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Archive for the ‘collecting medals’ Category

MEDAL COLLECTORS in America look forward to presidential elections every four years for good reason. Irrespective whoever wins – Democrat or Republican – they know they will have another fine art medal to add to their collection.

These medals bear a portrait of the incoming president – by the best medallic artist in America at the time – often a sculptor of renown reputation. The medals are also the best that American medallic industry can produce. Private medal makers have made these medals for more than a century except for two times, when these were struck by the U.S. Mint, in the middle of World War II and when an official of the Mint was on the Inaugural Committee.

The medal becomes “official” by an unwritten imprimatur granted by the Inaugural Committee, a powerful political board that immediately springs into existence with final election results and a winner is certain. It exists for a short time, often less than six months, but performs a very important function. It oversees and manages a ceremony that dates back to the inauguration of George Washington with roots similar to the coronation of a new royalty in countries that are monarchies.

The inauguration ceremony is funded – not by government money – but entirely by ticket sales to the numerous balls. Plus the sale of merchandise the  Inaugural Committee authorizes as official. American manufacturers line up to offer their wares desirous to get the nod from the Committee. The merchandise changes for each president, Royal Dalton got the nod for a Toby Mug in the shape of Ronald Reagan’s bust. Or a cut crystal jar full of Jelly Beans. A Tiffany silver bowl, and a Boehm porcelain rose, came from some high-end manufacturers.

But more often than not are the usual items of every price range: commemorative plates emblazoned with an image of the Capitol as the Inaugural’s logo, D.C. license plates (good on your vehicle only until mid-March), first-day covers, plus jewelry items: cuff-links, tie-tacks, lapel pins, bracelet and necklace pendants and charms. Other utilitarian objects have been offered from time to time, like scarves or umbrellas. All designed for the special event with image or caption.

The medals, however, are the keystone of the royalty- generating merchandise. Medals have a heritage of being issued for every presidential inauguration back to 1889 for the centennial of George Washington’s Inauguration. All George got at the time of his Inauguration was a button with his initials on it as the only “official” inauguration memento.

Die-struck fine art medals exert a very important characteristic trait – they last forever. They will survive for ten thousand years in contrast to the empty Jelly Bean jar in quick time, or a broken plate or crystal object. American Presidential Inaugurations will be documented by medals far into the future as we have similar evidence of fresh crowning of kings on coins and medals five thousand years ago. Well at least coins since medals were first used for this purpose in the 15th century.

Decades ago, as late as the Harry Truman Inaugural Medal in 1949,  medals in bronze and silver were adequate to supply the public and gender enough royalties for the Inaugural ceremony. The same die was employed to strike the gold medal to be given to the president, destined for deposit in his Presidential Library.

With the Dwight Eisenhower Medal of 1953, medals of different sizes (each requiring a new die) were made, each size to fill a need for a segment of the market, as a smaller size for jewelry items. This proved satisfactory, the practice continued, even increased somewhat with an additional need, as a coin relief medal to accommodate a First Day Cover.

One practice did change. The bronze medal had to be a different size from the silver medal. Because of the popularity of the silver medal unscrupulous people silver-plated the bronze medal and sold this as a genuine silver. This occurred for the Kennedy 1961 medal. It affected the Nixon 1969 Inaugural Medal and all others issued after that date.

Another change occurred. Gold was permitted to be sold to American citizens December 31, 1974, after having been prohibited since March 1933. Gold Inaugural medals were struck for the first time for the Second Nixon Term. It was struck in a size smaller – and obviously different – from all other composition Inaugural medals (to prohibit goldplating subterfuge).

A typical schedule of Inaugural Medal sizes and compositions are:

  • Gold  1¼-inch
  • Silver 2½-inch antique finish
  • Silver 2½-inch proof surface
  • Bronze 2¾-inch antique finish
  • Bronze 1½-inch coin relief

From these sets were made of the following:

  • 5-Piece Inaugural Medal Set (all of the above)
  • 4-Piece Inaugural Medal Set (all but the gold)

This schedule changed somewhat over the years as planners believed other items would sell, as some form mounting of medals made into desk pieces would  be popular. But the above basic schedule has endured.

A problem, it should be noted, for all those manufacturers, is that their merchandise must be made so quickly. Designed, approved, modeled, sometimes molded, or dies made, often with extensive production runs. Accepted finished product must be completed and delivered to Washington DC in time for Inauguration Day, January 20th.

