Archive for the ‘Terminology’ Category

I HAVE my own definition of the word “lore,” since I use it so often in describing medals. Learning the lore about an item adds to its collectability and supplements the usual data about the medallic items of who, where and when it was made.  Lore means to me:

Specialized knowledge about a historical item that adds, allure,  interest and desirability to the item. 

In short it could be – the story behind the medal.

I learned to seek out such a story for every medal I had for sale when I was a medal dealer at collector shows. When a prospective buyer asks to see a medal and he is holding it in his hand is the ideal opportunity for a high-quality sales talk. That’s the time to discuss the medal’s lore – to tell its history in as much detail as possible. Often it’s that lore, that story, that history, that sells the medal.

In an auction catalog, lore has the same importance. But the amount of space to tell the story is usually limited. You learn to pack a lot of lore into as few sentences as possible. You have to highlight its major points and feature the alluring details as space permits.

I also learned to discuss the Lore of a medal when answering an inquiry. These come to me from every direction since I have studied American medals and have specialized in 20th century issues, particularly those of the Medallic Art Company. The firm dominated the manufacture of the highest quality medals – art medals – for the entire 20th century.

For example, in answer to an inquiry sent to Medal Collectors of America — the letter was forwarded to me from the organization’s webmaster for a reply. The collector had a silver medal bearing the portrait of Michael DiSalle. He described its weight, identified the artist, mentioned the edgelettering: .999+ PURE SILVER MEDALLIC ART COMPANY 262.  He also asked if the medal was genuine.


With this basic information, identifying the medal was easy for me and gave him the background information he was seeking. This medal had an interesting history, of considerable Lore. Here’s what I wrote about that collector’s medal:

DiSalle Medal

DiSalle Campaign Medal

Your medal is known as the Michael V. DiSalle Campaign Medal, 1962. It was indeed created by sculptor Ralph Joseph Menconi (1915-1972) and struck by Medallic Art Company, then of New York City (later of Danbury, Connecticut, and later of Dayton, Nevada). It is MAco catalog number 62-87 [now 1962-087]

The medal was issued by Presidential Art Medals of Englewood, Ohio.

How they issued this medal is an interesting story. This organization began issuing half-dollar size medals of the presidents of the United States (struck by Medallic Art Co). This series proved so successful they commenced plans also in 1962 for a second series of the States of the Union.

Since they were located in Ohio, they wanted to issued the Ohio Statehood Medal as the first medal in this series (MAco 62-2-1). They contacted the governor’s office for a suggestion for the most famous Ohio citizen(s) to place their portrait(s) on this medal. (The ultimate decision was to place the Wright Brothers portraits on this Ohio medal.)

The governor at that time was the very Michael DiSalle you see on your medal. He became intrigued with their project and invited them to visit him. All four principles of Presidential Art Medals visited Governor DiSalle. He was running for reelection in 1962 and asked if they would strike a medal for his campaign. The answer was obviously yes.

But that is not the end of the story. Later DiSalle became associated with one of the Presidential Art principles, Max Humbert, and the two became very active in the issuing and marketing of coins and medals. DiSalle, who commanded  an impressive appearance, large in stature, voice and intent, was an excellent negotiator. He traveled in diplomatic and political circles, was often in the White House. The pair even solicited foreign governments for issuing their coins, somewhat like the Franklin Mint was doing at the time.

Michael DiSalle (born January 6, 1908) died September 14, 1981. The duo had done quite well and Max Humbert bought a home in the Bahamas or West Indies but continued to run a numismatic firm out of Florida.

The DiSalle medal was issued in three sizes. The 2¾-inch (70mm) you have was issued in bronze and silver. A 1¼-inch (32mm) size was issued in bronze and platinum, and a 13/16-inch (21mm) size in bronze and silver.

The 262 on the edge of your medal is a serial number. There were 2,000 issued this size all serially numbered. There were 1,000 issued in bronze unnumbered this size.

The medium size is the most common, 17,000 in bronze were struck and these were widely distributed as campaign medals (a practice that goes back in American history to Abraham Lincoln and before). Of the platinum, only 10 were struck and these were serially numbered.

The small sizes were all made into jewelry items (ideal for charm size medalets). For women, 25 silver medalets were struck, for 12 pair of earrings, and 524 bronze struck for 262 sets of earrings. For men 1,000 medalets were struck in bronze for 500 sets of cufflinks.

About the genuineness of your medal; I would have to see the medal, of course, to attest that it is genuine. However, I have never heard of this medal being copied. In fact, very few medals have been replicated of Medallic Art Company medals because of their high quality (it is so difficult to replicate this quality).

Collecting these would be a challenge, imagine the thrill of the chase to find and acquire these elusive items! Other than the platinum medal, you already have the most expensive silver medal. Good luck in your further collecting.

Editor John Adams of the MCA Advisor, where this reply to a collector’s inquiry was published, added his comment: “You ask a question of Dick Johnson and you get a world-class answer.”


Letter Answered: Michael V. DiSalle Campaign Medal MCA Advisory 9:7 (August 2006) p19-20.


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The theory “If man can make it, man can made it better” doesn’t always hold true. Two cases in the history of manufacture of coins and medals – coins particularly – proves that point.

Ever since 1506 when Italian Donato Bramante modified a fruit press to blank sheets of lead, to make seals for Pope Julius II, we have had a mechanical way of striking coins, ultimately using this technique on a screw press.

The mechanical genius Leonardo da Vinci about the same time sketched such a screw press in his notebooks – whether it was ever build in his day is doubtful. Da Vinci theorized a single blow of a screw press could cut out a blank at the same time impressing an image on the front and back of a previously made blank.

It proved successful to do these in separate operations.

Thus coins struck in a press start from rolled out strips, which are then blanked to produce the circles of metal, then struck in a press. The  process is called milled coinage from the milling of the metal to a required thickness before blanking in a rolling mill.

The process is also called cold coining — the blanks are not heated, both blanking and striking is done at room temperature.

Rejected technique number one. Coins have been made since 640 BC. A lump of metal was placed on a lower die fixed to an anvil. The upper die was placed on top of this lump and it was hit with a heavy blow a number of times until it was flattened and took the image of both dies.

