!)

We learn that this documentation of human events by the artistic expression of bas-relief on small permanent metal artifacts become the thrust of museum acquisition. Further we celebrate why these objects hold such fascination for individual collectors. Art medals are preserved, venerated and intended to be viewed forever! I have tried to identify the 100 most important developments of the past six and one-half centuries — and the people involved — that have brought us to our present position in the field of art medals. We are standing on the shoulders of a small group of dedicated artists, artisans, mechanics, innovators and inventors, authors and administrators who came before us.

Some objects called “medallions” were created in the Roman world. But that development did not have a follow up. Scholars tend to give Pisanello credit for the invention of the art medal as the first of a continuous movement of an image and caption preserved in metal as art medals.

Numismatists, writers and catalogers in the field will find this chart useful. It pinpoints the year in which a technology was placed in use by advanced medalists or a first event which influenced the issuance of some medallic operation or class of medalllic items.

As an example, electroplating first occurred in England in 1840. Thus any medallic item made before 1840 cannot be goldplated or silverplated. (It was FIREGILDED.)

Medallic technology is still advancing. The 20th century was known as the century of the die-engraving pantograph (not entirely replacing hand engraving of previous 25 centuries). The 21st century will be known as the century of computer engraving. We continue to advance.

The symbol ► leads to the next related development. Books are cited from author’s master bibliography with a letter-number bold-face catalog number.