Every manufacturer wishes for the “old days,” prior to 1934, when Inauguration Day was March 15th (for 60 days more time).You can also add thousands of parade participants who often catch a severe weather on that January day and must spend the entire day outside wishing for a warmer clime. But the date is set in concrete and the quicker the new president is in office the better.
For the makers of this merchandise it means some long days in all of December and early January. Round the clock production with three shifts of employees, and a missed holiday or two around the first of the year. You can’t take shortcuts, this must be your best quality. After all its for the president of the United States.

To speed up processing in the finishing department at Medallic Art Company in the past the heat lamps were turned up higher to dry the lacquer on medals quicker. It seems every fourth year this caused a fire as the lacquer ignited. Fire departments were called with the inevitable news article the next day’s paper “Fire at Local Medal Manufacturer.”

Another problem at the manufacturer is that other work must be set aside as all manpower is exclusively dedicated to inaugural medal work. Other clients must be consoled their medal job has been delayed and might not be completed until after January 20th. Production scheduling becomes a nightmare during this period.

Medals are required in large quantities for art medals, often in the thousands. Another problem is not knowing the demand in advance – how many to strike of each kind. Finished product with proper cases or holders intact must be stocked and ready. Ideally, you would like to have on hand in Washington DC a sufficient quantity to fill every order, every purchase, on that date. Residual orders could be struck and fulfilled at a later time.

Logistics and division of labor are other problems. Where should mail orders be sent? Who should fulfill? And a distribution problem: which retail outlets need to be serviced? Woodward & Lothrop, a department store in DC has been a distributor in the past. Should other outlets, as jewelry chains, be accepted as distributors?

All of this activity must be compressed into less than a two-month period. This requires management of incredible capability.

Since this activity has increased with each succeeding inauguration I would like to offer a solution. The job of manufacturing the medals is almost too large now for one firm to produce in the time required. In the past this has been the case, one firm gets the okay from the Committee to make the medals, but must subvert all its other normal business for at least six weeks, often longer.

   My solution suggestion is to form a consortium of  medal manufacturers. There are a handful of excellent ones in this field, despite its relative small size as industries are measured.

One firm should be the prime contractor and be responsible for all Inaugural Medal activity.  Perhaps it should be responsible for making all the patterns, hubs and dies. It should sub-contract out the striking and finishing of each of the separate kinds of medals to other medal firms, supplying the dies all from the accepted “official” Presidential Medal design.

  • Perhaps one firm should produce only the gold medals.
  • Another the proof silver.
  • Another the antique silver.
  • Another the bronze with the antique patina.
  • Another the medals in coin relief.
  • Another for jewelry items.

All product would be shipped to a rented warehouse near the Washington DC area. Here final inspection and packaging would take place. Orders would be shipped, or even delivered from this location.

Fulfillment of mail orders would take place at this location. Reorders would be serviced here.

The facility would have a fixed period of activity as orders dwindle after March 1st.

Obviously, Medallic Art Company is the ideal candidate to be such prime contractor. It has the facilities as for die making at two locations, a sales force in place in the Washington DC area, plus a past record unequalled by any other firm. Its experience and heritage should place it at the top of the list to be considered.

It has the respect of the other firms in the field, and certainly the willingness to work with such other manufacturers. There is enough work to go around for all in this field for this one exceptional job.  All would benefit.

See Medallic Art Company gallery of selected inaugural medals.

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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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ONE hundred fifty years ago a catalog listing in an art auction might read “one medal.” Not today. Auction buyers want as much information about a medal up for sale as possible.

Buyers want to know size, composition, who made it, and much about its design and subject matter. Why was it issued? Has it been cataloged in numismatic literature and does it have a catalog number (for easy reference to even more information).

Also they want to know the condition of the piece at hand. While all the previous data applies to all specimens of this variety, condition  applies significantly to the one piece under consideration. If the medal is of precious metal – silver or gold – it is important to know the exact weight as well.

Finally, information about the artist who created the piece – the engraver, sculptor or medallist whose creativity became this work of art in metal. To make all this more meaningful, a photograph is of benefit, adding appeal to the prospective buyer.

This did not come about all at once. But we have one person to thank for the fuller descriptions of numismatic items up for auction. Following World War II a returning veteran who had served in military intelligence, sought a job with a coin firm in New York City. John Jay Ford Junior, worked first for Stacks, then switched to New Netherlands Coin Company joining in partnership with Charles Wormer.

