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Archive for the ‘Galvanos’ Category

Prompted by an Art Magazine Two Innovators Created a New Class of Numismatic Items

Not often is a new class of numismatic items born. We have seen this only twice in the last fifty years. The most recent is the bullion item – coins and medals struck solely for their precious metal content.

December 2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the other, an entirely new numismatic genre that has swept the world for its popularity among medallic artists. This class of medals is unique to the numismatic field – the medallic object.

Created in the art world, but produced in the medal world, it was a marriage that occurred among three New York City institutions. Not an accident, it was a concept created by an art magazine, an art museum curator, and an art medal manufacturer. For medallic objects are an art creation, the mating of modern art with medallic form.

As a Christmas gift promotion in 1965, Art in America magazine wanted to offer its readers something available nowhere else. Their relationship with the leading artists of the time prompted them to promote a new format bas-relief created by top sculptors, yet in a size suitable for intimate display.

The magazine’s officials commissioned a curator of modern art at New York’s Whitney Museum, Edward Albert Bryant, to manage the project. He contacted the most prominent sculptors in the modern art field. Seven accepted his challenge – to create a modern art work that could be made in a small size.

FallingMan

Ernest Trova “Falling Man”

The variety of their creations expressed their current work. Sculptor Ernest Trova, for example, was at the time creating a series of major sculptures in a series best described as “Falling Man.” How to transfer this concept to a smaller venue?

Trova solved this with a brilliant design of seven human figures aligned inside a circle with a bright red enameled arrow pointing with a subtle thrust of a Man in downwards motion — no matter how the piece was rotated. He added a legend in a raised panel circumscribing the rim.

His design met the form of a medal but was unlike anything ever produced before. It was the birth of a new sculptural work in medallic form, embracing modern art in a new class of numismatic items. A class that was to remain unnamed for two decades.

MeshedFaces

Harold Tovish “Meshed Faces”

Six other sculptors created models where their imagination and mannerisms ran unfettered. Boston sculptor Harold Tovish interspersed two human heads he called Meshed Faces. His anepigraphic design denoted a dehumanization of our modern culture with mechanical forms.

Once curator Bryant had models in hand he sought a way to replicate them. His search did not take him far as he found nearby Medallic Art Company ideal for the task. He met with the firm’s president, William Trees Louth.

Bryant_Louth

Edward Bryant and Bill Louth

The two men pored over the models discussing how best to make the final items. Accustomed to striking the company’s medallic output, Louth suggested striking the items in medallion size. Bryant wanted something larger since dies at that time were limited to no greater than five-inch diameter. The obvious answer, Louth proposed, was making them each as electrogalvanic casts – galvanos.

Once the size decision was made, Louth further suggested striking several as conventional medals, and creating even a smaller size as a pin that could be worn. Bryant was elated at those suggestions.

ArtInAmericaCoverTovish’s model then could be made as a 12-inch galvano – which Art in America called “wall piece” – a 2¾-inch medal called a “desk piece,” and a 1-inch “jewelry pin.”

Next discussion was the finish to be applied to each. Every design had to have a distinctive patina. Here, they felt, the artist should have some say to ensure the final work adhered to the artist’s original vision.

While Louth entered orders for his craftsmen to commence producing the items, Bryant wrote the article “Christmas For Connoisseurs” for the magazine, with full-page color illustrations of the seven avant-garde items.

The article appeared in Art in America’s December-January 1965-66 issued to be in readers’ hands during the gift-buying season. At the back of the magazine, among small gallery ads, was published a full-page ad offering the seven items for sale.

ConsantinoNivolo

Constantino Nivola “Loving Couple”

The ad touted “An Exceptional Collecting Opportunity. Relief Sculptures in Limited Editions.” The work of all seven artists – well-known to the magazine’s readers for their reputation and celebrity status – were offered as Wall Pieces (galvanos), medals, and pins. Only two artists’ creations were offered in all three options: Tovish’s Meshed Faces, and Constantino Nivola’s impressionistic Loving Couple, an expression of Man and Nature beneath a dream cloud.

