Archive for the ‘Medal Design’ 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


  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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EVERY die-struck item – coin or medal – has two important hard and fast rules. I call these “undeniable truths.” They cannot be overlooked at any step of modeling, pattern-making or die-making in the medallic field.

Dies need to strike and withdraw. They must be made to insure that ability to withdraw from the struck piece. Otherwise the struck piece clings to the die. Pressmen call this a “hang-up.”

In a coining press a hang-up with a struck piece attached strikes the next blank that comes into position with two blanks between the two dies. The struck pieces have no design on one side and a mangled surface on the other, what mint error collectors call a “brockage.”

If it continues to hang on to the die and the coining press continues to feed blanks that first struck piece will wrap around the die. Mint error collectors call this “capping” or “cupping.” It is one of the worst situations for a coining press operator to experience.

Even if the die isn’t damaged by all this, it should be rejected anyway. It wasn’t made properly in the first place. It provides a devil of a time for the pressman. Reject that die. Its problem was an improper bevel.

The problem with the die started with the modeling of the design. Two rules govern here – two undeniable truths – no undercuts and proper bevel of all lettering and devices. The two rules are so closely related we discuss them here both at the same time.

An undercut is modeling of relief between the design and its background; the carving of overhang of design relief; a negative slope of relief. Metalworkers call it back draft. Relief sculptors call it under bevel. Everyone calls it undercutting and everyone connected with medal making attempts to avoid it right from the beginning for any die-struck or electroformed reproduction..

[Undercutting is a sculpture technique of full-round sculpture even though it can be attached to its background; it intensifies a contour line or relief by casting a shadow behind the relief. In the medallic field undercut designs can only be reproduced on bas-relief cast plaques, and then only made by rubber or flexible molds.]

For new artists who want to model coins and medals, I recommend hanging a sign above their workbench: “No Undercuts. Bevel All Relief.” Hopefully they would see it every day and burn it into their memory.

All relief requires a proper bevel. The sides of all relief and lettering must have a slight bevel. Each medal making process has its own requirement. It is ideal to model a bevel (also called draft or taper) to accommodate any process used.

Four boundaries must be considered here:

  • Vertical relief from 0° to 2½° is called holding taper. Not only is that taper impossible to cut into a die, or strike, it would be impossible for the die to withdraw from the struck piece after striking.
  • Hand engraved dies can accommodate a 5° to 10° bevel where the dies can strike and the struck piece release from the die.
  • Reduction on the die-engraving pantograph, as the Janvier, requires a minimum 15° bevel. This is required for the shape of the cutting point that mills the design into the face of the die.
  • Reduction by computer generated models, requires a minimum 20° to 25° bevel, draft or taper. This also is determined by the shape of the cutting point that mills the design into the face of the die.

Early in the modeling career of every medallic artist it would be wise to create the sides of all relief and lettering with a minimum 20° bevel and maintain this throughout their career. A 20° bevel on relief or lettering is about the slope of a sharpened wood pencil.

Here’s a tip for all medallic modelers: check the bevel of relief by holding a pencil upright next to your modeled relief. Light will show at the base of the relief if the relief is too steep.

The slope in which the relief rises from the background has the proper bevel of at least 20° it will carry forward in all the die-making steps. Anything less than 5° draft will cause a formed piece to “hang up” or freeze in the die or mold.

While steep vertical relief without any bevel is impossible to strike, relief with minimum bevel creates stress in the dies. The displacement of surface metal of the blank is greater at that point and the wear to the dies is at its maximum (which leads to diecracks and diebreaks).

Humans like the sharp, crisp detail in their medallic designs. Unfortunately they also like sharp rises and falls of the modulated relief to give emphasis to the design. So the designer and modeler must balance the need for a superior design with the requirements of the medallic technology.

As the artist shapes the sides of the relief in his design during modeling he must be aware of this angle or bevel at all time.

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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  
    Clara Barton 99  
    Luther Burbank 100  
    Andrew Carnegie 101  

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LISTED BELOW are traits of artists who have made excellent medalists in the past. I have learned of these from my contact with live artists over the years and the biographies I have prepared for the medallic artists documented in my Databank of American Artists.

While each artist is different, each his own individual, they seemed to share common traits. All seemed to have an appreciation for beauty, and a compelling desire to create, but other similar characteristics became evident when I recorded so many biographical details of these artists. Those listed here are in no particular order, just as the trait came to mind.

Your father was a sculptor.  