Year Innovation
1439 Pisanello [Pisano, Antonio(1397?-?1455) Italian sculptor, painter, inventor] creates first art medal of John Paleologos by lost wax casting in bronze from wax pattern. (►1888)
Circa 1450 First medallic plaques and plaquettes cast in metal (usually bronze) from single-sided wax pattern similar to cast reliefs which had been made for centuries. Medallic plaques bore inscriptions which previous reliefs had not.
1500 Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Famed Florentine artist, engineer and scientist envisioned blanking, coining dies, striking presses and hydraulics. He made drawings of these, published in his notebooks. He recorded the earliest theory of blanking and coining presses, no documentation exists of da Vinci actually building or using these innovations. However, he created some highly thoughtful solutions to coin techno- logy problems. A model of his blanking press was built from his drawings (financed by IBM) now on view in the Smithsonian Institution. It shows two blanking heads back-to-back that could accomplish dual blanking on the same strip. Leonardo’s screw press for striking papal seals is on view in the museum in his home town in northern Italy, Vinci. (►1520s)
1506 The first screw press for striking coins, seals and medals was developed by an Italian architect, Donato Bramante, and by 1506 he was blanking sheets of lead for striking seals for Pope Julius II (1503-13). Other early screw presses where built by Nicolo Grosso and used at the Florence Mint for blanking at approximately the same time. (►1520s)
1520s Striking medals with dies in a screw press, rather than producing by casting, becomes common particularly in Rome where Cesati, Leoni and Cellini struck papal medals. This developed independently from a struck Carrara medal of Padua in 1390 and a Sesto medal of Venice in 1393. While still of small module, early medals take on a bolder appearance than coins and ultimately are struck in larger diameters.
1530 The principle of the screw press illustrated and described by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1574) in his work on goldsmithing; he used a screw press this year for striking lead seals for Pope Clemente VII (1523-34). (►1550)
1550 Max (Marx) Schwab, Augsburg, Germany, develops screw press for striking coins exclusively. Builds these, and roller presses, as first supplier of mint machinery. He was rebuffed in Germany and Italy, Schwab sells French Henri II equipment for the Paris Mint, it arrives in 1551. (►1553)
1552 Antoine Brulier in France develops the first blank cutting equipment; although primitive, it works, in contrast to da Vinci’s blanker of 1500, illustrated in his notebooks but apparently never built. (►1790)
1553 Mint technology is spread among many European countries by Etienne Bergeron (active 1550-63), an Augsburg mechanic who brought mint technology to the Paris,Troyes, Lorraine mints. Gifted mechanically, he was able to produce well-struck coins at each of the mints he set up. This was, in effect, the birth of milled coinage. (But he was driven out of Paris in 1560 by the moneyers whose technology he replaced.) (►1555)
1555 In Paris, Aubin Olivier attempts to use a screw press to produce an engraved edge on a special collar, perhaps before the blank is struck with obverse and reverse dies. (►1651)
1560 Eloy Mestrelle (?-1578) developed first screw press for the Tower Mint of Elizabeth I. In 1570 he struck a medal to complain his tools were confiscated. The obverse bore a bust of the Queen along with the inscription: WHAT ARE WE WITHOUT THEE? The reverse’s central device is the Tower with the plea: WHAT IS THIS WITHOUT TOOLS?
1562 Dissatisfied with existing methods of suspending medals for wearing (by drilling a hole in the medal), Dutch and British medalists began attaching a loop to the edge of medals. William Herbert First Earl of Pembroke Medal by Steven von Herwijek contained an integral loop. (Eimer 44).
1663 Louis XIV establishes the Academie des Inscriptons to devise legends and images for his comprehensive series of medals celebrating the major events of his reign.
1684 First calendar medal issued as medals were the ideal device to bear a calendar to identify a date. A British manufacturer, W. Foster, made his first calendar medals this year. Despite their apparent uselessness after the year portrayed they are widely collected as a popular topic or thematic.
1696 First branch mints established by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) the first year he was named Warden if London Mint (named Master 1698). While dies were made in London, coins were struck at Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich and York for the same reason of branch mints anywhere: to meet local demand for coin, to reduce costs of transporting bullion or struck coin.
1750 Heavier screw presses with cast iron frames were made of a single piece for greater strength at the mint in Kremnica. It could strike a coin or medal up to 40mm diameter. (►1812)
1756 English manufacturer Benjami Huntsman (1704-1776), invented a method of making crucible steel that proved most useful for dies. Matthew Boulton used Huntsman steel for his dies at his Soho Mint. Huntsman’s firm supplied steel suitable for dies to mints and medal makers throughout the world for nearly 200 years, until 1950.
1762 First proof surface struck on a medal made in England for the Pitt Club (it was placed in a watch crystal to protect the delicate reflective surface). (►1855)
1775 Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) and James Watt (1736-1819) in Birmingham join forces for building steam engines, the forerunner of using steam power for minting, and of the establishment of their private Soho Mint for the manufacture of coins, medals and tokens. (►1788)
1788 In their pursuit to manufacture products using steam power Boulton and Watt obtain a screw press, and within a year they had devised a way to use their steam engines to power a screw press powerful enough to strike coins and medals. (►1789)
1789 Matthew Boulton establishes Soho Mint in Birmingham. With partner James Watt, he built factory to build steam engines (1775), used these to go into metalworking, button making, and ultimately into coining; built coining presses and executed his first coin-age contract (1786), in effect establishing the first private mint, Soho Mint (1789), Boulton hires accomplished engravers, first Jean-Pierre Droz (1789), then Conrad Heinrich Kuchler (1793), won British coining patent (1790), struck Britain’s (cartwheel) copper coinage (1797). Boulton was considered to perform the coinage for the fledgling American nation – even establishing a branch mint in America – because of his quickly earned reputation as the most technically advanced mint any where by 1791 (Thomas Jefferson opposed this, so a federal mint was established in Philadelphia in 1792 but obtained blanks and technology from Boulton, Jefferson even tried to hire away Boulton’s chief technician Droz). Boulton helped rebuild England’s Tower Mint (1805), constructing all coining machinery and installing steam power. So efficient were his coining presses constructed at this time, they lasted until 1882. Boulton made tremendous improvements in diemaking, hubbing, blanking, coining and striking both coins and medals. A leader in the Industrial Revolution he is recognized for creating the first private mint and is considered the Father of the Modern Minting. (►1799)
1789 Boulton hires Jean-Pierre Droz (1746-1823) a Swiss die engraver, engineer, from the Paris Mint to prepare dies, improve minting equipment and help obtain business for their fledgling mint (and become the first factory artist). Droz was exceptional in that he had great talent for die engraving, but also rare mechanical aptitude. He invents the first split collar (virole brisée) in 1783 for edge lettering and submits this to Paris Mint. At the Paris mint, Droz and mechanic Philippe Gengembre devised a way to feed the blanks and remove the struck pieces while the press was still manually operated. Droz adds his feed and delivery system to a screw press which Boulton had automated with steam power, in effect creating the first automated coining press. He prepares many patterns for coins and medals and installs equipment and processes making Soho Mint the most technically advanced in the world. Somewhat unhappy, however, in his position at Soho Mint and his relationship with Boulton, Droz returns to France. (►1799)
1789 First use of clad metal for medals. Newly hired Jean-Pierre Droz uses Barton’s metal to strike the George III Recovery Medal in 1789 (Brown 311). Barton’s metal was formed by rolling strips of silver or gold on a copper core, with adhesion much like that used for Sheffield plate.
1793-5? First noncoin item struck at U.S. Mint, the Rickett’s Circus Medal (Jaeger-Bowers 23rd Greatest American Medals & Tokens). Not only is it the first medal, but also the first private (nongovernmental or national medal) struck by the U.S. Mint. Medals continue to be struck of both kinds (national medals struck continuously thereafter, private medals until 1956). (►1855)
1795 The hydraulic press is invented in England by Joseph Bramah; but it is not fully used by the British Royal Mint until more than fifty years later, and a century later at the Philadelphia Mint in America. (Great Britain ►1850s; United States ►1892)
1799 Jean-Pierre Droz returns to Paris from his employment with Matthew Boulton at the Soho Mint in Birmingham. He becomes General Administrator of the coins and medals, keeper of the mint museum and consultant to mints of the world for processes and equipment for making coins and medals.
1805 Matthew Boulton, at his Soho Mint produces his first edge lettering in raised letters on a medal he created in Birmingham. He gave to each of the officers engaged in the Battle of Trafalgar a medal that bore a portrait of Lord Nelson. Around the medal was the edge lettering: TO THE HEROES OF TRAFALGAR FROM M BOULTON. This was accomplished by the segmented collar (virole brisée) technology he learned from Droz, but occurred after Droz had left his employ. (►1850)
1812 In Germany, mechanic Diedrich Uhlhorn (1764-1837) builds his first coining press based on a knuckle-joint rather than a screw for power in one of the most important breakthroughs in minting technology. (►1817)
1815 Medallist Benvenuto Pistrucci (1784-1855) was commissioned to create a medal commemorating the battle of Waterloo. He took over three decades to fulfill the commission. Pistrucci had engraved dies so large – 5½ inches – it could not be struck. So in 1849 Pinches wisely made the Waterloo Medal in galvano form. (►1849).