Four of the seven items were issued in circular form. In addition to Tovish’s Meshed Faces. Elbert Weinberg, working in Rome, submitted his Salome in four dancing poses within the circular format. Perhaps his creation could be considered humanistic as it displayed four human figures.

JamesWine

James Wines

The design by James Wines, known for expressing architectural influence in his sculptural work at the time, continued this theme in the medallic rendition. His design was the only one with open work, a small aperture near the lower edge.

Roy Gussow created The Flow of Water over the Edge of a Pool. Bryant described it in modern art language: “Elegantly refined relief represents the purists and geometric direction in contemporary sculpture. With admirable simplicity of pure form and inventive use of highly reflective surfaces, he has created a work with the magic of changing patterns.”

Water

Roy Gussow “The Flow of Water”

The museum curator called Gussow’s design a kaleidoscope with its reflective surface highly polished by the craftsmen in the finishing department of Medallic Art Company. Other pieces were given more customary patinas, where acids were employed to apply color and protective surface.

Chryssa’s piece was, perhaps, most unusual of all. It replicated the surface of lettering found in newspapers of the time, where metal lines of type were gathered in columns and a curved mat made for printing on high speed presses. Chryssa, whose full Greek name was Vardea Chryssa Mavromichaeli, cast her model using a method somewhat similar to printer’s technology.

ChryssaNewspaperType

Vardea Chryssa Mavromichaeli casting

For the seven artists their intent was to create a suitable relief. For the manufacture the intent was to render those reliefs in suitable medallic form as attractively as possible, Not one of them knew they had created an entirely new art form. Yet they had given birth to the medallic object.

 

Six months later, in France, where modern art is de rigeur, the Paris Mint issued its first item that could be termed a medallic object. Roger Bezombes, an accomplished medailleur, created in 1966 his first of what was to become a persistent passion for the new art form. It was a uniface piece bearing a portrait of Ceres, the goddess of the earth and agriculture, with open work for eyes and mouth.

StarOfJoy

Roger Bezombes “Star of Joy”

His most noted work, however, is Star of Joy, which Americans call Sunburst for its multiple sunrays. The 24 rays surround the sun in the center, polished and containing the lettering. In contrast, the sun’s rays are style rude, an art term meaning “rough style.”

Bezombes’ imagination embraced an unfettered creativity, wild and highly imaginative. He pushed the envelope in design, shape, spatial form, and the use of fabricated objects. He made occasional use of buttons and sea shells, and delighted in making large eyes with tiny balls as the iris.

He once designed a stork, fully upright, made of two dozen scissors. Another work was a light bulb where the filaments appear in multiple shapes and discs. For another he added eyeglass frames on an obverse portrait that morphs into – what is it? – a severed bicycle on the reverse.

Like Bezombes, other abstract artists were attracted to the new art form for its ease of replicating their highly imaginative models. Picasso made a medal of table spoons, another as a dinner plate.

Once the Paris Mint began producing these unconventional medals it attracted artists throughout Europe and even the Orient as their popularity spread among the coterie of world artists.

The new form was encouraged by one devotee fortunately in a position of influence: Pierre deHay, one-time director of the Paris Mint. During his administration modern art was welcomed to be rendered into medallic form, and these creative objects were produced in increasing numbers. At the peak of this phenomenon, during Director deHay’s reign in the early 1980s, the Paris Mint placed in production one new art medal a day, predominantly medallic objects!

By 1985 its collection had grown to the point where it needed a separate catalog. The minions at the Paris Mint gathered and photographed the work of 124 artists, mostly French; 302 items divided into three classes – medallic objects, plaquettes, and what they called medallic enrichies, a medal with added adornments.

But what to name this modern art form? They chose “medallic objects” as the catalog’s title – la Medaille-Object – the first time this term appeared in print. The term became accepted first by the artists, then by collectors and ultimately added to numismatic lexicography.