Many medalists are second generation sculptors. Ralph Menconi and Joseph DiLorenzo are two whose father encouraged their choice of career. This was not the case in the Weinman household. When Robert Weinman made small sculptures as a youth, his father, Adolph Weinman, broke them up commenting, “There will only be one sculptor in this family.” Despite that, both Robert and his brother Howard were sculptors and competent medalists.

You were born or trained in France or Italy.

Artists with some connection to either of these two countries seem to have an appreciation and an ability for medallic art more so than others. This includes the founders of our company, the Weil Brothers, who were French. Victor Brenner traveled to Paris twice to be trained by the masters there to become one of America’s great medalists. In a comment once in a speech on Italian-born Marcel Jovine, I stated “there must be something in the drinking water in Italy to produce such outstanding medallic artists.” It still holds true.

You worked for St. Gaudens in his studio.

For sculptors active around the turn of the 20th century, if you served in St. Gaudens studio you observed great art first hand, in addition to helping prepare it. Every one of St. Gaudens’ sculpture assistants went on to make medals of exceptional quality. By extension, this could imply to be trained by the best sculptor who will accept you as an apprentice will increase your chance of success.

You are a seasoned artist.

Some artists come to medallic art late in life. I would hope the reason would be a desire for the longevity of their medals – destined to outlast every other art form, including their monumental and architectural works. But it is probably due to experiences gained over the years with a view of mankind’s foibles from a broader perspective. All your life experiences influence your art.

You teach sculpture at the college level.

A professorship in sculpture is ideal for an active medallist. It levels out your income and provides time to create on your own time in your own studio. Here’s a list that comes to mind: Albert d’Andrea, Richard Duhme, Frank Eliscu, Jamie Franki, Angela Gregopry, R. Tait McKenzie, Elliot Offner, Merlin Szosz, Elden Teft, George Tsutakawa and Bud Wertheim. I personally knew all except McKenzie (although I have written extensively about this artist), Teft and Tsutakawa.

You love calligraphy.

Don Everhart and Sherl Joseph Winter are two medalists who have studied calligraphy with the intent of improving their letter forms on their medallic models. The shapes, serifs and shading of letter forms all influence their style which should be harmonious with the theme of the medal, a subtle but important feature.

You are a master with clay and plaster.

This is a requirement for every artist preparing oversize models for medals to be reduced while cutting the die for striking. Some artists are more proficient modeling but this is basic for any sculptural activity that it should be a technique of second nature to every artist who calls himself a sculptor.

You like the classics in literature, art and medallic art.

You like to study the best of past generations. A classic is a work that stands the test of time, it is admired by generations, no matter what the current fad is. This holds true for literature, every form of art including medallic art. It is interesting to view the library in the studio of great sculptors. I remember viewing the studio of Walker Hancock in Gloucester Massachusetts. It included great literature as well as the expected works on great art.

You are a versatile sculptor, preparing monumental works as well as miniature medallic art.

I can mention extremes here. The sculptor who created Mount Rushmore, and both sculptors in charge of Stone Mountain in Georgia – Guzton Borglum and that same Walker Hancock who replaced him to finish the job – both prepared medallic models as well as heroic portraits, mountain-size sculptures. Famed sculptor Malvina Hoffman prepared the frieze on the facade of a building with as much ease as modeling a medal. Scale is relative. A professional sculptor can create both.

Your hobby is symbolism, you can create a symbol for any idea, any concept.

No one sculptor stands out in my mind for symbols, since this trait is so universal among all artists. Good medalists are expected to create good symbols in their medallic designs. The symbolic image must be understood by any knowledgeable person, then presented in an attractive way. Add a touch of charm and that is a winning design. Good medalists know how to employ useful, attractive symbols in their creations.

You’re a “clipper,” you compile a clipping file of images you could possibly render into relief works of art.

Artists don’t talk much about their clipping files but they are so important they have been mentioned in wills, bequeathed much like their tools to past them off to a favorite apprentice or family member. Great artists use these files to get ideas, inspiration and insight how to prepare a new work.

You are so well-versed in medallic technologies you could teach it or write a book on the subject. 

Technique is mastering the tasks required for the job at hand. I have found good medalists can view a new medal and know intuitively how it was modeled. How did the artist treat the eyeball, or the shape of an ear, or the multi strands of hair so it doesn’t look like a bowl of spaghetti dumped on top of the head. These design problems are solved by techniques, some of which are unique to medallic art.

You are a salesman – you can sell your own work.

