SUPERLATIVES cannot adequately describe the exhibition of medallic art held 102 years ago in New York City at the American Numismatic Society. An extraordinary effort was extended to display contemporary medallic art from around the world.
The occasion was the dedication of their own new building. The society had occupied rented quarters for half a century, but in 1910, thanks to the beneficence of philanthropist and member, Archer Milton Huntington, the numismatic society now occupied a two-story building. It was on Audubon Terrace, Broadway between 155th and 156th Streets in New York’s Upper Manhattan, along with two other museums and three organization headquarters surrounding a terrace with a sunken sculpture garden occupied by a statue of El Cid by Anna Hyatt Huntington, Archer’s wife.
To celebrate the event, a massive exhibition of coins and medals was planned. So large was the result the coins were exhibited in a neighbor museum’s exhibition rooms at the Hispanic Society of America. Medals were reserved for the Society’s own exhibition room.
In Autumn 1909 invitations were sent to medallic artists, numismatic societies and mints of the world to send examples of their recent work. An incredible 194 artists responded from 11 countries! Along with three national mints and three medallic societies.
They sent patterns and finished work, struck and cast items, galvano and foundry casts, hand engraved and etched pieces, plus a few items in ivory, marble, terracotta, stone, and wax under glass. The Philadelphia Mint sent the oversize patterns of current coins, in an unprecedented act of endorsement.
Each artist’s work was kept intact, photographed and mounted on panels. The medallic work was shown in the main exhibit area of the new building and overflowed to a balcony above on the second floor.
Printed catalogs were planned, but when time came for the exhibition to open – March 9, 1910 – only the coins were adequately described and the printed catalog available. The medalist’s names were listed but little else, no medal illustrations.
Visitors to the exhibit could purchase the printed catalog of coins but had to subscribe for the printed catalog of medals. The catalog of the medallic works was publish a year later – in 1911. But it was worth the wait.
The catalog had sumptuous illustrations of virtually every medallic item, either individually or on the panel of the artist’s group. Full page illustrations even had tissue overlays with each item identified by catalog numbers printed on the tissue.
In every aspect, it was superbly planned and carried out with well organized detail of each item as furnished by the artist. Agnes Baldwin Brett wrote the Introduction in an overview, not only of the exhibition but also on the status of glyptic Art at the turn of the 20th century. She even covered a bit of the technology of medal making including the working of that magical medal-making machine of that era – the Janvier pantograph.
A photograph of the Janvier, the first imported into America, the very Janvier of Medallic Art Company, operated by Henri Weil, was illustrated in the Introduction.
One thousand catalogs of that medallic exhibition were printed. The Society continued to sell them well into the 1950s. But by 1960 they had exhausted their supply. Now, on the secondary book market, one of the original thousand could fetch $500 or so. In the 21st century the catalog has been digitized and is available free on the internet.
Here is the citation for that catalog:
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, illustrated.
It had 2,052 numbered items listed, nearly every one of the items exhibited. These were the finest examples of medallic art at the beginning of the 20th century, the best medallic work of 194 medallists of Europe and America who accepted an invitation to exhibit their creations in New York City.
Perhaps because the full name is a mouthful, “Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals,” it has been abbreviated to “IECM” by curators and writers in the numismatic field.
It was highly industrialized countries whose artists responded to the Society’s invitation they were all from Europe. Here are some facts;
|Medallic Artists Exhibiting||194|
|Medallic Societies Exhibiting||3|
|Medallic Items Exhibited||2,052|
|—- Coins Exhibited||3,506|
|Days Exhibit Open||24|
|Museum Buildings Involved||2|
|Catalogs Printed 2nd Edition||1,000|
|Types of Medallic Items Exhibited:|
|Hand engraved items||0.39%||8|
One could speculate if a similar exhibition could be mounted today. While 56 American medallic artists exhibited in 1910, today, six times that number of medallic artists exist in America alone. Current FIDEM exhibitions draw just under 1,000 items on exhibit. In theory, exhibited item are supposed to be recent work of the previous two years between FIDEM exhibitions (but this restriction is often overlooked).
A major exhibition of the magnitude of that 1910 ANS exhibition could well be five thousand items (instead of two thousand) from more than five hundred artists worldwide. A formidable undertaking!