I was once asked to describe the Hall of Fame Series of medals in one sentence. I wrote “One of the most popular series of medals in the world.” I should have included the word “portrait.”
Portrait medal series had existed in Europe long before. Swiss engraver Jean Dassier (1676-1763) worked in France where he created a 72-medal series of Famous French Celebrities, then moved on to England to engrave a series of British Kings and Queens.
In America the U.S. Mint struck medals of army and naval heroes at the discretion of the U.S. Congress. These were more single-issue medals that had a similarity of size and theme that seamed to fall into a series.
They struck medals bearing the portrait of presidents as they were inaugurated late in the 19th century, but overlooked, at first, earlier presidents.
Even America’s two 20th century medal series, Circle of Friends of the Medallion and The Society of Medallists overlooked portraits. They had no rule against portraits in either series, but few bore portraits.
There had been no true American portrait series until Presidential Art Medals, of Ohio, issued a series of U.S. presidents, in half dollar size, created by a top American sculptor and struck as fine art medals by Medallic Art Company.
The success of that series led to a second – honoring U.S. States – each of which bore a portrait of their most famous son, then a third series on Signers of the Declaration of Independence. All three series were created by one artist, Ralph J. Menconi (1915-1972) and all three series bore portraits on every medal, all of half dollar size, convenient for collecting, placing in an album, as collectors had done with coin series.
The success of President Art’s three series got everyone thinking about other potential medal series. In New York City, the Hall of Fame series was a natural for a medal series.
The Hall of Fame honors the most famous Americans chosen by a select group of judges and sponsored by New York University. The first election was held in 1896, and elections were held every four years thereafter.
Bronze statues of the honorees were installed along a Colonnade partially circling a building designed by famed architect Stanford White at the University’s Morningside Heights campus. Niches for 102 statues appear on both sides of the Colonnade walkway.
Once a person was elected to the Hall of Fame – the world’s first such hall of fame now widely copied by other organizations and fields – a statue was commissioned to be created slightly oversize by a a prominent American sculptor. Once cast in bronze, it was installed in its own niche in that outdoor colonnade.
I cannot say for certain who came up with the idea first, I suspect it was Medallic Art’s president Bill Louth, but it was a brilliant concept. In 1962 he formed a coalition to sponsor and market fine art medals of these most famous Hall of Fame Americans. If it was Bill Louth’s program it was in imitation of one by his uncle, Clyde Curle Trees who created The Society of Medallists, three decades earlier in 1930.
The coalition consisted of New York University, the owner of the Hall of Fame, the National Sculpture Society who would furnish an art committee, the Medallic Art Company, which would manufacture the medals, and the Coin and Currency Institute which would market the medals.
Over the next 13 years, 96 medals were created by 42 sculptors, predominately members of the National Sculpture Society. While the design was left to the artist each submission had to pass the approval of the Art Committee composed of at least five of the artists’ sculptural peers.
Rules for the medal design were simple. It had to be a portrait on the obverse, significant scene from that subject’s accomplishment for the reverse plus lettering on either side, in legend or inscription, HALL OF FAME FOR GREAT AMERICANS AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY.
Medals were struck in two sizes. A large 3-inch (76mm) bronze only, and a small 1¾-inch (44mm) size in bronze and silver. The silver medals were serially numbered.
If I had to name the persons most responsible for the success of this series if would be Julius Lauth (1913-1991), art director at Medallic Art Company and Robert Friedberg (1912-1963) owner of Coin and Currency Institute. Lauth (no relation to Bill Louth, just a similarity of last names to the despair of our company telephone operators) kept on top of issuing commissions to qualified sculptor-medalists, all 96 commissions.
Julius knew who was available and who would have an empathy for the subject. For the theologians, for example, he would choose a sculptor with sympathetic religious beliefs. Or of similar ethic or background heritage as the American portrayed in a relief work of art.
Julius had a dossier on each artist in his head. He was a masterful art director. Artists adored him, not only for the generous commissions he bestowed but also for his gentle demeanor and useful design suggestions. He never gave orders to artists, he was always attuned to their creative egos. In return, artists would do anything to please Julius, even if it meant another day or two completely remodeling a medal design he had briefly suggested.
But of paramount importance, if the sculptor who prepared the bronze bust in the Hall of Fame Colonnade was still alive, he would commission that artist for the medal. Such artist would already have the images still in his mind. It would be a superb companion piece to compliment their heroic sculpture in medallic form.
And in one case, where a sculptor died, as had Laura Gardin Fraser, Julius had to retrieve what she had accomplished to that point and reassign it to an artist with similar style and aptitude, Karl Gruppe.
I also remember in a conversation with Julius he was aware of the medal sequence, commissioning lesser known honorees, holding back some more popular ones for the last of the series. He wanted to maintain collector interest right up to the end.
Robert Friedberg was a genius who build a coin dealership following World war II into a numismatic institution. His knowledge of the field, and of marketing, led him to create a coin department, a leased department in a department store. He emulated the Marcus organization which had the philatelic department in Gimbels.