You cannot be hesitant about seeking plush commissions. You must seek a constant flow of commissions in line with your ability to create them. Talent rises to the top and becomes known. If you receive more commissions than you can handle, you hire assistants, like St. Gaudens, or Andy Warhol.

You don’t mind publicity about you or your work.

Picket Head Medal

Picket Head Medal

Nineteenth century sculptor Byron M. Pickett so overlooked this aspect of his work he remained virtually unknown. Today, 125 years later, medal researchers, art historians and his descendants find it a major chore to piece together his life’s work. (I wrote about him in August 6, 2012.)  He prepared a life-size statue of Samuel F.B. Morse in New York City’s Central Park and a stunning relief portrait of Lincoln that was the model for a postal card issued by the U.S. Post Office (and made into a medal by Medallic Art Co in 1963). His reticence for publicity was so severe he remained unknown for nearly a century.  He was in contrast to sculptor Warner Williams of Indiana who was a virtual  publicity hound.

You travel in social circles of top decision makers.

The most notable sculptor I know who carried this trait to extreme was Felix de Weldon. He moved to Washington DC, made the effort to meet and socialize with decision makers in the nation’s capitol. The effort won for him several monument commissions, including Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima. He also was just as comfortable on Long Island’s gold coast as Martha’s Vineyard. He met the people who could afford his work.

You dream in relief, often with captions to the images. 

I have asked this question every time I interview an artist. The answer is always yes. I follow it up “Do you dream in color?” It seems painters do, sculptors don’t. Marcel Jovine told me dreaming is the source of inspiration. The artist has a conscious perception of his work at hand, this filters into his subconscious where his mind is constantly analyzing the problem, even in his sleep. A solution occasionally surfaces in a dream. Jovine called this true inspiration.

What makes a Great Medallist?

Design. While the traits previously mentioned are common to most sculptor-medallists, to rise above other artists in the field, to become a really great medallist, an artist must become a master of design. The major characteristic of his work – of any motif, media or magnitude – is its design.

A great medallist is expected to be proficient in techniques, symbolism and creating images. How he puts it all together in his design is what the public views, frozen in time and preserved in immutable metal. Design is pre-eminent.

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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 is the fourth of several reports on the basic information, the basic knowledge of minting coins and medals. These facts are so important they should be embedded in the repertoire of everyone associated with the medallic field and, certainly, everyone within the firms which make these. 

DESIGN is what humans see on coins and medals, the surface configuration, the modulated relief of the pictorial elements. The image we observe forms our opinion of what we like or dislike in the total appearance shown on the struck piece.

The design includes the DEVICE, the LETTERING, any SYMBOLS or any other elements. Preparing the design is highly creative; the artist-designer may imagine a great many ideas in his mind, then selecting those that he thinks may have merit, he transmits these into two-dimensional graphic art or three-dimensional glyptic art form.

One theme may emerge immediately, or the artist may repeat the creative process over and over again, preparing small thumbnail drawings, elaborate potential drawings, or even sketches in clay or plaster. Throughout this process of trial and selection the designer keeps developing and refining the images until a design concept emerges.

Designing from a concept.  With or without recognizing the steps, the coin or medal designer progresses through four levels of design creation: (1) philosophical, (2) symbolism, (3) form and arrangement, (4) detail. For the first level, the artist answers the question: “What concept am I trying to convey in this design?”  More often than not a concept is supplied to the artist as instructions with the commission or work order.

Thus a first level concept for a company centennial medal design might be a few sentences: the stated company philosophy, how it views its past, a theme if any for its centennial, and somewhat of its goals for the future. Thus, the philosophy is better expressed – actually written out – rather than someone’s vague mental notions.

The second level is to relate the stated philosophy into symbolism. The designer must be a master of symbols. Coins and medals are small objects – thus all but the most significant elements must be eliminated — the chosen ones expressed in vivid symbolic form. Here the designer can use attributes, objects near the device to help identify it, and even costume or clothing of a person to aid in expressing the symbolism.

The superfluous has no room in coin and medal symbolism or design. Space does not permit it. Thus the artist faces the chore to express the philosophy in the briefest design. Designing an Olympic medal, for example, the artist might choose a torchbearer for the symbolism; the design might include a closeup view of the torchbearer. (Note it is not the logo or trademark of the Olympics – the five rings – that is a subsidiary device, which must be incorporated into the design as well to make it an official item).

With the concept and the symbolism in mind, the designer then relates this to the form and arrangement that will appear on the coin or medal. This is what is sketched: the shape or form of the device, all other design elements including lettering and their interrelated spacing. Here the designer brings all his artistic experience to bear. The artist incorporates all the inherent principles of design: harmony, rhythm, symmetry, balance, proportion, dominance, subordination, variety and repetition. The artist chooses the perspective, what eye level of the design, and whether a closeup or distant view. Many factors go into a design.