John Ford began writing long descriptions of the coins the firm was offering at auction. His motto was “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

It proved correct. His auction catalogs became models for other numismatic auction firms to emulate. This certainly holds true for medals, even more so because medals are more pictorial and symbolic.

Name That Medal!  The first step to describe a medal is to name it. Medals are like people, they have names, but more importantly they all have a last name, named for the type of medallic item it is. The most common are: medal, medalet, medallion, plaque, plaquette.

Too often numismatists use a title for a medal – not its name. An example is the Julian catalog of U.S. Mint medals. They are all listed by their title, like all the generals who were awarded Congressional medals, are listed by the name of the general, not the name of the medal. [I lost that argument with author Robert Julian in 1976 prior to the publication of the book a year later.]

Next is to determine the date. If it is on the medal, fine. If not hit the literature to see if it has been cataloged and the date is given. If not, does the content of the medal give a clue? All exposition medals are the year the expo was held. You must be resourceful, but if all attempts to date the medal fail, it must be designated n.d. – no date.

Describe one element at a time.  Start in the center of the obverse. Describe the main device first. If several elements are present start at the top and work down. The chart following gives tips for any chore of describing medals.

Rules & Guidelines For Describing Medals

1 Medal Name
1.1 Last Word. All medallic items have a last name. It is the type of item it is. Obviously these include medal, medalet, medallion, plaque, plaquette, and the less common ones: galvano, relief, decoration, badge, emblem, ingot, medallic object, paperweight, plate, seal, token, key fob, watchfob. One of these is the last word in a medal name.
1.2 Put last name first of the name of a person that is also the name of the medal; all other elements of that personal name within parenthesis. A second person’s name in the name of the medal can be given in normal sequence. This rule grew out of a need to alphabetize thousands of names quickly and accurately.
1.3 Capitalize the first letter in each word in the medal name (articles are exceptions).
1.4 Put the name in bold face type in a listing (not necessary the second time it is used or in normal text).
1.5 No abbreviations in the name of medals. Spell out Saint, Street and all abbreviations. This eliminates confusion.
1.6 No personal titles in medal names (no admiral, no doctor, no mister, no reverend, no military rank – exception made for Cardinal, however, use full formal names). (Otherwise we have too many President X or King X medals in alphabetical lists).
1.7 No nicknames in personal names; use full formal names. (Exception: Jimmy Carter who insisted on the use of “Jimmy” on his Inaugural medal [like he wore brown shoes to a black tie function! Names and medal inscriptions are formal, all in capital letters].
1.8 Identify pseudonyms and stage names within parenthesis. If Mark Twain is the name of medal, put Samuel Clemens within parenthesis.
1.9 Use minimal punctuation in names. (A firm with three or more names with a comma or two in the firm’s name is the only exception that comes to mind.)
1.10 City identifiers are used to identify certain types of medals (e.g., storecards) and certain themes or devices; use name of city – and sometimes state where clarity is necessary in the name of medal to indicated such things as: expositions, monuments, public statues, conventions, buildings, churches, newspapers, Olympic Games (and sometimes bridges). The city of Springfield always needs the state name.
1.11 No comma between city and state in medal name (this is a name, not a mailing address).
1.12 Names of things — ships, plays, songs, airplanes, statues, works of art and such — which are italicized in normal text are not italicized in medal names. They can be italicized in the description.
1.13 Omit the word “Award” in a medal name. Such award medals are identified in descriptions by giving data within parenthesis. It is the Pulitzer Medal not the Pulitzer Award Medal.
1.14 Omit the word “Official” in a medal name. A description should be sufficient to identify the medal from any non-official medal.
1.15 Keep medal name as brief as possible. Keep the number of elements of a name to no more than three such elements if possible. As: issuing organization, named after person’s name, type of medal or award. (If there are four or more elements, pick the three most important.)
1.16 Proper sequence in naming a medal.Most medals are easy to name by the person or event featured. Other medallic items have as many as four elements that were necessary to be incorporated in the name, as: the sponsoring organization, its parent organization, the name of the award and perhaps an individual portrayed or honored. Here is an example:

The Edward F. Adolph award in physiology of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester contains four elements (in 19 words). Its proper name as a medal (reduced to 13 words):

University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry Edward F. Adolph Physiology Medal