1816 Steam power arrives at United States Mint at Philadelphia for most machinery. Up to this time about half (including the screw press) were powered by man, others run by horse power (as a gin with horses walking around in circles). More powerful steam engine is build at the Philadelphia Mint (►1874).
1817 Diedrich Uhlhorn, patents his knuckle-joint press and paves way for creating an advanced coining press (surpassing the screw press) and establishes a factory for their production. His press (called a “lever press”) utilizes a flywheel to transfer power to the die by a knuckle-joint hinge. His factory is active for more than 60 years supplying 57 presses for coining to nine European mints by 1847. He had died in 1837, but the factory is continued (Uhlhorn & Sohn) by his sons, who had built and sold 200 more presses by 1876. The firm is out of business by 1882 but its influence on coin and medal making was unprecedented in history.
1819 Dupeyrat sells his die-engraving pantograph to the British Royal Mint (30 years after selling one to the private Soho Mint); also to the Karlsruhe Mint in Germany, and other European mints at same time. Italian medallist Benedetto Pistrucci, who is proficient in the use of the reducing pantograph, installs the machine and instructs workers at Royal Mint in its use. (►1824)
1820 In France an ingenuous machinist Ambrose Wohlgemuth builds a “medal and cameo reducing and engraving lathe.” He used modern principles of reduction but still employed pedal power, as had all previous copying machines. (►1830)
1825 French sculptor David d’Angers (1788-1856) creates his first portrait bas-relief of what was to become his Gallery of Contemporaries, a first sculptural portrait series of famous contemporary persons.While his relief portraits were similar to a medallic format – in effect the forerunner ofan art medal series, they were originally cast – it was not until later they were electrolytically cast as portrait galvanos. Although his relief creations preceded those of Ponscarme’s, those of d’Angers series were not credited with the innovation of modern art medals. (►1868)
1828 In Britain, first medals issued in series sold by subscription to the public by publisher Edward Thomason (1769-1849):. In all he produced three medallic series: 1) Medallic Illustrations of Science and Philosophy, 2) The Kings and Queens of England, plus 3) Thomason’s famed Medallic Bible. Previous medal series were papal medals since 16th century and Napoleon medals issued in France
Circa 1830 Medallist Armand Auguste Caqué (1793-1881), working in the Paris Mint, used the Hulot machine there; makes mechanical improvements on their pantograph copying lathe. (►1836)
1836 First die-engraving pantograph developed which employed a rotating cutter in effect making the pantographic reducer a mechanically controlled milling machine instead of a copying lathe. The inventor, Contamin (no other name or dates known) was French; he had adapted an earlier French mechanical pantograph by Jean Baptiste Dupeyrat, ca 1788. Contamin’s engraving pantograph was in widespread use for over 60 years sometimes in competition with the English mechanical engraver developed by C.J. Hill. (►1840)
1837 A German physicist and engineer, Moritz Herman Jacobi (1801-1874) develops an electrolysis process he calls “galvanoplasty” which today is known as electroforming, widely used for making oversize coin and medal patterns to be pantographically reduced. Process is ideal because it reproduces fine detail in hard metal necessary for coin and medal patterns. (►1840)
1840 George Richards Elkington and Henry Elkington (cousins) receive the first patent for silverplating, marking the date for the development of electroplating. Early electroplating was done with primitive batteries until commercial electricity became available. (►1889)
Circa 1840 Medallist Jean Baptiste Maire (1787-1859) in France, makes improvement on the reducing machine, has knowledge (or machine) of Contamin and/or Caqué. It is Maire’s (or Contamin’s) engraving pantograph that is first to use a hard metal pattern made by electroforming – Jacobi’s process – (previous patterns were cast metal). (►1842)
1842 The German-American painter Ferdinand Pettrich (1798-1872) was the first use of a fine artist to directly model a design in relief for an American coin or medal, the John Tyler Indian Peace Medal (Julian IP-21). He modeled a relief portrait that was cast in iron then reduced on the Philadelphia Mint’s Contamin lathe by Franklin Peal , who cut the Tyler Medal in three sizes. (► 1851)
1849 Pinches wisely made the Waterloo Medal in galvano form. The world’s most famous electroform was electrolytically cast by Pinches in a double-sided electrotype after Benvenuto Pistrucci engraved a die too large to be struck (but later stuck in smaller size (►1972).
1851 In England machinist C.J. Hill (active 1851-1866) begins work on his die-engraving pantograph, continuing to improve it, perhaps inspired by a Contamin or the reducing machine improved by James Watt at Soho Mint. (►1856)
1851 British improvement of hubbing, hobbing and the first use by this term; actual copying of relief designs in metal (iron) had been done (530 B.C.) almost since first coins (as hubs have been found of coins of 530 B.C.). Strong screw presses had been used for hubbing since the first screw press had been developed (1506). (►1892)
1855 A separate department for striking medals was created at the Philadelphia Mint by Mint Director James Ross Snowden. This despite the fact the Mint had made medals since its very inception. (►1879)
1856 C.J. Hill perfects his die-engraving pantograph. Solicits die work he can perform on his machine, preferring not to let the machine out of his control. (►1866)
1861 First medal design patented in America, the General Winfield Scott Patriotic Medal of 1861 by C.G. Quilfeldt and J. Lebretton. This 2½-inch white metal medal bears the legend in tiny letters on the reverse: “Entered According to Act of Congress in the Year 1861 by D.E. Hall in the Clerks Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.” (The use of the first copyright mark was not to come until 1909.) No national coin or medal needs to be copyrighted, they are protected by counterfeiting laws, but the design of private medals were protected, first by patent, then by copyright laws.
1863 First formal training in creating medallic art taught in Paris at Ecole Des BeauxArts where a studio was established for medal engraving. In 1868 Hubert Ponscarme was named professor in charge of medallic training where artists Bottee, Charpentier, Daniel-Dupuis, Roty and others were trained. (► 1868)
1866 C.J. Hill obtains a British patent on his die-engraving pantograph, then sells the machine and all rights to medallist William Wyon (for 2000 pounds). (►1867)
1867 United States Mint purchases Hill pantograph from William Wyon, September 1867. It is received and placed in use in 1868, but mint engravers still use the Hill pantograph like they had used their Contimin: only to make reduction punches of design devices from oversize models (and add lettering and figures with punches). In his 1867 annual report Mint Director Henry R. Linderman says “this important and interesting machine … reduces copies of bas-reliefs by which the freedom of execution of the larger model is susceptible in the hands of the artist, can be preserved in the most minute proportions … to the face of the coin for which it is designed.” (►1902)
1868 Hubert Ponscarme (1827-1903) considered the founder of modern art medalswith his creation of a medal for the Academy of Inscriptions for Belle-Letters bearing the portrait of Joseph Naudet (the Academy’s secretary for fifty years). Ponscarme rejected the staid design style existing for French state-sponsored medals, employing instead a new freedom in medallic design so different it launched the art medal movement.(►1899)
1878 After years of extensive research author Joseph Loubat (1831-?) published his sumptuous work on American national medals with the second volume containing line engravings of all 86 medals. M2 {1878} Loubat (Joseph Florimond) The Medallic History of the United States of America, 1776-1876. New York: privately published. 2 vols, pages. Reprinted (1967): New Milford, Conn. Norman Fladerman.
1879 The United States Mint strikes its first U.S. oval medal struck within an oval collar, the Rutherford B. Hayes Indian Peace Medal, 1879 (IP-42). In an attempt to imitate the hand engraved Indian Peace Medal bearing George Washington’s standing portrait, Mint authorities instructed chief engraver George T. Morgan to create the oval design and produce oval tooling (blanking dies, oval collar and housing). After some delays, the first oval medal was struck in November or December 1879. It first went on sale to the public (along with the oval Garfield Indian Peace Medal of 1881) in 1883 and continued to be offered until the stringent cutback of List Medals in 1986). (An earlier oval medal had been made at the mint, American Centennial Massachusetts Tree Medal, 1876, CM-38, but only 420 pieces were made, it is doubtful a collar would have been made for such a short run; these were probably trimmed oval after being struck on round gold and silver blanks.)
Circa 1888 French medallists refine process of artistic patina (similar to that placed on statues) to be applied to medals of exceptional artistic quality. Medallic portraits in the Famous Celebrities series by David d’Angers were electrolytically cast as galvanos were among the first medallic items to be patinated. (►1930)
1889 Commercial electricity became available in America ultimately to power machinery at U.S. Mints. It also eliminated the use of batteries for electrolysis work. (We have Thomas Edison to thank for much of the pioneering of commercial electricity, 1889, as generating stations, transmission of electric current and, thusly, modern electrolysis, despite his choice of direct current. It was, however, George Westinghouse choice of alternating current for commercial transmission required rectifiers to convert to direct current for electrolysis.) (►1901)
1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago spawns tremendous activity in coin and medal field. Medal issuers as far afield as Europe and South America strike medals: engravers emigrate to America (as August Frank) for the purpose of this gigantic medallic opportunity. The number of famous firsts inspired by this World’s Fair is legion:

  • First commemorative coins issued by U.S. for the Exposition and the first for three commemorative denominations: quarter, half and silver dollar.
  • First product medal at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition..
  • First stamp and stencil medal for Expo delegates.
  • Aluminum first used extensively for medals made for this event.

The activity – industrial, commercial and artistic – generated by this event is unprecedented in history, reflected by the vast number of coins and medals issued for this event, unsurpassed until the American Bicentennial. (►1976)

1892 U.S. Mint at Philadelphia receives its first hubbing press devoted exclusively to hubbing working dies for coin production and a more powerful hydraulic press for striking medals. While these presses can entirely replace screw presses, they still remain in use in the engraving department. The new presses are now powered by electricity for the first time. (►1901)
1892 Victor Janvier (1851-1911) establishes his atelier in Paris to produce three-dimensional reliefs, models and statues. He begins experimenting with existing die-engraving and sculpture-reducing pantographs, develops his revolutionary twin-cone drive. (►1899)
1898 American engraver Victor D. Brenner travels to Paris to study medallic art under Louis Oscar Roty, world’s leading medallist; to learn how to model bas-reliefs oversize and have models reduced by die-engraving pantograph; he also studied with Alexander Charpentier and at Julian Academy. Brenner – under Roty’s guidance – models his self-portrait in a pallet shape, reproduced only in galvano form (electrogalvanic cast) in Paris; second self-portrait this year, in two methods.
1899 Brenner creates first medallic model: Motherhood, modeled from a similar work by Roty; it was pantographically reduced and 3-inch die cut; [later issued in America 1911as fourth medal in Circle of Friends medal series; replicated by Medallic Art Company in 1929, even made into a silver plate by MAco 1976].
1899 Victor Janvier patents his die-engraving pantograph creating the most successful reducing machine to be used by mints and medal makers throughout the world during most of 20th century; establishes factory to manufacture his pantograph machines. (►1902)
1899 French art critic Roger Marx creates first art medal society series, the Société des Amis de la Médaille François (Society of Friends of the French Medal).The series ran from 1900 to 1920 with 63 medals by 56 artists. Its history was published by Nicholas Maier, 2010. It spawned similar art medal societies in Belgium, Austria, Germany, asubsequent series sponsored by the Paris Mint, and, ultimately the Circle of Friends of the Medallion in the United States.(►2010)
1900 Universal International Exposition at Paris made extensive use of art medals for award medals and extensive exhibits of medalli c artists’ work of both European and American medalists. A medallist from each nation exhibiting was selected as a “president” of his nation’s exhibiting artists. Bronze medals were awarded to every exhibitor, silver to previous exhibitors, plus a gold GRAND PRIX for the most outstanding.
1901 First fully electrified mint in the world built in Philadelphia for the Third U.S. Mint, on Spring Garden Street, replaced the Second Mint that had become overcrowded and inadequate. The new building and new source of power created many opportunities for innovations. In his annual mint report for 1902, Director George E. Roberts related some innovations of equipment and processes installed in the new mint building:

  1. Heavier blanking presses, permitting dual blanking and sometimes even three blanks cutout with each press cycle of all dimes and quarters (larger size coins and all gold still blanked one at a time) [minor coin blanks still purchased by private metal suppliers].
  2. Automatic weighing machines; six new Seyss scales installed for weighing blanks – sorting out underweight (to be remelted), and overweight pieces (to be adjusted or remelted) – and to check weight of struck coins.
  3. Automatic adjusting of blanks, not by hand, but by shaving slightly overweight blanks in new upsetting machines.
  4. Gas furnaces replaced coal and wood burning ovens, for both melting metal alloy formulations and for annealing strip and blanks.
  5. Electric motors directly connected to all equipment including rolling mills, presses, blanking, upsetting – all now electrified.
  6. Electric generation, the Mint installs their own equipment to generate electricity, all mechanical equipment has individual motors – no longer were shafts and belts necessary to transfer power from their monster Corliss steam engine.
1902 First Janvier pantograph imported to America by Dietsch Brothers in New York, operated by Henri Weil (to produce die-struck decorations for lady’s handbags) and firm offered to cut dies for the jewelry industry. Weil cuts dies for decorative accessories until fashions change, offers to make medal dies. (►1907)
1902 England Spinks begins the serial book publication of mammoth work on world medalists by Leonard Forrer (1869-1953). E3 {1902-30} Forrer (Leonard) Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Coin, Gem and Seal-engravers, 500 B.C–A.D. 1900. 8 volumes. London: Spink & Son. Reprinted editions (1965) London: Spink Son; (1970) New York: Burt Franklin; revisededition (1980) London: Baldwin & Sons and A.G. van Dussen (Maastrich). 5,2 pages, illus.This is the preeminent reference work for engravers, diesinkers and medallists. International and covers all time periods, from ancient to date of public tion (early 20th cent). Forrer began running biographical information in Spink & Son’s monthly Numismatic Circular as early as 1892. These were gathered in bound volumes beginning in 1902, and continued through 1930. Volume 1 was revised slightly in the 1980 Baldwin/van Dussen reprint (volume 1 page references may be different in other editions). An Index of 311 pages (compiled by J.S. Martin) was added to the 1980 set.Forrer’s style is eclectic; he included excerpts from many sources (now called “cut and paste”) These are often in the language of the original, thus styles of listings are those of the original source. Errors are amazingly light for such large volume of data, but he does include some nonexistent artists (e.g. “Beach, J.”) and medals that are not those of the listee (e.g. Sneider, Robert contains medals he sold rather than he created). One idiosyncrasy: All artists from North and South America are all classed as American.
1907 First medal cut on Janvier pantographin America portrays Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Produced by Henri Weil (employed by Dietsch Bros. in New York), for sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt. His oversize models of complete design for bothsides of a medal replaced need for hand engraved dies or dies made by reduction punches with lettering added later by letter punches. Medals struck by Tiffany & Co with Weil’s dies. (►1910)
1907 The United States Mint, Philadelphia, purchases its first Janvier pantograph at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt who learned from sculptor Augustus St-Gaudens of its existence. St-Gaudens model for high relief $20 gold coin was to be the first American coin reduced on the Janvier. Medallic Art founder Henri Weil, who had instructed mint engravers on how the Janvier pantograph was operated, was later asked by St-Gaudens assistant, Henry Hering, for assistance in lowering relief. Chief engraver Charles E. Barber professed St-Gaudens’s model was still unsuitable, the relief was too high, ultimately lowered for the two varieties of this coin in 1907.
1909 First American art medal series, Circle of Friends of the Medallion issued in New York City with Hudson-Fulton Medal by John Flanagan and struck by Medallic Art Company. Twelve medals were issued by eleven artists, two a year until 1915. Medals house in books written by Charles deKay. It was the forerunner of the Society of Medallists. (►1930)
1910 Medallic Art Company is incorporated under control of Henri and Felix Weil who acquired rights to the name and the Janvier lathe former owned by the Deitsch Brothers. As sculptors’ assistants, their intent is to offer their services to American sculptors for making bas-relief productions either as galvano casts or struck medals, literally the first firm in America devoted exclusively to art medal manufacture. (►1930)
1910 International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals at ANS, lasted less than a month, but of profound influence in the numismatic field; an extensive illustrated catalog published the following year. NE2 {1911} American Numismatic Society. Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals … March, 1910. New York: American Numismatic Society. With introduction by Agnes Baldwin Brett. (1911), 412 pages, illus.[2,052 numbered items]. Often cited “ANS (IECM)” initials of title. The medallic work of 194 medallists of Europe and America (56) who accepted an invitation to exhibit in NYC; this catalog is an expansion of a brief list published before the exhibition.
1910 United States commission of Fine Arts established. An arbiter of taste in all federal projects including coins and medals, as well as rchitecture and sculpture.
1914 First use of term “art medals” in an article by U.S. Mint curator Thomas Comparette; he listed one year’s numismatic creations in three categories: coins, commercial medals and art medals issued in 1913. N7 {1914} Comparette (Thomas Louis) Coins and Medals Produced in the United States in 1913, American Journal of Numismatics 47: (1914) pp 142.
1919 Saltus medal established by the American Numismatic Society to recognize American medallic talent. The J. Sanford Saltus Medallon was created by Adolph A.Weinman, who won the award the following year, 1920.
1929 American engraver, medallist, chief engraver, U.S. Mint John R. Sinnock (1888-1947) first to use ART MEDAL as inscription on two portrait medasl of Thomas Edison.
1930 First issue of the Society of Medalists, founded by art patron George DuPont Pratt and Clyde Curlee Trees, president, Medallic Art Company. It issued two medals a year continuously for 75 years, reproducing the medallic creations of the top Americansculptor-medallists of the 20th century. Each medal was given a special patina.
1946 The first commercial epoxy resin is offered by Ciba, based on 1936 patents of Pierre Castan of Switzerland and S.O. Greenlee of the United States. Industry gradually adopts this “plastic tooling” for making molds and master models, among other uses. However, it was not employed by mints and medal makers for casting bas-relief coin and medal models until the late 1960s (as the use of plaster casts and galvano molds continued). It was more readily accepted after 2000 when the “clay and plaster” method of modeling was replaced by computer engraving for less than artistic models (as for coin relief models).
1947 Fédération Internationale de la Médaille (FIDEM) is founded to encourage art medal creation by world artists, ultimately to hold biannual meetings and exhibitions, issuing a conference medal for each meeting. Sites rotate among European countries and America. Conventional art medals later supplemented by increasing number of medallic objects. (►1965)
1961 In Poland the first art medal with pierced open work is created by Bronislaw Chromy, Animal Lovers bearing three owl-like creatures on the obverse – the piercing allowing the third to be seen on the reverse bearing the inscription: PIERWSZA WYSTAWA RZEZBNA PLANTACH KRAKOW 1961, 0.6KG.
1964 An International exhibition of coins and medals was prepared by Dr. Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli, Curator of Monetary History and Medallic art at the Smithsonian. Shown at the ANA convention in Cleveland, over 20 nations participated with six of them exhibiting medals—Denmark, France, German, Great Britain, Greece and Italy. This was the first exposure the American collectors had to the modernism of art medals of the French, the Italians and the Dutch. The French mint picked up many new American members for their Society of the Medal.