American artists, however, could not match the French pace. Among a handful of early medallic objects made in America was one by modernist Roy Lichtenstein, Salute to Airmail, in 1969. But what American artists did was to band together in 1982, forming the American Medallic Sculpture Association to encourage all forms of medallic creations. Previously, artists in England had formed British Art Medal Society in 1979, followed by artists in Canada who established the Medallic Art Society of Canada in 2000. Similar medallic organizations have been established in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere.

Exhibitions of these national societies embraced medallic objects, as did the world organization, the Fédération Internationale de la Médaille d’Art, everywhere reverently called “Feed-’em” for its FIDEM initials. Its international exhibits of recently created coins and medals are held every other year or so. For thirty years, that which had been conventional, typical, medals gradually became dominated by atypical medallic objects.

Two FIDEM congresses have been held in America, appropriately at the American Numismatic Association’s Colorado Springs headquarters. The first in 1987 attracted 694 artists from 25 countries. Well-known American sculptor Mico Kaufman created the official Congress medal, an avant-garde design in oval shape.

The second American FIDEM Congress was held in 2007 with exhibits from 576 artists representing 30 countries. A dramatic, innovative medal, issued by ANA, was created by New England artist Sarah Peters. It was perhaps the most innovative FIDEM Congress Medal ever! Bearing a human figure on both sides, male on one, female on the other, it was designed in modified quadrant shape where four could be interconnected together forming somewhat of a circle and rearranged in three other shapes.

The bulk of both of these exhibitions, like others nationally, prior and since, were unquestionably, medallic objects.

Just what are medallic objects? How would one define them? Medallic objects are modern art in medallic form. While inspired by the medallic genre they do not have the restrictions of coins or medals.

They must be permanent, capable of being reproduced, usually made of metal and, in most issues, have a shape other than round. Medallic objects break the rules of circular coin and medal design, go beyond any limitations, transcend any technical restraint, overcome medallic prejudice, in order to become interesting, aesthetic objects for the eye to behold.

Usually medallic objects are free-standing; infrequently called “standing medallic art.” But to stand alone is not even a requirement. They are not small statues, they are not upright or overgrown medallions – medallic objects are a new sculptural entity, indeed, that in fifty years has found its niche in the art and numismatic world.

The painter crafts his art in color and shadows. The sculptor crafts his art in forms and planes. The medallist crafts his art in relief and miniature size. But the creators of medallic objects, while they may be guided by the precepts of these graphic and glyptic arts, are not bound by restrictions of any art.

If I had to characterize their form I would say medallic objects are bas-relief unleashed. Their appeal will grow as collectors discover there are art objects in the field beyond coins and medals, yet inspired by what they have been collecting all along.

Satisfying a Medallic Artist

Harold Tovish

The late Harold Tovish

Sculptor Harold Tovish visited Medallic Art Company’s plant in New York City in 1965 to choose the finish of the 12-inch galvano of his relief that Art in America magazine called “Dehumanization of Mechanical Forms,” but what we called “Meshed Faces.”

The smaller medal was satisfactory, but he wanted the larger galvano to be different, the best art possible. Customarily the artist picks a patina color from the finishes that can be applied to a medallic item. While brown and green patinas are most common — the easiest to apply — virtually any color can be applied with different acids and different procedures. These are not paints nor coatings, these are permanent color of the metal itself

Toviah was more concerned with the surface texture than color. The satin surface of the wide rim enclosed a clear background and a pair of “faces” — all of smooth texture. Having all three congruent surfaces smooth is a no-no. It’s bad art in medallic sculpture.

As the master sculptor that Tovish was he wanted a texture on the background between the smooth rim and the smooth faces. It is good art to have contrast adjacent to or between two smooth surfaces.

The craftsmen in Medallic Art’s finishing department, notably the late Hugo Greco was assigned the task to satisfy Tovish no matter what. Give him whatever he wanted. With Tovish by his side Greco tried the usual techniques using chasing tools — dapple and matting punches — to apply the texture to the surface of the copper galvano.