Called hammered coinage, the process continued for a long time. Since it was simple, elaborate factories were not needed to make the coins. It was more of a cottage industry where issuing authorities allowed individuals, called moneyers, to strike the coins. They could keep one coin for every 16 they made. The authorities controlled this by supplying the dies, but, obviously, false reporting ran rampant.

It was probably one of those moneyers in Rome who thought he could make his job easier, or perhaps make more coins in quicker time. Could he make a coin quicker by heating the blank?

The answer was NO.  The heated blank did not expand uniformly when impressed by the dies. Metal flows outward from the center of the blank’s surface to the edge. The heated blank flowed unevenly, some areas reaching the edge ahead of adjacent areas. The coins had ragged, saw tooth edges. This result is known as hot tears, unsatisfactory for a disk of metal made into a coin.

The first use of moneyers was in 104 BC. But even after the screw press and other devices for coining became available, the moneyers did not stop. They fought hard to keep their franchise.

By 1553 a gifted mechanic from Augsburg, Eugene Bergeron, brought his coining technology to the Paris Mint and attempted to establish a more modern method of coining, in effect creating the birth of milled  coining. Yet he was driven out of Paris in 1560 by the moneyers who learned his technology would replace their lucrative activity.

This occurred in England as well in 1561. Not until 1662 – a century later – did the moneyers become entirely replaced by a milled coinage with the use of the screw press. In 1641 the screw press was reintroduced, permanently, at the Paris Mint, and in 1662 at the London Mint.

Rejected technique number two.  Two years before Bereron’s trip to Paris, another Augusburg mechanic, Kaspar Goebels, came up with the idea of roller die coinage. Instead of blanking strips of metal first, then striking  the coins, Goebels idea was to impress the images on a strip of metal with a roller die first, then cut out the coins.

The German word for this process was taschenweke. The name of the roller mill specially engraved with the coin images on a roller was called a walzenwerke. Goebels attempts to use his process in Denmark, and later Spain. It had problems of registration, the obverse image had to match the reverse image, also the trimming or cutting out of the image exactly from the strip was also critical. The technique was a failure at both mints.

In 1637 no less than the chief engraver at the Paris Mint, Nicholas Briot, attempts roller die coinage again. It fails again at the Paris Mint. He is dismissed, travels to England and gets the job as chief engraver at the Tower Mint. There he tries a roller die coinage again without success.

Finally at the Edinburgh Mint in Scotland he is named mintmaster. He finally achieves somewhat of a satisfactory roller die coinage, but it only works for a large diameter coin. The process falls into obscurity, never to be attempted again.

Never? Would you believe it was tried again in the 20th century by no less an institution than General Motors!

In 1964 U.S. Treasury officials met with several top GM officials and discussed the cent shortage. Even with three-shift production of cent coins, the Mint could not meet the demand to end a cent shortage.

GM vice president Louis C. Goad – he was head of manufacturing – told Mint officials he could build a press which could produce 10,000 coins per minute.  The Mint took him up on the challenge.

He assembled a group of engineers and mechanics at GM’s training center in Michigan. They build a press and between 1964 and 1968 tried three times, three different ways.

Among several minor problems, the major problem was that the action generated a tremendous heat. In effect, it melted the dies. The process failed again and in 1969 they closed down the experiment.

Thus within the 2,652 years of coin-making technology we have 460 years of successful coin making by cold coining, milled technology. A heritage of blanking a strip of metal to create proper thickness blanks which are then struck in a press one at a time!

The technology works for creating coins. Forget roller die coining. Or heating the blanks.

Resource: Read more on that General Motors experiment: http://usrarecoininvestments.com/coin_articles/gm_roller_press_cent.htm

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LESS KNOWLEDGEABLE people call press releases “free publicity.” But they are not free, of course, because preparing a good one is time consuming. A better term would be “controlled publicity,” as you can control what is said about your products and services in the media.

Medallic Art Company is extremely fortunate to have its publicity so readily popular. For three reasons.

  1. New medal issues are newsworthy. The first issue of a new medal is a legitimate news item.
  2. A large base of medal collectors, and an even larger population of numismatists are interested in the news, since medals fall within the overall collecting classification of numismatics. This is despite the fact that the majority of those numismatists are interested in coins only.
  3. A moderate number of specialized numismatic publications are easy to reach and their editors look favorably on Medallic Art, which has a reputation that has taken years to build and an active effort to maintain. I will append a list of these publications and their contact data at the end of this report.

Publicity is not advertising. Publicity is pictures and text. You do not pay to have it published in any media. But you must provide the editor with an appealing and acceptable release. The editor is the gate-keeper and you must meet his approval to get published.

In an advertisement you can say pretty much what you wish to sell your produce or service. It can be hard sell. Publicity is not intended to be such hard sell, but rather facts about an event, a newsworthy event. So tone down the exaggerated claims.

In the old days a release included a black-and-white photo with a one or two pages of copy. Today the photo should be in color. In the old days the photo and release were sent by mail. Today they are sent by email. The length is however long it takes to tell the complete story.

So imagine the editor at work. His inbox is full every morning. Make your press release shine to stand out. Sharp, colorful, professional photos should accompany carefully written text. Begin with a good first paragraph with supplemental points in the paragraphs that follow. Use short, punchy sentences with good grammar — no rambling paragraphs.

If you can, be aware of his deadlines. Try not to send your release at the last minute before he goes to press. Often – when he has the time – he can come up with some creative way of treating your story, perhaps you didn’t even think of. But he can’t do this on deadline day.

Here are some tips for your text. Use numismatic terms in describing a medal. Use obverse and reverse, not front and back. Don’t say reverse side, that’s redundant.

Lettering has a name for where it is located. Call it legend when it follows the perimeter around the curve of the edge. All other lettering is inscription. Edge lettering, obviously, occurs on the edge.

The device is the main design element. Any additional design elements, are called subsidiary devices.  The area at the bottom of a circular item between the edge and any device or line across is called the exergue.

Border, edge and rim are often confused. Border is the design element framing the design. Edge is the third side, the thickness of the medal.