1965 An experiment was conducted in New York City, perhaps ahead of its time. The art publication Art In America commissioned a curator, then at the Whitney Museum, Edward Albert Bryant, to manage a project of reproduced bas-relief. He sought William Trees Louth and the Medallic Art Company for the intended replications. The two literally had to invent a new art form! The Medallic Object was born. A10 {1965} Bryant (Edward) Christmas For Connoisseurs, Art In America 53:6 (December–January 1965-66) pp 38-44 [advertisement p 136].\In a rare collaboration between Art In America and Medallic Art Company, the art publication commissioned seven artists to each create a medallic relief. This was the birth of a new art form in America: the medallic object. (►1966)
1966 The following year in France, Roger Bezombes creates his first medallic object, the first art-numismatic item reproduced by a national mint. The Paris Mint, under director Pierre DeHaye encourages their creation and sponsors mostof them, ultimately producing over 300medallic objects in two decades. (►1969) O45 {1985} Hôtel de la Monnaie. La Médaille-Objet With introducition by Jacques Campet, Director. Paris: Monnaies et Médailles. 216 pages, illus. The work of 124 artists — all reproduced by the Paris Mint — covering the new art format of medallic objects
1967 With active art medalists in Finland the Finnish Art Medal Guild is founded. It issues an annual art medal.
1967 The first hologram in a work of medallic art appeared in a highly creative art medal by Israel’s Yaacov Agam, titled And There Was Light Medal.
1968 The first high relief proof surface art medal struck by Medallic Art Company in New York City. The 1½-inch medal was the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Medal (MACO 1968-056) by Abram Belskie. It was issued by International Numismatic Agency (Neil Cooper) who wanted something different to make this medal stand out among hundreds of other medals issued on the death of the Civil Rights leader. Medals as large as six inches were ultimately struck with proof surfaces.
1968 The first free-standing art medal in America was created by Roy Lichtenstein called Salute to Airmail on the 50th anniversary of airmail carried by flight. It was electrolytically cast by Medallic ArtCompany (their Catalog # 1969-154) and issued by International Numismatic Agency. It was followed by an issue of The Society of Medallists issue #115, Cat and Mouse in 1988, also free-standing. (►1976)
1969 The first multipart medal was created Kauko Rasanen of Finland. His first of the new medallic form was the two-part medal, Jonah in the Whale. This inspired a number of these creative medallic objects and Rasanen continued to create many innovative forms in multiple parts, often fitting together like a puzzle. He was honored with a Saltus Medal by the American Numismatic Society in 1986.
1971 First book on art aspect of coins and medals, Cornelius Vermeule’s Numismatic Art in America is published A15 {1971} Vermeule (Cornelius C.) Numismatic Art in America; Aesthetics of the United States Coinage. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (1971) 266 pages, 249 illus. Major work as historical overview emphasizing art and style in American coins and medals. Author creates term Federalist style to describe early American productions. [94 artists cited]
1972 Franklin Mint acquires Pinches of London and one of the first medals the acquired firm strikes is a reduced version of the Waterloo Medal of Benvenuto Pistrucci. (FM PWM-1)
1974 On December 31st the United States changed its gold policy. Gold is allowed to trade freely and U.S. private citizens are permitted to own gold. The immediate reaction was issuing gold medals and the American public could purchase gold in any form and any amount (lifting the ban in effect since March 1933). At one minute after midnight in the new day, Franklin Mint began striking gold medals for sale to the public.
1976 Great outpouring of art medals for American Bicentennial issued by every entity – national, state, local municipalities, organizations, institutions, even individuals – in every medallic format.
1976 Working independently, the first free-standing medal outside America was created by Alex Shagin. While still at the Lenningrad Mint, he ceated an art medal to stand as sculpture. It was to be exhibited at FIDEM 1977; but, according to Shagin, the authorities would not allow such a dramatic departure from Socialist Realism to be exhibited at an international meeting. Unfortunately, when Alex Shagin came to America, the Soviet government would not allow him to take these medals with him.
1977 United States Mint’s medal issues over 100 years documented and illustrated in book by Robert Julian published by TAMS. M37 {1977} Julian (Robert W.) Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century,1792-1892. Token and Medal Society. 424 pages. [573 items, 69 artists, index of artists, p 418-419, compiled by DWJ] Monumental work on 19th century mint medals. Artists are identified for 412 items; 161 items have unknown artists.
1979 Mark Jones’ book, first entirely on art medals published in England. A26 {1979} Jones (Mark) The Art of the Medal. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Publications Limited, 192 pages, illus.
1982 American Medallic Sculpture Association (AMSA) is founded to promote art medal creation by American artists by frequent exhibitions. Dr. Alan Stahl organized its first exhibition at te American Numismatic Soceity where he was curator. Exhibit catalogs issued, AMSA Members Newsletter published.
1982 Similarity in England the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) is founded. It promotes itsmembers’ creations and issues an annual medal.
1984 First International Medallic Workshop with concurrent exhibition “Resurgence of The Art Medal” was held at Penn State University in America. The symposium brought many international teachers to America and exposed American artists to art medals. The exhibition, traveled to four museums and had a great influence on American artists.
1987 Beaux-Arts Medal Exhibition at ANS; catalog by Baxter. M42 {1987} Baxter (Barbara A.) The Beaux-Arts Medal in America. New York: American Numismatic Society. For Exhibition Sept 26, 1987 to April 16, 1988. 92 pages, illus. [112 artists listed, 368 medallic items]
1988 First Medals in America Symposium held at American Numismatic Society. MA1 {1988} Stahl (Alan M., editor) The Medal in America. New York: American Numismatic Society. Coinage of the Americas Conference, Sept 26-27, 1987.
1996 Marqusee Collection donated to Cornell University’s Herbert Johnson Art Museum. C14 {1996} Marqusee (John E.) One Hundred Years of American Medallic Art, 1845-1945; the John E. Marqusee Collection. Ithaca, New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. 98 pages. [138 artists listed, 416 items].Collection in Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. Margusee was a friend of sculptor Leonard Baskin who simultaneously donated a rare Saint-Gaudens medal which became the keystone medal of the Marqusee collection with a full-page catalog description of the medal (written by DWJ).
2010 First book published on French art medal series by Nicolas Maier. M65 {2010} Maier (Nicolas) French Medallic Art, 1870-1940. Munich: Author (2010) 415 pp, illus, in three languages: German, English, French. Discusses development of art medal in France, leading up to establishment, in 1899, by art critic Roger Marx, of Soceiet des Amis de la Medaille Francois (called SAMF throughout the book); illustrates 63 medals in SAMF series by xx artists until series halts in 1930. Author continues numbering system for medals of prominent French medallists (1863-1940) for a total of 336 medals by 73 artists.
2012 First American art medal with color applied by pad printing issued. The Guide Book of United States Coins – universally known as the “Red Book”– is illustrated in red and gold color on an art medal bearing portrait of editor Kenneth Bressett for his 50th year in this position. Sponsored by Rittenhouse Society, Bressett’s published books are listed on spines of books shown on medal’s reverse. Medal was struck by Medallic Art Company.
Acknowledgements: Art medal scholars Donald Scarinci, Alan Stahl, Ira Rezak and Harry Waterson aided the author in reaching the goal of 100 leading developments in the art medal field.