Note: the word “award” does not necessarily have to be included in the name. The medal is the award.
2 Date of Items
2.1 The date may appear before the name or after. Before is preferred in a chronological list; after is preferred in a topical or by other format.
2.2 If exact date is unknown use “ca” (circa) following an estimated date (no space between). This implies the date should be 12 to 13 years plus or minus from this date as one of the 16 quarter centuries medals have been issued in America.
2.3 But even if an estimate cannot be made, use “n.d.” (for no date).
2.4 For items bearing a date but struck later give date on item first then (struck xxxx) within parenthesis after the date and before the name.
3 Describe the Items
3.1 Describe obverse first, then the reverse, and finally the edge.
3.2 Start in the center, describe the main device, if there are several devices start at the top and work down.
3.3 Use accepted numismatic terms in all descriptions. Know the difference between legend and inscription. Legend is the lettering around the perimeter of the piece, inscription is all other lettering.
3.4 Know the difference in directional indicators — top and bottom are obvious, right and left are the viewer’s right and left. Also know the difference between above and superimposed. The saint’s halo is above the head, the sacred heart in superimposed on the saint’s chest.
3.5 Describe any subsidiary devices. Mention any logo or trademark or any other symbols or symbolism shown.
3.6 Identify all people shown; most important to recognize and give full name (and title if appropriate). Identify any attribute used by artists to aid quick identification of people as the trident of Neptune.
3.7 Identify everything shown on the medal if possible. For example, if an animal is shown identify generic, or what kind or breed. If any object has a name it should be given in the description.
3.8 Know the difference between panel and cartouche; A panel is any compartment or section of a medal design, usually separated by a frame; a cartouche is an open panel where lettering may be inserted before or after the medal is struck.
3.9 Do not confuse edge, border and rim. Edge is the thickness of the piece; border includes all the elements near the perimeter of the piece; rim is the outermost element of the border, usually flat.
3.10 For large medals identify elements of the border; these have special names and some reference to literature may be necessary
3.11 Do not overlook any tiny letters, as these may be mint marks, hallmarks, or makers’ marks — mandatory data for any full description.
3.12 Describe the reverse in a similar manner as the obverse, identifying as many elements of deign as possible.
3.13 Following the reverse, describe the edge; it is important to include all the lettering — figures, letters and symbols found on the edge. This is useful data for the savvy numismatist.
3.14 Note Orientation; this is the relationship of obverse to reverse, medals are customarily top-to-top, called medal turn, in contrast to coin turn of top-to-bottom for coins.
3.15 Search the literature; be sure to include any catalog number where this medal variety has been the subject of a previous description or history.
3.16 Be aware of the total medal; is it different from normal in some way? Is it a relic medal — made of some relic metal? Is it a box medal — does it open? Has it been plated after it left the mint or medal maker? Be aware.
Good luck describing your medal!

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As we write this in the Spring of 2012 the Stolen Valor Law is being tested in state courts as it is headed for a final determination in the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. It’s a law that makes it illegal to state a person has received decorations of valor or other military medals — or to wear these – that they have not won, and to do this for some personal gain.

President George W. Bush signed this into law in 2005. It strengthened a previous regulation (U.S. Code 18, paragraph 704) prohibiting these medal activities by unauthorized people. For example, Wikipedia reports in June 2006 there were 120 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, but over a thousand people have made such fraudulent statements of its bestowal to them.

Veteran organizations strongly support the legislation – rightly so – to preserve the honor bestowed to deserving recipients. Any activity by civilians or even former military personnel that denigrate this honor is unwanted. Most often, it is such veterans organization who make the complaints of unauthorized use by undeserving people.

This gave rise to the term “stolen valor,” in the United States. In England, under similar situations, the term for such a miscreant was a “medal cheat!”

Collectors organizations, on the other hand, believe the law went too far. It limited the sale or trade of existing decorations. In the past military decoration collectors circumvented the restrictions by exchanging a minor medal when purchasing a more expensive one. This gradually diminished to a purchase for cash and, say, a postage stamp, for a desired decoration.

Purple Heart Medal

Purple Heart Medal

Purple Hearts, for example had a collector value of $45 and there has always been an active market for these and other U.S. and foreign decorations. The U.S. Code made no mention of what should be done with military decorations in a deceased veterans estate. These are legitimate artifacts documenting a person’s military achievements. They have value as museum pieces – or to private collectors – if not retained by the veterans family.

And what collector, or medal dealer – this writer included – once he had possession of a decorations on a chain, or a sash, has not placed this around his own neck. That act is wearing a decoration in unauthorized fashion. But most collectors who venerate such objects would never wear this outside his own office or home. He has great respect for the person who did, indeed, deserve receiving this award.