Rim is the outermost element of the border. I don’t want to get technical, but right at the rim-edge juncture.

The design is formed by the rise and fall of relief. Please use a term I coined: modulated relief. The sculptural term is bas-relief (the “S” is silent, pronounced BAA-releaf).

A numismatist would call the area on the face of a medal not occupied by the device as the field, the designer calls it background, an engraver calls it the table or matrix. Which term to use depends upon who you are talking to.

Now for taboo words.

These words are legitimate for everyday use, but not in a news release. The list is short.

Unique. In numismatics this means one only, period. Do not use it for an exclusive feature.

Brass. Do not use this unless the item is in brassy-gold color. Most of our medals are brown, they are bronze. Use that.  (I know the difference is a tiny bit extra copper in the formulation, but the color makes the difference.) Brass sounds cheap, bronze is more éclat.

Medallic Arts.  No “s” is used in the name Medallic Art Company. The Art is singular as is “medallic art” and “Medallic Art.” The use of the plural was a serious problem when the firm was located in New York. Another firm  – Metal Arts – also made medals and was located in Rochester (active 1919-1980). We were often confused with that firm. They are no longer in the metal business, or medal making, so it is less of a problem now. But my habit of not using the term “Medallic Arts” is deeply entrenched in my mind. It is still necessary, however, for describing medals of the past to use precise names. Still, it would be best not to use the plural – or the possessive “Medallic Art’s” – in press releases.

Rev.  Would you believe “Rev.” for Reverend, a Protestant minister, was once confused with “rev.” for a numismatic reverse. Okay, forget using this abreviation.

Pr.  This abbreviation should always be spelled out as Proof in numismatics. It has been confused with the condition at the opposite extreme, “poor.”

Insight on the publications.

Coin  World. Has a new editor, Steve Roach, less than a year on the job. His administration has launched a plan of a once-a-month super issue covering all phases of the field, with regular size issues the other weeks of the month.

I was the founding editor of Coin World, and it has survived now in its 53rd year. On their 50th anniversary they did an article on this founding and the early years. But this does not mean I have any influence over anyone else. My articles or releases are judged just as any other.

Coin World started in tabloid newspaper format, printed at a daily newspaper’s in-house newspaper press. Over the years it has morphed into a magazine size and format, now printed on specialized presses in full color. Your release will be delegated to a staff writer who will rewrite your article to their standards and requirements.

Numismatic News.  I have lost the argument with the editors of Numismatic News. They believe in departmentalizing their articles. Medal news is placed under the banner of Exonumia (which I feel is more for token-like medals – not art medals). However, they will run your article pretty much without any rewriting. NN is but one periodical among forty collectors’ publications and books, now owned by F+W Media, Inc.

The Numismatist.  Magazine format  now in its 125th year. Members of the nation organization (ANA) can receive either the print version or the internet version. Pays for articles and photos, which are well edited, but obviously no payment for news releases.

TAMS Journal. Also has a new editor in Fred Reed, who is breathing life into a formerly staid publication. Welcomes new releases on new medals.

MCA Advisory. For medal collectors only, with a small but enthusiastic readership.

The other numismatic publications are somewhat specialized including AMSA Members Exchange for medallic sculptors, JOMSA for military medal collectors, and The Clarion, edited by a collector with strong medal interests.

Other media for publicity.  Occasional releases can be sent, when appropriate, to the metal trade publications, or local press in areas where plants or offices are located.  Use a little imagination and thinking to answer the question: Who else would like to know about this medal event?

Numismatic Press Release List For Medal News 

Compiled by D. WAYNE JOHNSON, Medallic Art Corporate Historian

Coin World weekly news magazine
Steve Roach, Editor
911 Vandermak Road
Sidney, OH 45367
Phone: (937) 498-0800
Fax: (888) 304-8388
Email: editor@coinworld.com


Numismatic News weekly newspaper
David C. Harper, Editor david.harper@fwpubs.com
700 East State Street
Iola, WI 54990
Phone: (715) 445-2214
Fax: (714) 445-4087
Email: david.harper@fwpubs.com


The Numismatist monthly magazine
American Numismatic Association
Barbara Gregory, Editor
818 N. Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279
Phone: (719) 632-2646
Fax: (719) 634-4085
Email: editor@money.org


TAMS Journal six issues a year magazine
Fred Reed, Editor
Token And Medal Society
5030 North May Avenue #254
Oklahoma City, OK  73112
Phone:  None
Email: Freed3@airmail.net


MCA Advisory monthly newsletter
John Adams, Editor
Medal Collectors of America
162 Farm Street
Dover, MA  02030
Phone:  (508) 785-1014
Email: JAdams@ahh.com


ANS Magazine three issues a year magazine
Ute Wartenberg-Kagan, Editor
American Numismatic Society
96 Fulton Street
New York, NY 10038
Phone: (212) 571-4470  x 110
Fax: (212) 571-4479
Email: uwk@numismatics.org


Coinage Magazine monthly news stand magazine
Editor MGibbel@coinagemag.com
P.O. Box 6925
Ventura, CA 93006-9899
Phone: (805) 644-3824 x 122


American Medallic Sculpture Society
AMSA Members Exchange quarterly newsletter
P.O. Box 6626
Kamuela, Hawaii  96743

For Print Newsletter:
Andrew Perala, Editor
Email: aperala@aol.com

For Email Distribution: As needed
Anne-Lise Deering supermedal@frontier.com
P.O. Box 1201
Edmonds, WA  98020
Phone: (206) 542-0608


E-Sylum weekly on internet
Wayne Homren, Editor
21288 Arcadia Court
Ashburn, VA  20147
Phone: (703) 729-9786
Email: whomren@gmail.com


JOMSA six issues a year magazine
Richard A. Flory, Editor
Orders and Medals Society military medals only
P.O. Box 120
Chino, CA  95927-0120
Phone: (530) 345-0824
Email: rflory@csuchio.edu


The Clarion three issues a year magazine
Richard C. Jewell, Editor
Pennsylvania Assn of Numismatists
2543 Glenwood Drive
Wexford, PA  15090
Phone:  (412) 877-0318
Email: rcj2543@earthlink.net


Book and Internet Listings

Private Mint issues are listed as “Unusual World Coins”  by KP Publications in book form by that name updated every 3 years.