Copyright © 2012 by D. Wayne Johnson

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BILL Louth, president of Medallic Art Company (1961-1976), was a consummate salesman. He was constantly on the alert for a fresh opportunity to sell the products of the family firm he headed. Even in his daily activity and certainly in the business connections formed in his career, he transformed as many of these contacts into medal, plaque and sculpture sales.

His family roots were deep in Indiana where he had been born and raised and where his uncle Clyde Trees who acquired the company in 1927 hailed. Bill was a pedigreed “Hoosier!” In New York City, where the firm was located until 1972, he was an active member of the Sons of Indiana, New York Chapter, which named him Hoosier of the Year in 1968.   

He was also made a director of an Indiana firm’s branch, Lincoln National Life Insurance Company New York City Division. In this capacity he learned of the Lincoln Museum that the company sponsored.

Somehow Bill Louth learned about a Lincoln Relief the company owned. Perhaps he learned of it when he took his wife and two sons sightseeing in Fort Wayne, where the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company maintained a museum of all things Lincoln — Abraham Lincoln artifacts, books, prints and photographs, and, of course, Lincoln medals.

When the firm was founded, in 1905, it was given a photograph of the 16th president by his son, Robert Todd Lincoln, along with a letter authorizing the company’s use of the Lincoln name. This was the watershed document for the firm’s Lincoln collection. That Lincoln photograph was the same as to appear on the U.S. $5 bill.

In 1928, Lincoln National Life president Arthur F. Hall hired Dr. Louis A. Warren, a Lincoln scholar, who a year later, oversaw the purchase of two large collections of Lincoln books at the time. The collections grew under director Warren’s guidance until it reach museum proportions.

The Lincoln Library and Museum was dedicated February 11, 1930. Dr. Warren, a Christian minister, gave talks on Lincoln and wrote extensively on Lincoln. Housed in a room near the entrance of Lincoln Life building, it outgrew this space and was moved to a separate building.

Meanwhile, a large oval bas-relief of Lincoln’s head 24 x 19 inches had been acquired in 1893 by L. G. Muller of Chicago. It was signed only “Pickett / 1873.” Fifteen years later, on the approach of the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, Muller copyrighted the work of art.

Whether by subterfuge or sheer misinformation, he claimed the artist was a “C. Pickett.” No such “C. Pickett” was an artist in America in 1873.  Muller issued prints of the Pickett Lincoln portrait, and exhibited the plaque in Chicago, where he lived, and later in Seattle where he relocated for a short time, returning ultimately back to Chicago.

He submitted one of these prints to the U.S. Post Office in 1909. It was chosen to appear on a one-cent postal card released in 1911 (cataloged as UX23 by Scott) and was revised in a different color on a similar one-cent card in 1913 (UX26).

In 1923 that Arthur F. Hall acquired the plaque from Mueller and placed it in the Lincoln Life Museum, prominently displayed with a description which stated:

The Pickett Plaque

The original bas-relief is inscribed “Pickett” with the date “1873.” The artist was of French descent and was associated with the sculptor Leonard Volk either in America or France. The United States Post Office Department used the design of the Pickett Plaque for the one-cent postal card from 1911 to 1917.

In the May 1955 issue of Lincoln Lore, a quarterly publication of the Lincoln Nation Foundation, Dr. Warren wrote as much information about the Picket Head he was aware, relating many of the facts given above.

Further he stated: “Much effort has been put forth through the years to learn some biographical facts about the sculptor but to no avail. … No other work by Pickett has come to our attention.”

It was this plaque and its description that sightseeing Bill Louth observed when he visited the Lincoln Museum in the early 1960s. On his return to New York he immediately wrote the management of Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne.

He mentioned his directorship of their New York City affiliate, that the Lincoln Plaque in their museum could be rendered into a quite handsome fine art medal. He extolled the virtues of his firm and also mentioned it had made many medals by Paul Manship, who Arthur Hall had commissioned in 1932, to create a statue, Young Lincoln.

Louth’s sales effort succeeded. He received an order for a Pickett Head Lincoln Medal, a three-inch vertical oval medal. This would be given to agents and visiting dignitaries who visited their Fort Wayne headquarters.