Examples of fraudulent use include the family who acquired military medals at flea markets and “awarded” these to their youngster for good behavior. While this may be a commendable act of parenting, it was certainly not the intended use of these medals. This occurred before 2005. Under previous restrictions they were fined and changed their way of child commendation.

Two more recent cases, one in California and one in Colorado, have considered this situation and both have been dismissed based on the first amendment. While these have been declared unconstitutional, Wikipedia states: “legal scholars are all not in agreement that lying should have constitutional protection.”

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court depends on their interpretation of the first amendment. Do citizens have the right to lie under the concept of Free Speech. If so, then can an exception be made for recipients of an honor so desired that others are willing to lie about it and bask in the honor reserved for those who legitimately won that honor?

This writer believes the law should be upheld, but the restrictions for buying and selling existing decorations should be permissible among collectors.

Case number two.  In 2009 the esteemed British Museum mounted an exhibit “Medals of Dishonor.” This took its name from a series of 15 medals, created prior to 1940 by American sculptor David Smith.

It was described in its exhibition statement: “Medals are best known for celebrating important figures or heroic deeds, but this unique exhibition features medals that condemn their subjects. The display exposes the long and rich tradition of this darker side of medals.”

The exhibit featured the David Smith medals which were inspired by the rise of fascism during the 1930s, and by the German war medals he saw at the British Museum. He modeled these in the shape of Sumerian seals he had studied in Greece and named the series of 15 oval medallions “Medals of Dishonor.”

In addition there was a companion piece by Marcel Duchamp I will speak of in a minute. To flesh out the exhibit, British medallic artists were invited to submit contemporary examples of their creation. Sixteen artists responded, most all members of the British Art Medal Trust. The artist’ medals were donated to the BM for their permanent collections.

Historical medals covering a 400-year period were also on display, satirical and political medals with themes ranging from bizarre to scatological. One medal from 1915 shows the figure of Death happily smoking while seated on a cannon, a city in flames in the background.

It typified many expressing the horror and brutality of war.

What brought this all to mind this week was an inquiry from a fellow collector in Boston. He had befriended a curator in France and the pair had an active correspondence. The curator had learned of that Marcel Duchamp “medal” and wanted to obtain a specimen for his institution.

Here is how Duchamp’s medal, called a bouche-evier, was described from a review of that show:

“Fittingly, Marcel Duchamp supplies the ultimate reduction of the medal’s function as an indicator of superior status with his piece Sink Stopper (1964-67).  Modelled in clay from the perforated drain of a porcelain shower tray and then cast by the artist in lead that he had melted in a saucepan, this “medal” was originally nothing more than an answer to a plumbing problem.

“Duchamp liked to soak his feet, but the shower tray leaked. A couple of years later he was invited by an American company to strike a medallion. Just as he had pissed on the inflated claims made for art with his 1917 urinal, he now couldn’t resist offering the stopper, which was subsequently cast in silver, bronze and stainless steel and circulated as an ‘original limited edition Medallic Sculpture.’

“As a comment on the aesthetic and political range of choices available in the medium, nothing in this exhibition can touch it.”

The American company mentioned in that description was International Numismatic Agency, a client of Medallic Art Company, and a major producer for the owner, Neil Cooper. Fortunately Medallic Art did not make those Sink Stoppers for Mr. Cooper.

The three pages from my files on this issue document the effort Cooper extended to market this “medal.” He advertised in Art in America, it also carried a half page article in their July-August 1969 issue.

He saw that the “medal” was in prominent museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution Numismatic Collection, Bowdoin College Art Museum were named in his literature.

A final statement: “Mr. Lawrence Alloway, former curator of the Guggenheim Museum acted as artistic consultant for this project.”

It is still a Sink Stopper.

This writer holds medals and medallic art to the highest standards. I relish satire and satirical medals. But there is a line below which I would not approve of the misuse of medallic art to advance some misguided individual’s sense of satire by calling it a medal.

You may form your own opinion.

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History professors I know love medals.  No matter what era, or what nationality, or what subject of their interest, they can certainly find one or more medals that intersect with that interest. The number of medals issued over the centuries, since the mid 1400s, is so great that it seems every event in man’s history has a medal to commemorate it. From Creation – to man’s latest award, or event in space – you are bound to find a medal of that subject.