Internet subscribers to NumisMaster:
George Cuhaj, New Issue Editor
Email: cuhajg@yahoo.com
Unusual World Coins constantly updated

KP Publications
70 East State Street
Iola, WI  54990-0001
Phone:  (715) 445- 2214

Supply:  Photo with data: size, weight, composition, quantity struck, mint, mintmark, artist, price (if for sale).


All medallic and related items, both cast and diestruck are listed in

Dick Johnson’s Databank:
[To go online early 2013.]
Dick Johnson dick.johnson@snet.net
Databank Editor constantly updated
139 Thompson Drive
Torrington, CT  06790-6646
Phone: (360) 482-1103

Supply:  Name of item, year first issued, artist (s) names, catalog or identification number (if any); additional information if award medal, or any special feature.

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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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This is the third 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. 

Ancient Coinmaking Illustration

Ancient Coinmaking Illustration

BEFORE coin presses, there was man and manpower. Ancient coins were struck by two men, one holding a die on top of a metal blank on top of  second die. The second man wielded a hammer, more like a sledge, for he needed to create a maximum amount of power to drive the top die into the blank and force it into all the cavities of the second die.

The dies even had names. The bottom die was called the anvil die and was usually the obverse of the coin. The upper die was called the pile die, usually the reverse. There were no set rules which should be obverse or reverse. But it was easier to reseat a partially struck piece back on the anvil die for a second blow if needed. Obverses usually had higher relief, with a larger cavity than a reverse, thus easier to place  back in position.

To lessen the need for such great striking force ancient coin makers experimented with heating and softening the metal blank. But this only caused uneven metal flow outward causing sawtooth edges of spikes and voids. The name for this was hot tears.

Hammered coinage.
For 2300 years coins were made by hammer blows on unheated blanks. Two men striking one coin at a time, one wielding the sledge, the other removing a struck piece and placing a fresh blank in place (and perhaps saying a prayer the sledge man hit the pile die and not his fingers!)

This manual process, known as hammered coinage, proceeded under the management of a moneyer; it was the major method of coinmaking from 640 bc until as late as 1662. A moneyer typically kept one of every16 pieces as his pay, as he enjoyed his monopoly. It is no wonder they rejected the introduction of any mechanical means of coin making.

Instead of a man wielding the sledge, why couldn’t the sledge be lifted by a pulley and dropped down a channel to affect the blow? This was the concept famed artist and inventor Lenardo da Vinci (1500) developed when he theorized how sheet metal could be blanked, and the blank be struck. His concept was brilliant; he visualized the same press doing both operations back-to-back. We have no record that da Vinci’s press was ever built, but he made sketches in his notebooks which have survived.

[In the 1950s IBM underwrote the building of da Vinci’s press from his notebook drawings. This press can now be viewed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.]

Primitive hammer presses (called klipwerk) were in operation for over a century in Germany and Sweden prior to 1763 when they were illustrated in a German encyclopedia. In Sweden the concept of the hammer was modified to a tilt hammer press. Powered by men or horses on a circular tread mill, the power was transferred by a capstan, this raised an arm with the hammer on the end; it would then trip and fall for the blow, the die slamming into sheet copper.

The copper plates were heated before this striking, and the plate was moved from a center strike to the four corners where the die struck there as well, all in quick time. This is the well documented method of manufacture of Swedish plate money from 1644 to 1776.

Screw presses for striking coins were “invented” in 1506. An Italian, Donato Bramante (1444-1514) modified an existing press (perhaps a fruit or olive press) that year for striking lead seals for Pope Julius II (1503-13). Other early screw presses where built by Nicolo Grosso and used at the Florence Mint for blanking at approximately the same time.  Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini employed such a press in 1530, again for Papal seals, but further, he illustrated it in his book on goldsmithing.

The screw press was further developed by Max (or Marx) Schwab in Augsburg, Germany, in 1550, who also improved on the rolling mill to draw plates for preparing metal for blanking. His rolling mill was immediately accepted by goldsmiths in Germany, but Schwab wanted his equipment used for striking coins. He was unsuccessful in selling his equipment to the Venice Mint, where he first offered it, but the French ambassador learned of his improvements and ordered a set of his “engines” for the Paris Mint. These were installed in 1751 and operating early in 1752.

Screw press operation. Forstriking coins, blanks had to be ready in quantity. Three or five men operated a screw press. One was the coin setter, he removed the struck piece and inserted the next blank. Two or four men were spinners, they operated the balance arm, swinging it back and forth. Lead weights were added to the balance arm to give it more strength about 1740.

Screw Press in Operation

Screw Press in Operation

Straps were attached to the ends of the balance arm enabling two spinners to pull on opposite ends sending the  spindle – the stem with large gears – crashing down with great force onto the blank. The die on the end of the spindle, called the pile, forced the blank into the stationary anvil die forming the design on both sides. The coin was struck.

The other two spinners would pull on their straps causing the spindle to rise. With the arm flying back and forth workers gave this press the nickname fly-press. The crew would change after 20 minutes, but they did this for 5 hours at a time, doing other work at the mint for a 10-hour day. The speed of swinging the balance arm was astounding: 20 to  30 times a  minute!  They had to develop a great rhythm!

While the screw press was a major improvement, it took more than a century to replace entrenched moneyers and hammered coinage. Moneyers fought the innovation despite the fact coins could be struck with a screw press in quicker time creating a far more uniform coin with a better rim  by cold coining. The screw press was introduced at the London Mint in 1551, the moneyers revolted, the screw press rejected, and it was not until 1662, 111 years later that it finally was in full use there.

The same thing happened in France. Schwab’s screw press was introduced to strike coins in 1552, but not until 1641 were coins struck in Paris on a production basis. The development of the screw press, delayed for over a century, was then widely accepted at mints around the world. It was first powered by men, and continued so, but some mints adapted it for water power, then for steam power.

Roller press.  Development of the roller mill led to the concept of impressing the rolled strip with the designs first, then blanking afterwards. The idea originated in Germany, but it was Nicholas Briot, who tried it first at the Paris Mint (1606-25), then at the London Mint (1633) and finally at the Edinburg Mint (1635-39).