Nothing he tried seem to satisfy Tovish. Greco tried tiny beads of acid to form minute incuse areas in the surface. Even that was unsatisfactory, it looked like the craters on the moon.

In desperation, Hugo picked up a beer-can opener, the kind with a hard metal curved point that leaves a triangular opening in the can. He starting scratching the surface in the background forming hundreds of small incuse circles and arcs. After a few minutes of this he raised the galvano above his head for better light. Tovish raised his head to observe the result.

“That’s it!” shouted Tovish.


Sources

  1. Objects of Desire by D. Wayne Johnson, The Numismatist, September 2007.
  2. Paris Mint, la Medaille-Object, 1985.
  3. FIDEM Exhibition Catalog, ANA, 1987.
  4. FIDEM Exhibition Catalog, ANA, 2007.
  5. Report From the 2007 FIDEM Congress, E-Sylum, September 23, 2007, volume 10, number 38, article 9.
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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:

BYRON M. PICKETT

EARLY AMERICAN SCULPTOR

AUG 03. 1833 – MAR 03. 1907

WIFE ELLA LEFFLER PICKETT 1827 – 1910

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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What great contribution has Medallic Art Company made to the world of Art? For eight decades the firm served American sculptors by rendering their bas-relief creations in any permanent form those artists required – be that relief plaques in the exact size as their original model, or, by pantographic reduction, to a die to strike multiple impressions – medals or plaquettes – in any size and composition required of that relief model.

The technology of electrogalvanic casting had existed in America, in somewhat crude form (powered by batteries) to make metal copies of sculptural reliefs, called galvanos. But it was employed in America in more refined form for art objects by Jules Edouard Roiné, a French-born sculptor specializing in bas-reliefs.

By applying commercial electric current, which had only recently become available in 1889 (thank you Thomas Edison), Roiné had a consistent supply of low voltage electric current necessary for depositing metal on an artist’s pattern. A tank was required to hold an electrolyte solution, plus a supply of copper metal (from anodes which supplied copper molecules to form the cast piece).

St. Gaudens Galvano

St. Gaudens Galvano 10 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches.

By 1894 Roiné had gathered all the equipment, chemicals and technology knowledge necessary to produce electroforms. He cast his relief model, Marguerite Delpech Plaque, that year, believed to be his first galvano production, at least in America. Where he learned that technology, we do not know for certain. But we strongly suspect it was back in France under the tutelage of Frederic Vernon, who had been producing bas-relief galvanos as early as 1889. Vernon had 28 of the 48 items he submitted to the 1910 Exhibition of Contemporary Medallic Art at the American Numismatic Society were galvanos.

The technology of electrogalvanic reproduction of medallic items was well established by 1910. As 346 items of 2,052 items total on exhibit (17%) were galvanos. (The others were struck, cast or hand engraved.) The technique was widely used in France, as acceptance by artists elsewhere was beginning to occur.

Or perhaps Roiné learned of this technique from Louis Oscar Roty, who was noted for training other medalists. Roty had 82 items on exhibit at ANS in 1910, with only two galvanos, preferring foundry casts instead. So he was aware of the technology to pass on this knowledge.

Roiné and Weil Partnership. Irrespective of where Roiné learned the skill of making galvanos from his bas-relief models, by the 1910 ANS Exhibition he was active in its use. Also he had just joined with Felix Weil the previous year to form the sculptural partnership of Roiné, Weil and Company.

This partnership was ideal. Not only were the two Frenchmen friends, their skills complimented each other. Roiné was kept busy designing and modeling, Felix Weil was kept busy manning the tanks. He quickly gained skill in electrogalvanic casting. This was not an easy task because of the many variables: chemical composition of the electrolyte solution, its temperature, pH factor, and control of the electric current.