No disrespect to historians, but one writer has even stated  “I would rather quote a medal than a historian,” alluding to the accuracy of the images and inscriptions on medals. Whoever, it appears, goes to all the trouble to create a medal makes certain of its correctness. Often a medal is created near the time of the event further insuring its literal rendition in factual permanent metal form.

But historical accuracy is not alone in the appeal of a collection of medals. There is a spectrum of pleasure enjoyed by the person who gathers and forms a collection of well selected and preserved medals. One of the author’s greatest pleasures in life is to open a tray in a collector’s cabinet to view medals selected around a theme that the owner himself choose to define and form a collection to amplify that theme.

Today I would like to list the pleasures of building and owning a medal collection. Let’s see if we can identify ten of those pleasures.

1.  Only you can select you want to collect.  Define your collecting specialty. This is called a topic in America, or a thematic in England. Collect what interests you, what really turns you on.  If it doesn’t give you pleasure, no need to collect it. Thus your selected topic is of your strongest interest. As stated, there are so many medals in existence, you are bound to find a number of these within your topic.

Building a medal collection gives a collector a sense of accomplishment of his own choice.

2.  You can learn from your collection.  Often collectors choose a topic of their profession, or their heritage, their ethnicity, or nationality. Your medal collection will give pleasure by learning more about that subject. Also, the greater information you bring to your medal collecting, the more you will get out of it. Medals often provide portraits of the people and illustrations of the major events in that field of interest. With each medal acquired it often spurs research into these people and events. Researching and learning about your medals provides great pleasure.

3.  The thrill of the chase can last a lifetime.  Forming a medal collection is not a short-time event.  Once a collector decides on his topic, he can spend a lifetime searching for, gathering, and acquiring desired specimens. Called the “thrill of the chase” – it is a human activity unlike any other. To learn of a new item that could possible fit within your topic and seek after it. Often these come up in auctions, from a previous owner’s collection. To bid and capture that item is the thrill. That’s a pleasure that can be repeated, experienced often, as long as you own your collection.

4.  Capturing a bargain.  Everyone loves a bargain. Because there is no standard catalog of medals, bargains are more apt to be found. Seek out antique dealers, flea markets, even coin dealers. They all have, on occasion, medals for sale. If you are lucky you may find one of your topic.  You captured a bargain.

5.  You can enjoy the beauty of the medals.  Once you become knowledgeable about the technology of medals – how they are designed and made – you will appreciate their medallic beauty. There are art medals, those that are created for their art qualities alone. But there is art in historical medals and other medals as well. Often these medals are by some quite famous artists, Leonardo da Vinci to Leonard Baskin, from Albrecht Durer to Augustus St-Gaudens. Beauty in permanent metal form.

6.  Pleasure from show and tell.  Many collectors achieve pleasure by exhibiting their medal collections: Formally at national conventions or in the privacy of their home to a visiting guest. To be able to discuss and talk about a favorite piece or the entire collection is always a pleasure.

7.  Knowledge you are custodian for future collectors.  By owning a medal collection you have the knowledge you are caretaker for future generation. Your duty is to preserve for a future collectors to protect and to pass on these cherished specimens. There is a rare pleasure that you can do this by being able to pass on this rare heritage.  After all, medals are the most permanent form of man’s artifacts. Coins and medals have great longevity.

8.  Meet new people, dealers and other collectors.  There is pleasure in the camaraderie of meeting people, dealers and other collectors, with a shared mutual interest.  The exchange of ideas and information is often pleasurable to those that have special interests.

9.  Opportunity for cataloging.  For those collectors who have formed a collection that has no existing catalog, you can catalog your collection for be benefit of all other collectors. You have undoubtedly gathered some valuable information along the way plus a lot of collector lore. Record that. Write the catalog. Your name will go down in numismatic annals – long associated your specialty. Also, of all the fields within numismatics, medal literature has the greatest potential for specialized catalogs.  Seeing that catalog, that book, in print is of extreme pleasure.

10.  When you sell your collection or it is sold by your estate it will almost always sell for more than what you paid for it over the years. While building a medal collection is not encouraged as an investment, it is often the fact. If a collection is held for a decade or more, chances are it will sell as collectors’ items to other collectors. If you like it, someone else will as well. Thus, more often than not, well chosen collectors’ item increase in value in time. That is a benefit to keep in mind. You might, indeed, find that pleasurable

Well, I named ten pleasures in owning a medal collection. I just compared it to a list I composed in 2004 of 24 reasons to collect medals. I guess ten of those are similar and pleasurable. If you would like to read more go to Medal Collectors of America.

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