Briot’s concept was unaccepted until Edinburg where he finally accomplished coinage by roller die (taschenwerke). Despite these early attempts in Germany, Scotland and Spain, this form of coining never surpassed the mill and screw, of rolling the metal, cutting out the blanks first, then striking individual coins.

[General Motors undertook an experiment in the 1960s in cooperation with the U.S. Mint. It built a modern version of such a roller press at one of its experimental laboratories in an attempt to revive this concept. But in operation the press creayed such high temperatures in the steel dies it melted the image on the face of the dies.]

Development of Coining Presses.  What the Industrial Revolution – and Matthew Boulton, Father of Modern Minting, with his Soho Mint – brought to coinmaking was the concept of how to do better repetitive steps, to improve the mechanization of striking coins. A blank had to be brought to a position where it could be impressed with both obverse and reverse dies, then the struck piece had to be ejected, the concept of cold coining. A German, with great mechanical insight, best solved this task.

In 1812 Deitrich Uhlhorn (1764-1837)   of Grevenbroich, Germany, began experimenting with striking. Instead of one die going up and down (as on the screw press) he employed a knuckle-joint to allow one die to retract enough for the piece to be ejected, the next blank inserted, and the continuous action controlled by a flywheel. This was brilliant and it worked.

By 1817 Uhlhorn had perfected this press; he patents it and begins building presses in a factory he establishes. His first sale was to the Berlin Mint, followed by other mints as they learned of his new press. Uhlhorn, and his sons after his death in 1837, were to build more than 200 presses over a span of sixty years.

Knuckle-joint press improvements.  With continued use, other improvements were adapted to Uhlhorn’s knuckle-joint press. The layer-on of placing the blank in position was one of these improve- ments, as was the feeding mechanism. A Frenchman in 1833 in Paris, Eugene Thonnelier (dates unknown) was to do more to improve Uhlhorn’s press than anyone. But he did not manufacture presses, he had no factory, he supplied drawings for presses to be built by local constructors.

The automatic feed eliminated exposure to loosing fingers as is present in all hand-fed presses. Prepared blanks were fed by hand into a tube that brought the blanks into position. Later improvements were made by Taylor & Challen which made Uhlhorn-style presses under license. Even in the 20th century, as late as 1961, Horden, Mason & Edwards placed the toggle mechanism beneath the feed table for a final improvement.

Modern coining presses have reduced the size of the flywheel, enclosed the mechanism with a covering (no moving parts exposed) and have changed the feed mechanism to an indexing plate. Some presses continue a horizontal feed with vertical die movement; but one German press has a vertical feed with horizontal die movement.

Modern presses are manufactured by Schuler and Grabener in Germany, by Reinhard & Fernau in Austria, by Heaton, Taylor & Challen, and Horden Mason & Edwards (now a division of America’s Cincinnati Milacron) in England, by Raskin in Belgium, and by Arboga in Sweden.

Medal Presses The first struck medals (Padua in 1390, Venice in 1393) were made on screw presses, but thediameter was limited, only medals smaller than 40mm could be struck with this type press. With the development of knuckle-joint presses the size was increased but limited by the pressure of the press, so larger presses were built. (Centuries later a 1000-ton press – pressure per square inch  – could strike a medal up to six inches in diameter.

The development of the hydraulic press in as early as 1852 led to greater versatility in medal striking. The action of a hydraulic press is best described as a squeeze, in contrast to the blow of a knuckle-joint press. Production of both presses must take into consideration work hardening. A knuckle-joint has greater production speeds but requires annealing more often. Hydraulic press production is slower but has greater surface movement. Both presses are in use in modern medal manufacturing.

Powering the press.  The source of power has changed in the last two hundred years. Early screw presses were powered only by man. The power was increased by longer balance beam, then by adding lead weights on the end. Power was also increased by more men pushing on the beam, up to four on each end.

Horsepower was used where the horses could walk in a circle deriving the power by a capstan. This was ideal for a trip hammer press, but not effective for a screw press. Then water power was employed, with power transferred by belts. This was ideal for the Uhlhorn and Thonnelier presses because the belts could be connected to the flywheels.

But steam engines, first developed by Boulton & Watt in 1775 and used in their mint as early as 1788, became the major source of mint power for over ninety years for most mints. It wasn’t until 1883 that electricity began replacing steam power, first at the Philadelphia Mint, then elsewhere; belting was eliminated and separate electric motors ran individual coin and medal presses.

Pressroom practice. The operator of any press employed to strike coins or medals, as a coining press or any type of medal pres, is a pressman.

A pressman reports to a pressroom foreman, who is responsible for all activity to produce the coins or medals. Operators of presses have always been called a pressman since 1819 (although Medallic Art Co has at times employed lady “pressmen”).

A pressman’s greatest responsibilities with automatic presses are:

  1. not to break a die
  2. to use the correct blanks for striking the order at hand
  3. to setup the press properly
  4. to insure the feed mechanism is delivering blanks to the press properly and continuously
  5. to frequently inspect the struck items during a production run.

The pressman must have a feeling for die clearance and die alignment during setup and that the dies are seated and locked in position correctly. He must know the correct gauge of blanked stock. He must be able to look at the relief and size of a die to determine the correct gauge to use in striking if it is not specified in the work order.

While presses are running the pressman must have a “sixth” sense of knowing his press is functioning properly by the sound it makes (and how fast he can hit the power button when he hears a clink or thud instead of a hum of satisfactory continuous striking).

He should know just about when a die is going to break and retire it before it can jam the press. (While obtaining the maximum use from a die is an admirable goal, it is less important than that of preventing a die from breaking on the press.) Also he must maintain the press or presses under his command in working order.

During inspection, a pressman must know what to look for. He must know the concept of highpoints (that the metal flow is filling every cavity in the dies by surface deformation). He examines these places on the struck piece under magnification on both sides.

He must be conscious of all the points of stress in a die (he must carefully examine the areas between lettering and the rim where stress is the greatest). He must also examine the rim/edge juncture in trying to meet (but not exceed!) this point with the most metal mass of the blanks. He should check the axis on both sides of the piece that they are properly aligned. His goal is to produce perfect struck pieces at all times.