At this point the design is fixed – in the mind of the artist or on paper; if on paper or in clay it is called a study. The final level is the addition of detail. This can be indicated in the drawing, but more often it is left to be implemented on the model.

The addition of detail is where the final design may differ from the drawing. Since the plan may be modified repeatedly as the artist completes the carving, modeling or engraving. As one writer put it, the drawing is a study, a work plan to help the artist execute the final model; it is not a blueprint or execution order demanding that he do it the way he first conceived the design.

Modifications, improvements, and additions of charm are expected as the artist thinks about the design while his fingers shapes the model’s relief.

Early design considerations.  The size – and other limitations (see chart below) – forces the artist-designer to be ruthless in eliminating nonessentials in coin and medal design. The small size is not a large size reduced, but every element is carefully chosen, then positioned for its spacial interrelationship.  Here are some important design considerations:

  • The artist must constantly keep in mind what the finished product, the coin or medal, will look like as he prepares his design and models.
  • The more experience, knowledge and artistic acumen the artist can bring to his task of coin and medal design, the more superior a design and model he will produce.
  • The ability to design distinguishes an artist from a craftsman.
  • The most creative designer is the one who pushes the frontier of coin and medal technology to the edge; he exploits the existing technical possibilities of the media and is the first to learn and use new technical improvements as they develop
  • An experienced designer knows what to bring of the past heritage of coin and medal design to be merged with current or modern trends or technical advances.
  • A simple design with elaborate detail appeals to more viewers of coins and medals than an elaborate design with simple detail.
  • Artistic beauty is timeless.

In symbolism the artist selects design metaphors and visual substitutes for his design concepts; it is the artist’s responsibility that his allegorical design be appropriate and understandable to an intelligent viewer. He must do this without using design clichés, those often-used design devices of the past that are trite and overly familiar. The artist must be creative by doing something new and innovative.

Add interest close up in a design. Because coins and medals are observed so close to the eyes, held close to the face, it is one of the few “intimate arts” (gems and cameos are among others). As such, the design is magnified, often physically with optical aids, or mentally as the item is viewed. Small, finely executed detail is magnified in the mind. One of the greatest charms of this glyptic art is the ability to reproduce great detail in such small space.

The opposite is also true. A large mass looms even larger on a coin or medal. A crude figure becomes even more crude. A poorly executed design registers distaste. Thus the artist must be aware of the nature of the media and the great importance of scale and detail.

The artist should also build “human interest” and perhaps “collectability” into each coin or medal design. The artist should learn what makes a design interesting to the general public and appealing to collectors. This does not mean to put an airplane into every design so they will all appeal to all aviation collectors, or some symbol of two hundred other highly collected topics, but to develop an insight, a knowledge of what is appropriate and appealing to both public and collector. The design the artist executes must be irresistible to both.

Malvina Hoffman’s design recommendations.  In her book Sculpture Inside and Out, America’s great lady sculptor, Malvina Hoffman devoted a chapter to medallic design. Here is a synopsis of her recommendations:

  1. Eliminate unnecessary elements.
  2. Employ appropriate symbolism.
  3. Accent the important elements with authority.
  4. Use care in spacing the design elements.
  5. Execute the design with style.

Execute the design.  By this point, the coin or medal designer should have fixed in his or her mind the concept, symbolism, form, arrangement and intended detail of the design at hand. It remains for the artist to execute it – to prepare a model in a form that is transferable to the technical requirements of the minting or medal making process.

The artist may work his original design in any media he or she is comfortable with – clay, plasteline, plaster, wax, wood or metal – carving away relief, or building up relief. But the coin or medal artist must master the process of plaster casting. By casting in plaster, the sculptor may progress back and forth from positive to negative, again carving or adding relief to either casting. This procedure is called modeling, where the artist actually creates the physical form, the modulated relief of the intended design.

The mint or medallic company would prefer to receive the final coin or medal design as a positive plaster casting. It could, in a rare instance, accommodate an artist, who for whatever reason, cannot provide a positive plaster. Their first step, then, would be to convert the artist’s original bas-relief into an acceptable positive plaster by their own casting.

For pantographic reduction the model should be oversize and have a crispness of detail. The fidelity of diemaking technology today is quite high – 99.99% of all the detail in the model can be reproduced in the die. But it cannot do this if the detail is not in the model. The playwright says “if its not on the page (the script) its not on the stage;” a medalist would say “if its not in the model its not in the medal.”