Picket Head Medal

Picket Head Medal

Shortly after, that valuable plaque, the original 1873 casting, arrived at Medallic Art’s plant on New York’s East 45th Street. Art Director and Vice President Julius Lauth took it under his control. He immediately had staff sculptor Ramon Gordils make a rubber mold of that bas-relief image of Lincoln.

Once they were certain they had a satisfactory mold casting, they returned the original plaque. Then they made a plaster cast from the rubber mold. The image of Lincoln was nearly 13 inches in height. Sculptor Gordils was able to examine that plaster cast and touch it up, removing any casting imperfections. No bubble craters allowed. He added the lettering that formed the legend around the perimeter of the oval medal: THE LINCOLN NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY.

In tiny incised letters Gordills added the name PICKETT and below, the date 1873. Company policy – identify the artist, include a signature, name or initials wherever possible.

Gordill’s perfect plaster model then was placed in a electrolysis tank to make a galvano, a dieshell. This was mounted on one of the firm’s three Janvier die-engraving reducing pantographs. Not only did it reproduce that entire image – portrait and lettering – it cut the 3-inch oval die in the same operation.

Uniface bronze medals were stamped and given a highlighted bronze finish.

Years later, in 1972, I cataloged the medal for the company records (assigning it catalog number 1963-009), also adding it to the archive collection of every medal struck by the firm. I encountered the same problem Dr. Warren had faced. No data on who the artist was; Pickett remained a mystery. I compiled the catalog card, but the artist line had to read simply “Pickett” – no first name.

Frequently I walked the five blocks over to the New York Public Library at 42nd and 5th Avenue. On one of my data gathering trips to their art division, I took a chance to look up Pickett in their card catalog.

Bless some cataloger who, perhaps 60 or even 80 years earlier, had noted a 3-page auction catalog had two items signed “Byron M. Pickett.” I called for the catalog from the stacks and held the slim pages in my hands. Could this be our missing Pickett artist?

No photocopies were available then; you had to order photostats. I still have a copy of the MACO purchase order addressed to the NY Public Library, Photographic Service, dated “April 3, 1972. For “one positive photostat from your negative film *ZM-29; Joseph Mozier, Catalogue of marble statuary, comprising eleven pieces, of the late Joseph Mozier, esq., also busts and medallions by R.R. Park, esq., and Byron M. Pickett … to be sold at auction … March 22, 1873. The Messers. Leavitt, auctioneers. 2 leaves.”

Further search found no other Pickett sculptor active in 1873. (And, despite Muller’s attribution, certainly no “C. Pickett”).

I contacted Dr. R. Gerald McMurtry, then Director at the Lincoln National Life Museum of this discovery. He agreed with my attribution of their Lincoln Plaque now could be assigned to Byron M. Pickett.

I wrote an article on this subject emphasizing the source of the Lincoln image on postal cards issued by the U.S. Post Office, mentioned on the exhibit description of the Lincoln Plaque. This article was published in Linn’s Stamp News, Pickett Head of Lincoln Was Model for 1911 Postal Card (March 24, 1980 issue).

That 1911 one-cent postal card was cataloged in the philately field as Scott UX 23. A second variety in a different color was issued in 1913 (UX 26). All this was related in a second article in Postal Stationery (May-June 1980).

Fast forward now to 2006. It was one of those articles that attracted the attention of Ron Haney of Rochester, New York. Ron is a great grand-nephew of Pickett and was seeking data on his relative when he stumbled on to my article. He wrote and we began an active email correspondence.

I was as eager to learn about Byron M. Pickett as an artist, as Ron was as eager to learn a bout his predecessor. I immediately sent Ron the listing I had on Pickett in my American Artists Databank.

I recognized his eager interest so in 2008 sent him a packet of all the material I had in my Pickett file, including photos: of the 1873 Lincoln bas-relief plaque, Medallic Art Company medal struck in 1963, a calendar published by the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company with the Lincoln Medal illustrated on the cover, even a calendar card for the year 1966.

Plus, of course, photocopies of that 1873 auction catalog, a 1955 Lincoln Lore publication on the Picket Head plaque, and a photocopy of a page from a Manhattan New York guidebook illustration the Samuel F.B. Morse statue, which is Pickett’s most famous work of art, other than the Pickett Head of Lincoln. (He did other sculptural work, as a bas-relief Peace and Unity mounted on the monument to the 66th New York Infantry, a granite shaft, located on the battlefield in Gettysburg.)

In 1983 the Lincoln National Life Company reorganized, now part of the Lincoln Financial group. The Fort Wayne company was now Lincoln National Reinsurance. The earlier medals, created two decades earlier were now obsolete for bearing an incorrect name.

A new medal order was issued to Medallic Art. Change the name on the obverse and add a reverse design. This chore fell to staff sculptor Gladys Gunzer. She pulled up the galvano from the 1963 medal, cast it in plaster, removed the old name and added the new: LINCOLN NATIONAL REISURANCE.

For the reverse she modeled a design from the days of Arthur Hall, the seated Young Lincoln reading a book, Paul Manship’s statue of 1932. The reverse bore a legend from a poem by Edwin Markham Lincoln, Man of the People: “HE HELD HIS PLACE – HELD THE LONG PURPOSE LIKE A GROWING TREE.”

The new medal retained the vertical oval shape and would continue to be a memento for visiting dignitaries. It was cataloged as MACO 1983-171.

Meanwhile Ron’s Pickett research continued. He kept me in the loop, and sent copies of each new Pickett item – personal or sculpture – he uncovered. It was a delight to open each new email from him.

This week I received the latest from him – the capstone of our Pickett research. Ron had learned where Pickett was buried, but also learned it had no headstone. He ordered and paid for a headstone that reads:



AUG 03. 1833 – MAR 03. 1907


So this brings to a close the Saga of the Pickett Head. From the sale of a medal by a Medallic Art President, who recognized a giant bas-relief portrait originally created in 1873 would make a handsome fine art medal, to a tombstone in the Brookside Cemetery in Tenafly, New Jersey. With some eager research results along the way

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