Presses provide the means of producing multiple replicas of the image the artist created in the first place.

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two-pound modern British coin bears the edge lettering WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS, a quote attributed to Sir Isaac Newton. By fate, we find Sir Newton one of the participants in the development of the field by his position as Warden, later Master, of the London Mint (see entry for 1696).

A variant of Newton’s quote is “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us – we provide the shoulders for those who follow us.” Because of that truth, the development of art medals will continue as a vibrant field in the future.

Art medals, like their brethren coins, document current people and events and last forever! The longevity of both diminutive sculptural objects are unsurpassed by any other art media or form of artistic expression.

We know what figures of history really looked like — Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, obscure Kings of the Middle Age, Columbus — by their portraits on coins, and medals. (Cleopatra was not the raving beauty of an Elizabeth Taylor!)

We learn that this documentation of human events by the artistic expression of bas-relief on small permanent metal artifacts become the thrust of museum acquisition. Further we celebrate why these objects hold such fascination for individual collectors. Art medals are preserved, venerated and intended to be viewed forever! I have tried to identify the 100 most important developments of the past six and one-half centuries — and the people involved — that have brought us to our present position in the field of art medals. We are standing on the shoulders of a small group of dedicated artists, artisans, mechanics, innovators and inventors, authors and administrators who came before us.

Some objects called “medallions” were created in the Roman world. But that development did not have a follow up. Scholars tend to give Pisanello credit for the invention of the art medal as the first of a continuous movement of an image and caption preserved in metal as art medals.

Numismatists, writers and catalogers in the field will find this chart useful. It pinpoints the year in which a technology was placed in use by advanced medalists or a first event which influenced the issuance of some medallic operation or class of medalllic items.

As an example, electroplating first occurred in England in 1840. Thus any medallic item made before 1840 cannot be goldplated or silverplated. (It was FIREGILDED.)

Medallic technology is still advancing. The 20th century was known as the century of the die-engraving pantograph (not entirely replacing hand engraving of previous 25 centuries). The 21st century will be known as the century of computer engraving. We continue to advance.

The symbol ► leads to the next related development. Books are cited from author’s master bibliography with a letter-number bold-face catalog number.