Or, the artist may engrave the dies directly – the time-honored way since coins were first struck. Dies are always cut exact size of the intended struck piece. Thus die engraving is more exacting than modeling. A modeled imperfection – should there be one – is reduced in proportion to the reduction from model to die. An imperfection in the die in exact size is far more noticeable. A slip of the burin while hand engraving a die is serious. A slip of the tool working in clay or plaster is not serious, such slip-ups can easily be repaired.

Completing the model.  While working on this final stage of his or her coin or medal design, the artist adds the final detail – embellishing the model with ornamentation and minute detail to each form. It is here where the experienced artist adds the texture to the surface, fine lines of hair in the portrait, fine detail in clothing, buildings, coat of arms, the final shape of the lettering and overall sharpens up the detail and gives the model its crispness. It is at this point that the relief springs to life and the artist has executed the design with style, verve and authority.

Public design.  Often nonprofessional artists are asked to design a coin or medal. Contests are sometimes held. School children are solicited to enter designs. Results and bound to be a disaster. Artists in the general public are not trained, nor have the experience in this field, yet it seems the public believes anyone can design a coin.

Recently in the 1990s at the U.S. Mint, particularly for the reverse design for each of the 50 State Quarters Program, each state was asked to furnish design suggestions. What the Mint engravers really wanted was not drawings or even designs, but what they called “narrations.” This was, in effect, concepts. Identify an event or persons involved, put this words, and led professional coin and medal artists develop the creative design – suitable for the miniature glyptic art for coin relief – from this concept.

Computer design. Designing coins and medals by computer lies somewhere between hand engraving – with stark, lifeless, fixed devices – and manual sculptural sketching and modelling with far more realistic, lifelike, creative designs, particularly of portraits. Computer design provides more mechanical control of relief execution. This in contrast to being done previously by tracer controlled techniques where this was a hand operation after the design was outlined by pantographic reduction on the face of the die.

Computer design reduces the time required to produce a three-dimensional design. It gives the computer operator many options and by selecting one of these renders the finished design. It is a shortcut by its timesaving. It is ideal for lettering and designs with buildings and logos but falls flat for portraits and scenes. Like hand engraving and tracer controlled techniques it greatly lacks vivification – making portraits look lifelike and other design elements more realistic. It too becomes, stilted, stark, frozen, lifeless.

At present however, and in the foreseeable future, it looks like computers will gradually replace design of coins and medals by human mind and human hands. Human computer designers will have to learn how to factor in far more options – what to insert and what to leave out and how best to present this in three dimension relief – in the new computer engraving technology.

Limitations of Coin and Medal Design

  1. Small size.  Most coins and medals – 98% – are under two inches, all but a tiniest number are under six inches – so physical size is extremely limited.
  2. Intimacy.  Because they are so small, coins and medals are viewed usually by one person close up – very intimate a few inches from the viewer (not like a painting or monument viewed from a distance, often by more that one person at a time).
  3. Circular form.  Most coins and medals are round (perhaps 98+%); such roundness may restrict their design.
  4. Perspective.  With some notable exceptions (as Jacques Wiener interior Cathedral perspective designs, or aerial views) most designs are linear perspective with a very narrow depth of perspective.
  5. Relief.  On struck pieces the height of relief must be less than a few hundredths of an inch; medals may enjoy a greater relief but all very low relief with no undercutting permitted on any diestruck item.
  6. Tradition.  Coins have a 2600-year tradition, medals over 550 years; thus tradition inevitably influences what can and cannot be done in numismatic and medallic design.
  7. Technical limitations.  High speed coining presses require preformed (upset) blanks, designs without congruent mass (no massive portions back-to-back), ultra low relief, a protective rim, and other technical restrictions.
  8. User limitations.  The rise of the vending industry requires coins of restricted designs and compositions to fit millions of machines in existence.
  9. Political limitations.  Certain pictorial designs cannot be used for political reasons – embarrassment, ill-mannered, illegal or such.
  10. Wording restrictions.  Obviously libelous statements cannot be put on coins and medals; certain other wording.
  11. Privacy limitations.  The portrait of a living individual cannot be used on a coin or medal without their permission (politicians may be portrayed without permission, but not sports stars, entertainers, private individuals – not during their lifetime).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pickett Plaque

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picket Head Medal

Picket Head Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



AUG 03. 1833 – MAR 03. 1907


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

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