Roiné modeled in clay. Either one of them could make a plaster cast from the clay model. The image on the plaster cast was coated with powered graphite. This is where the copper will deposit and build up to make the solid copper galvano. The plaster would serve as the core pattern (called a mandrel in electroforming parlance) upon which ions of copper would leach from the copper anode and deposit on the pattern (which would be the cathode).

The core pattern would be wired in contact with the graphite with a wire to be attached to a bus bar over the tank from which the prepared pattern was hung. The copper anodes were hung from another bus bar at the side of the tanks to descend into the electrolyte solution. This was prepared to contain copper ions in the solution, as well as cyanide to aid the deposition.

Since electricity from an outlet is alternating current, a rectifier is necessary to change AC to DC and to lower the voltage. A complete circuit is required. Once the electric current was turned on it travels from the rectifier to the bars at the side of the tank to the anode, through the solution, onto the cathode, up the connecting wires to the overhead bus bar back to the rectifier. It required three days or more to build up the copper medal thick enough to sustain a permanent galvano.

Felix became a master electroformer, with a required knowledge of chemistry, metallurgy and electricity.

Early success. That first year Roiné and Weil prospered for all the activity in New York City in 1909. Not only was it the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, a year-long activity honoring Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, it was also the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Plaques, badges – and medals! – were required of both.

Where a medal was required Roiné would design and model, Felix would make a dieshell – by the same process as making a sculptural plaque. The only difference: a dishell was made from a positive model, a plaque was made from a negative model. The electroforming process reverses polarity.

For a medal job Felix would then deliver the required dieshell to brother Henri at his workshop blocks away in lower Manhattan. In 1909 Henri still worked for the Deitsch Brothers (he didn’t acquire the Medallic Art Company until the following year).

Henri mounted Felix’s dieshell on the Janvier he operated in the Deitsch workrooms, cutting a die the required size. The pair would do this for both obverse and reverse. Once the dies were cut and approved, Henri would contract the striking of the medals to one of the metalworking shops nearby [Felix mentions the name Leidel as such a shop in his memoirs]. The struck medals were delivered to Henri who would them “color” them.

This took the form of sandblasting, relieving, or torch finish, as required by the customer, with a final step of a light lacquer coating to preserve the patina and protect the metal surface.

Roiné and Weil made six works that first year for Hudson-Fulton and at least ten for the centennial of Lincoln’s birth. They weren’t limited exclusively to making models for brother Henri at Medallic Art. They even made models and dieshells – but only one each – for Davisons in Philadelphia, and Whitehead & Hoag in Newark.

History of electrolysis in America. A German physicist and engineer working in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Moritz Herman Jacobi (1801-1874) develops the electrolysis process he called “galvanoplasty” in 1837. Three years later in England John Wright, a Birmingham surgeon conducted chemical experiments and developed the use of potassium cyanide in the electrolyte solution (replacing earlier acidic solutions).

In 1840 British cousins George Richards Elkington and Henry Elkington, working with and using John Wright’s process deposit a contrasting coating of metal on a base metal to effect electroplating. They receive the first British patent for silverplating, marking the date 1840 the first commercial development of electroplating. Such early electroplating was done with primitive batteries.

In 1842 Franklin Peale makes the first electrotype in America at the Philadelphia Mint of the Anthony Wayne Stony Point Medal (Julian MI-3) perhaps as early as January 1842. He had undoubtedly learned this technology at mints in Europe. That same year other electrotypes made at the Mint by William E. Du Bois (1810-1881) of rare coins in the Mint collection to illustrate a book by Eckfeldt and Du Bois, A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations published in 1842.

These electrotypes Du Bois made served as patterns to be mounted in an instrument similar to a rulling machine to prepare drawings – the process known as anaglpytography. The drawings exhibit the rise and fall of relief on the patterns. By using electrotypes the original coin or relief was not damaged by the tracing stylus.