Year Innovation
1439 Pisanello [Pisano, Antonio(1397?-?1455) Italian sculptor, painter, inventor] creates first art medal of John Paleologos by lost wax casting in bronze from wax pattern. (►1888)
Circa 1450 First medallic plaques and plaquettes cast in metal (usually bronze) from single-sided wax pattern similar to cast reliefs which had been made for centuries. Medallic plaques bore inscriptions which previous reliefs had not.
1500 Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Famed Florentine artist, engineer and scientist envisioned blanking, coining dies, striking presses and hydraulics. He made drawings of these, published in his notebooks. He recorded the earliest theory of blanking and coining presses, no documentation exists of da Vinci actually building or using these innovations. However, he created some highly thoughtful solutions to coin techno- logy problems. A model of his blanking press was built from his drawings (financed by IBM) now on view in the Smithsonian Institution. It shows two blanking heads back-to-back that could accomplish dual blanking on the same strip. Leonardo’s screw press for striking papal seals is on view in the museum in his home town in northern Italy, Vinci. (►1520s)
1506 The first screw press for striking coins, seals and medals was developed by an Italian architect, Donato Bramante, and by 1506 he was blanking sheets of lead for striking seals for Pope Julius II (1503-13). Other early screw presses where built by Nicolo Grosso and used at the Florence Mint for blanking at approximately the same time. (►1520s)
1520s Striking medals with dies in a screw press, rather than producing by casting, becomes common particularly in Rome where Cesati, Leoni and Cellini struck papal medals. This developed independently from a struck Carrara medal of Padua in 1390 and a Sesto medal of Venice in 1393. While still of small module, early medals take on a bolder appearance than coins and ultimately are struck in larger diameters.
1530 The principle of the screw press illustrated and described by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1574) in his work on goldsmithing; he used a screw press this year for striking lead seals for Pope Clemente VII (1523-34). (►1550)
1550 Max (Marx) Schwab, Augsburg, Germany, develops screw press for striking coins exclusively. Builds these, and roller presses, as first supplier of mint machinery. He was rebuffed in Germany and Italy, Schwab sells French Henri II equipment for the Paris Mint, it arrives in 1551. (►1553)
1552 Antoine Brulier in France develops the first blank cutting equipment; although primitive, it works, in contrast to da Vinci’s blanker of 1500, illustrated in his notebooks but apparently never built. (►1790)
1553 Mint technology is spread among many European countries by Etienne Bergeron (active 1550-63), an Augsburg mechanic who brought mint technology to the Paris,Troyes, Lorraine mints. Gifted mechanically, he was able to produce well-struck coins at each of the mints he set up. This was, in effect, the birth of milled coinage. (But he was driven out of Paris in 1560 by the moneyers whose technology he replaced.) (►1555)
1555 In Paris, Aubin Olivier attempts to use a screw press to produce an engraved edge on a special collar, perhaps before the blank is struck with obverse and reverse dies. (►1651)
1560 Eloy Mestrelle (?-1578) developed first screw press for the Tower Mint of Elizabeth I. In 1570 he struck a medal to complain his tools were confiscated. The obverse bore a bust of the Queen along with the inscription: WHAT ARE WE WITHOUT THEE? The reverse’s central device is the Tower with the plea: WHAT IS THIS WITHOUT TOOLS?
1562 Dissatisfied with existing methods of suspending medals for wearing (by drilling a hole in the medal), Dutch and British medalists began attaching a loop to the edge of medals. William Herbert First Earl of Pembroke Medal by Steven von Herwijek contained an integral loop. (Eimer 44).
1663 Louis XIV establishes the Academie des Inscriptons to devise legends and images for his comprehensive series of medals celebrating the major events of his reign.
1684 First calendar medal issued as medals were the ideal device to bear a calendar to identify a date. A British manufacturer, W. Foster, made his first calendar medals this year. Despite their apparent uselessness after the year portrayed they are widely collected as a popular topic or thematic.
1696 First branch mints established by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) the first year he was named Warden if London Mint (named Master 1698). While dies were made in London, coins were struck at Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich and York for the same reason of branch mints anywhere: to meet local demand for coin, to reduce costs of transporting bullion or struck coin.
1750 Heavier screw presses with cast iron frames were made of a single piece for greater strength at the mint in Kremnica. It could strike a coin or medal up to 40mm diameter. (►1812)
1756 English manufacturer Benjami Huntsman (1704-1776), invented a method of making crucible steel that proved most useful for dies. Matthew Boulton used Huntsman steel for his dies at his Soho Mint. Huntsman’s firm supplied steel suitable for dies to mints and medal makers throughout the world for nearly 200 years, until 1950.
1762 First proof surface struck on a medal made in England for the Pitt Club (it was placed in a watch crystal to protect the delicate reflective surface). (►1855)
1775 Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) and James Watt (1736-1819) in Birmingham join forces for building steam engines, the forerunner of using steam power for minting, and of the establishment of their private Soho Mint for the manufacture of coins, medals and tokens. (►1788)
1788 In their pursuit to manufacture products using steam power Boulton and Watt obtain a screw press, and within a year they had devised a way to use their steam engines to power a screw press powerful enough to strike coins and medals. (►1789)
1789 Matthew Boulton establishes Soho Mint in Birmingham. With partner James Watt, he built factory to build steam engines (1775), used these to go into metalworking, button making, and ultimately into coining; built coining presses and executed his first coin-age contract (1786), in effect establishing the first private mint, Soho Mint (1789), Boulton hires accomplished engravers, first Jean-Pierre Droz (1789), then Conrad Heinrich Kuchler (1793), won British coining patent (1790), struck Britain’s (cartwheel) copper coinage (1797). Boulton was considered to perform the coinage for the fledgling American nation – even establishing a branch mint in America – because of his quickly earned reputation as the most technically advanced mint any where by 1791 (Thomas Jefferson opposed this, so a federal mint was established in Philadelphia in 1792 but obtained blanks and technology from Boulton, Jefferson even tried to hire away Boulton’s chief technician Droz). Boulton helped rebuild England’s Tower Mint (1805), constructing all coining machinery and installing steam power. So efficient were his coining presses constructed at this time, they lasted until 1882. Boulton made tremendous improvements in diemaking, hubbing, blanking, coining and striking both coins and medals. A leader in the Industrial Revolution he is recognized for creating the first private mint and is considered the Father of the Modern Minting. (►1799)
1789 Boulton hires Jean-Pierre Droz (1746-1823) a Swiss die engraver, engineer, from the Paris Mint to prepare dies, improve minting equipment and help obtain business for their fledgling mint (and become the first factory artist). Droz was exceptional in that he had great talent for die engraving, but also rare mechanical aptitude. He invents the first split collar (virole brisée) in 1783 for edge lettering and submits this to Paris Mint. At the Paris mint, Droz and mechanic Philippe Gengembre devised a way to feed the blanks and remove the struck pieces while the press was still manually operated. Droz adds his feed and delivery system to a screw press which Boulton had automated with steam power, in effect creating the first automated coining press. He prepares many patterns for coins and medals and installs equipment and processes making Soho Mint the most technically advanced in the world. Somewhat unhappy, however, in his position at Soho Mint and his relationship with Boulton, Droz returns to France. (►1799)
1789 First use of clad metal for medals. Newly hired Jean-Pierre Droz uses Barton’s metal to strike the George III Recovery Medal in 1789 (Brown 311). Barton’s metal was formed by rolling strips of silver or gold on a copper core, with adhesion much like that used for Sheffield plate.
1793-5? First noncoin item struck at U.S. Mint, the Rickett’s Circus Medal (Jaeger-Bowers 23rd Greatest American Medals & Tokens). Not only is it the first medal, but also the first private (nongovernmental or national medal) struck by the U.S. Mint. Medals continue to be struck of both kinds (national medals struck continuously thereafter, private medals until 1956). (►1855)