In New York City at the flagship Gimbels, Friedberg establish a coin department right next to the stamp department on the first floor. To justify the high rent, he supplied the coin department with plenty of numismatic material on a continuing basis.
The success of a New York department store led to opening coin departments in other Gimbels stores around the country. At the height of the Friedberg expansion he had coin departments in 38 states. Purchases at these departments were typical gift items, often called the “grandmother trade.” Hall of Fame medals would be ideal gifts although many adult collectors would obtain these for themselves.
Bill Louth and Bob Friedberg worked out the details of the Hall of Fame series to maximize exposure, sales and profits and to level out the workload for both organizations. They settled on a schedule of six or eight new medals a year, in the two sizes, with a silver version only in the small size, and delivery of enough quantity to supply all thirty-some-odd coin departments throughout the country. And they intended to maintain that schedule.
Each organization promoted the series. Medallic Art issued a five-inch square brochure prepared by the firm’s advertising agency. It was reported to have won awards but didn’t sell many medals. In contrast Coin and Currency issued a much thinner same-size brochure which helped sell medals and the series, but didn’t win any art awards.
Bob Friedberg died soon after the program started. The business continued, however, under his widow, Goldie and his brother, Jack Friedberg. As a family business, it was ultimately controlled by Bob’s two sons Ira and Arthur Friedberg.
In the 1980’s New York University sold their Morningside campus to City College of New York. The status of the Hall of Fame was – and is still – in limbo. Since that time no elections have been held, no new statues have been erected, and no new medals issued. Ninety-eight of the 102 niches are filled, only four remain open. Four names have been elected for those openings, however.
Visitors to New York City can still travel to Morningside Heights and walk the Colonnade, viewing the magnificent statues overlooking the Hudson River. Or they can own a a set of fine art medals created by some of the most talented medalists of the 20th century.
For the hundreds of collectors who have 90 or more of these medals they would like to have the medals created for the last honorees who have been elected, even if their statue is not in the Colonnade. That would give some closure to the series.
Below is a list of medals in order of issue, the MAco catalog number and the Colonnade location. Pictures, artists names, other data and a brief note I wrote in 2004 can be found here: www.medalcollectorsorg/Guides/HFGA.html
A gallerie of many of this series can be found here: www.medallic.com/galleries/famous_americans_gallery.php
Hall of Fame Medals Series
|Position||Issue Date||Name||Die Number||©|
|26||1963||Benjamin Franklin Medal. . . . .||63-1-2||1962|
|31||1963||Abraham Lincoln Medal. . .||63-1-3||1963|
|3||1963||John James Audubon Medal .||63-1-4||1962|
|16||1963||Walter Reed Medal. . . . .||63-1-5||1963|
|59||1963||Henry David Thoreau Medal.||63-1-6||1963|
|91||1963||Mark Twain Medal . . . . .||63-1-7||1963|
|79||1963||Roger Williams Medal . . .||63-1-8||1963|
|27||1963||George Washington Medal. .||63-1-9||1963|
|30||1963||Thomas Jefferson Medal . .||63-1-10||1962|
|88||1963||James Fenimore Cooper. . .||63-1-11||1963|
|80||1963||Mark Hopkins Medal . . . .||63-1-12||1963|
|70||1963||Susan B. Anthony Medal . .||63-1-13||1963|
|82||1963||Henry Ward Beecher Medal .||63-1-14||1964|
|5||1963||Samuel F.B. Morse Medal. .||63-1-15||1963|
|61||1963||Stephen C. Foster Medal. .||63-1-16||1964|
|93||1963||Edgar Allen Poe Medal. . .||63-1-17||1964|
|65||1963||Peter Cooper Medal . . . .||63-1-18||1964|
|4||1963||Eli Whitney Medal. . . . .||63-1-19||1964|
|53||1963||Ulysses S. Grant Medal . .||63-1-20||1964|
|58||1964||Edward A. MacDowell Medal.||63-1-21||1964|
|77||1964||Alice Freeman Palmer Medal||63-1-22||1964|
|94||1964||George Bancroft Medal. . .||63-1-23||1964|