Outside the Mint, in Waterbury, Conn. Scovill Manufacturing, in 1844 became the first American firm to import electyrolysis process for electroplating. It uses this technology to plate copper, silver, nickel, zinc replacing the firegilding process of antiquity that the firm used as early as 1820. More than likely Scovill acquired this technology from England and the Elkingtons.

The electroplating process for the tableware industry is brought to America, acquired from the Elkingtons in England by Rogers Brothers in 1847 who incorporate this date in their trademark.

Beginning in 1851 of an active period of electrotyping of U.S. coins at the Philadelphia Mint mostly by William E. Du Bois for various purposes. Later that decade saw the first use of electroplating in the jewelry industry in America for the production of costume jewelry.

But the most notable use in America was made by a New York City electrotyper and gilder Samuel H. Black (active 1859-61). He fashioned plaques – some as large as 18 x 13 inches – from existing medals adding extensive lettering. He also made store-cards smaller than one inch. These were made in either of two ways: (1) he strikes or cast these in lead and copperplates, or (2) he makes copper shells and backs with lead fill-in.

The technique declined then for two decades. Not until 1884 was it resurrected by Alfred Vester when he established Providence Galvanic Art Company with Antonin Tabouret. It became the first active private firm in America devoted entirely to electroforming. The firm was in business until 1896 (in 1890 John Garst brought in the firm).

Previously a diesinker in Providence, Rhode Island, Vester was somewhat self-taught as an electrotyper. We have record of only two medals the firm produced – 1884 New Orleans World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition Medal (HK 144) and 1886 Providence Rhode Island Mayor Thomas Arthur Doyle Memorial Medal – but unaware of any other galvano products.

Medallic Art Company’s early galvanos. Other than Roiné’s productions before and after the turn of the 20th century, little was made of this technique in America. As onetime sculptors’ assistants both Henri Weil, working alone, and Felix Weil, with partner Jules Edouard Roiné, were ideal candidates to encourage the use of this technology among the sculptors of their acquaintance.

The trio were still active among the New York City circle of sculptors early on in the 20th century. News of their new and useful technique spread among the field’s practitioners. Sculptors had a choice of sending their bas-reliefs to a local foundry – or even to Gorham in Providence – to be foundry cast. Or they could turn over to their reliefs to the Weils to be electrolytically cast. They had somewhat the only game in town.

The cost between the two methods of reproduction were similar, but there was a dramatic difference in detail. Because of the nature of molten metal, foundry casting could reproduce detail down to a 100th of an inch. Electrolytic casting could reproduce detail down to the width of a molecule!

For large reliefs, as for the sides of buildings or monuments, such detail was unnecessary. But for smaller reliefs – and for medals! – such minute relief was a blessing. Sculptors learned it gave a sharp, crisp edge to their reliefs which often improved the total appearance.

They learned the mantra: “If it’s in the model – meaning even the tiniest detail – it’s in the medal.” That held true for plaques as well.

The same artists who had medals made by the Weils – both during the time when Henri was working alone, and 1915 when Felix joined him after his partner Roiné became ill and went back to France – also had the Weils make their plaques.

Present situation. Unfortunately the galvanos were never cataloged by the company. We have record of virtually every medal the company made – the author was charged with this responsibility 1966-76 – but we do not have this knowledge about the galvanos. And yet these plaques have now found their way into museums and collectors’ hands.

While a great may dies are in the company’s die vault, the galvano molds are only those made of metal and only a portion of the galvanos made over the years. A few original plaster molds may be in the vaults but since plaster is not permanent even these may not be serviceable or even recognizable.

The last time the author saw these galvanos was in an airplane hangar in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. To his credit, Bob Hoff, owner of the company at the time, had rented a vacant hangar, directed an employee to lay these out to be organized, and made a computer entry for each of these. This is the “G-number” in the company’s archives databank.

Yet the task remains for these galvano reliefs to be cataloged by a person knowledgeable in art. These are, indeed, art objects of the finest form, by the finest American sculptors of the 20th century.

These galvanos are, indeed, the greatest contribution of Medallic Art Company to the field of American Art.

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