|44||1964||Joseph Story Medal . . . .||63-1-24||1964|
|18||1964||Josiah Willard Gibbs Medal||63-1-25||1964|
|43||1965||John Marshall Medal. . . .||63-1-26||1964|
|56||1965||Robert E. Lee Medal. . . .||63-1-27||1964|
|11||1965||Maria Mitchell Medal . . .||63-1-28||1965|
|21||1965||Thomas Alva Edison Medal .||63-1-29||1965|
|81||1965||Phillips Brooks Medal. . .||63-1-30||1965|
|97||1965||Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr..||63-1-31||1965|
|60||1966||Daniel Boone Medal . . . .||63-1-32||1966|
|75||1966||Sylvanus Thayer Medal. . .||63-1-33||1966|
|96||1966||John Greenleaf Whittier. .||63-1-34||1966|
|40||1966||William Penn Medal . . . .||63-1-35||1966|
|32||1966||Daniel Webster Medal . . .||63-1-36||1966|
|38||1966||Patrick Henry Medal. . . .||63-1-37||1966|
|6||1966||Robert Fulton Medal. . . .||63-1-38||1966|
|15||1966||William Thomas Morton. . .||63-1-39||1966|
|39||1966||Grover Cleveland Medal . .||63-1-40||1966|
|12||1966||George Westinghouse Medal.||63-1-41||1966|
|13||1966||Louis Agassiz Medal. . . .||63-1-42||1966|
|42||1966||Woodrow Wilson Medal . . .||63-1-43||1967|
|20 & 22||1967||Wilbur & Orville Wright. .||63-1-44||1967|
|95||1967||William Cullen Bryant. . .||63-1-45||1967|
|74||1967||Mary Lyon Medal. . . . . .||63-1-46||1967|
|57||1967||David Glasgow Farragut . .||63-1-47||1967|
|37||1967||James Monroe Medal . . . .||63-1-48||1967|
|78||1967||Emma Willard Medal . . . .||63-1-49||1967|
|84||1968||William E. Channing Medal.||63-1-50||1968|
|99||1968||Ralph Waldo Emerson Medal.||63-1-51||1968|
|72||1968||Jane Addams Medal. . . . .||63-1-52||1968|
|55||1968||John Paul Jones Medal. . .||63-1-53||1968|
|101||1968||Irving Medal. .||63-1-54||1968|
|64||1968||Gilbert C. Stuart Medal. .||63-1-55||1968|
|45||1968||James Kent Medal . . . . .||63-1-56||1968|
|41||1968||Theodore Roosevelt Medal .||63-1-57||1968|
|69||1969||Frances Elizabeth Willard.||63-1-58||1969|
|14||1969||William C. Gorgas Medal. .||63-1-59||1969|
|25||1969||Thomas Paine Medal . . . .||63-1-60||1969|
|87||1969||Sidney Lanier Medal. . . .||63-1-61||1969|
|33||1969||James Madison Medal . . .||63-1-62||1969|
|102||1970||Henry Wadsworth Longfellow||63-1-63||1970|
|48||1969||Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr..||63-1-64||1970|
|68||1969||Edwin Thomas Booth Medal .||63-1-65||1970|
|90||1970||John Lothrop Motley Medal.||63-1-66||1970|
|98||1970||James Russell Lowell Medal||63-1-67||1970|
|10||1970||Simon Newcomb Medal. . . .||63-1-68||1970|
|76||1970||Booker T. Washington Medal||63-1-69||1970|
|66||1970||Augustus St-Gaudens Medal.||63-1-70||1970|
|83||1970||Horace Mann Medal. . . . .||63-1-71||1970|
|36||1970||Alexander Hamilton Medal .||63-1-72||1971|
|35||1970||Andrew Jackson Medal . . .||63-1-73||1971|
|92||1971||Francis Parkman Medal. . .||63-1-74||1971|
|1||1971||Elias Howe Medal . . . . .||63-1-75||1971|
|71||1971||Lillian D. Wald Medal. . .||63-1-76||1971|
|28||1971||John Adams Medal . . . . .||63-1-77||1971|
|80||1971||Walt Whitman Medal . . . .||63-1-78||1971|
|9||1971||James Buchanan Eads Medal.||63-1-79||1971|
|34||1972||John Quincy Adams Medal. .||63-1-80||1972|
|54||1972||T.J. Stonewall Jackson . .||63-1-81||1972|
|7||1972||Asa Gray Medal . . . . . .||63-1-82||1972|
|63||1972||James A.M. Whistler. . . .||63-1-83||1972|
|17||1972||Joseph Henry Medal . . . .||63-1-84||1972|
|85||1972||Jonathan Edwards Medal . .||63-1-85||1972|
|46||1973||Rufus Choate Medal . . . .||63-1-86||1973|
|50||1973||William Tecumseh Sherman .||63-1-87||1973|
|23||1973||Albert A. Michelson Medal.||63-1-88||1973|
|29||1973||Henry Clay Medal . . . . .||63-1-89||1973|
|24||1973||George Washington Carver .||63-1-90||197x|
|67||1973||Charlotte S. Cushman Medal||63-1-91||1974|
|62||1974||George Peabody Medal . . .||63-1-92||1974|
|8||1974||Matthew Fontaine Maury . .||63-1-93||1974|
|89||1974||Harriet Beecher Stowe . .||63-1-94||1975|
|100||1974||Nathaniel Hawthorne Medal.||63-1-95||1975|
|52||1974||John Philip Sousa Medal .||63-1-96||19??|
|Statue created, but no medal was created:|
|51||Franklin Delano Roosevelt||97|
|Voted into Hall of Fame, but no statue or medal was created:|
|Louis Dembity Brandeis||98|