1795 The hydraulic press is invented in England by Joseph Bramah; but it is not fully used by the British Royal Mint until more than fifty years later, and a century later at the Philadelphia Mint in America. (Great Britain ►1850s; United States ►1892)
1799 Jean-Pierre Droz returns to Paris from his employment with Matthew Boulton at the Soho Mint in Birmingham. He becomes General Administrator of the coins and medals, keeper of the mint museum and consultant to mints of the world for processes and equipment for making coins and medals.
1805 Matthew Boulton, at his Soho Mint produces his first edge lettering in raised letters on a medal he created in Birmingham. He gave to each of the officers engaged in the Battle of Trafalgar a medal that bore a portrait of Lord Nelson. Around the medal was the edge lettering: TO THE HEROES OF TRAFALGAR FROM M BOULTON. This was accomplished by the segmented collar (virole brisée) technology he learned from Droz, but occurred after Droz had left his employ. (►1850)
1812 In Germany, mechanic Diedrich Uhlhorn (1764-1837) builds his first coining press based on a knuckle-joint rather than a screw for power in one of the most important breakthroughs in minting technology. (►1817)
1815 Medallist Benvenuto Pistrucci (1784-1855) was commissioned to create a medal commemorating the battle of Waterloo. He took over three decades to fulfill the commission. Pistrucci had engraved dies so large – 5½ inches – it could not be struck. So in 1849 Pinches wisely made the Waterloo Medal in galvano form. (►1849).
1816 Steam power arrives at United States Mint at Philadelphia for most machinery. Up to this time about half (including the screw press) were powered by man, others run by horse power (as a gin with horses walking around in circles). More powerful steam engine is build at the Philadelphia Mint (►1874).
1817 Diedrich Uhlhorn, patents his knuckle-joint press and paves way for creating an advanced coining press (surpassing the screw press) and establishes a factory for their production. His press (called a “lever press”) utilizes a flywheel to transfer power to the die by a knuckle-joint hinge. His factory is active for more than 60 years supplying 57 presses for coining to nine European mints by 1847. He had died in 1837, but the factory is continued (Uhlhorn & Sohn) by his sons, who had built and sold 200 more presses by 1876. The firm is out of business by 1882 but its influence on coin and medal making was unprecedented in history.
1819 Dupeyrat sells his die-engraving pantograph to the British Royal Mint (30 years after selling one to the private Soho Mint); also to the Karlsruhe Mint in Germany, and other European mints at same time. Italian medallist Benedetto Pistrucci, who is proficient in the use of the reducing pantograph, installs the machine and instructs workers at Royal Mint in its use. (►1824)
1820 In France an ingenuous machinist Ambrose Wohlgemuth builds a “medal and cameo reducing and engraving lathe.” He used modern principles of reduction but still employed pedal power, as had all previous copying machines. (►1830)
1825 French sculptor David d’Angers (1788-1856) creates his first portrait bas-relief of what was to become his Gallery of Contemporaries, a first sculptural portrait series of famous contemporary persons.While his relief portraits were similar to a medallic format – in effect the forerunner ofan art medal series, they were originally cast – it was not until later they were electrolytically cast as portrait galvanos. Although his relief creations preceded those of Ponscarme’s, those of d’Angers series were not credited with the innovation of modern art medals. (►1868)
1828 In Britain, first medals issued in series sold by subscription to the public by publisher Edward Thomason (1769-1849):. In all he produced three medallic series: 1) Medallic Illustrations of Science and Philosophy, 2) The Kings and Queens of England, plus 3) Thomason’s famed Medallic Bible. Previous medal series were papal medals since 16th century and Napoleon medals issued in France
Circa 1830 Medallist Armand Auguste Caqué (1793-1881), working in the Paris Mint, used the Hulot machine there; makes mechanical improvements on their pantograph copying lathe. (►1836)
1836 First die-engraving pantograph developed which employed a rotating cutter in effect making the pantographic reducer a mechanically controlled milling machine instead of a copying lathe. The inventor, Contamin (no other name or dates known) was French; he had adapted an earlier French mechanical pantograph by Jean Baptiste Dupeyrat, ca 1788. Contamin’s engraving pantograph was in widespread use for over 60 years sometimes in competition with the English mechanical engraver developed by C.J. Hill. (►1840)
1837 A German physicist and engineer, Moritz Herman Jacobi (1801-1874) develops an electrolysis process he calls “galvanoplasty” which today is known as electroforming, widely used for making oversize coin and medal patterns to be pantographically reduced. Process is ideal because it reproduces fine detail in hard metal necessary for coin and medal patterns. (►1840)
1840 George Richards Elkington and Henry Elkington (cousins) receive the first patent for silverplating, marking the date for the development of electroplating. Early electroplating was done with primitive batteries until commercial electricity became available. (►1889)
Circa 1840 Medallist Jean Baptiste Maire (1787-1859) in France, makes improvement on the reducing machine, has knowledge (or machine) of Contamin and/or Caqué. It is Maire’s (or Contamin’s) engraving pantograph that is first to use a hard metal pattern made by electroforming – Jacobi’s process – (previous patterns were cast metal). (►1842)
1842 The German-American painter Ferdinand Pettrich (1798-1872) was the first use of a fine artist to directly model a design in relief for an American coin or medal, the John Tyler Indian Peace Medal (Julian IP-21). He modeled a relief portrait that was cast in iron then reduced on the Philadelphia Mint’s Contamin lathe by Franklin Peal , who cut the Tyler Medal in three sizes. (► 1851)
1849 Pinches wisely made the Waterloo Medal in galvano form. The world’s most famous electroform was electrolytically cast by Pinches in a double-sided electrotype after Benvenuto Pistrucci engraved a die too large to be struck (but later stuck in smaller size (►1972).
1851 In England machinist C.J. Hill (active 1851-1866) begins work on his die-engraving pantograph, continuing to improve it, perhaps inspired by a Contamin or the reducing machine improved by James Watt at Soho Mint. (►1856)
1851 British improvement of hubbing, hobbing and the first use by this term; actual copying of relief designs in metal (iron) had been done (530 B.C.) almost since first coins (as hubs have been found of coins of 530 B.C.). Strong screw presses had been used for hubbing since the first screw press had been developed (1506). (►1892)
1855 A separate department for striking medals was created at the Philadelphia Mint by Mint Director James Ross Snowden. This despite the fact the Mint had made medals since its very inception. (►1879)
1856 C.J. Hill perfects his die-engraving pantograph. Solicits die work he can perform on his machine, preferring not to let the machine out of his control. (►1866)
1861 First medal design patented in America, the General Winfield Scott Patriotic Medal of 1861 by C.G. Quilfeldt and J. Lebretton. This 2½-inch white metal medal bears the legend in tiny letters on the reverse: “Entered According to Act of Congress in the Year 1861 by D.E. Hall in the Clerks Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.” (The use of the first copyright mark was not to come until 1909.) No national coin or medal needs to be copyrighted, they are protected by counterfeiting laws, but the design of private medals were protected, first by patent, then by copyright laws.
1863 First formal training in creating medallic art taught in Paris at Ecole Des BeauxArts where a studio was established for medal engraving. In 1868 Hubert Ponscarme was named professor in charge of medallic training where artists Bottee, Charpentier, Daniel-Dupuis, Roty and others were trained. (► 1868)
1866 C.J. Hill obtains a British patent on his die-engraving pantograph, then sells the machine and all rights to medallist William Wyon (for 2000 pounds). (►1867)
1867 United States Mint purchases Hill pantograph from William Wyon, September 1867. It is received and placed in use in 1868, but mint engravers still use the Hill pantograph like they had used their Contimin: only to make reduction punches of design devices from oversize models (and add lettering and figures with punches). In his 1867 annual report Mint Director Henry R. Linderman says “this important and interesting machine … reduces copies of bas-reliefs by which the freedom of execution of the larger model is susceptible in the hands of the artist, can be preserved in the most minute proportions … to the face of the coin for which it is designed.” (►1902)
1868 Hubert Ponscarme (1827-1903) considered the founder of modern art medalswith his creation of a medal for the Academy of Inscriptions for Belle-Letters bearing the portrait of Joseph Naudet (the Academy’s secretary for fifty years). Ponscarme rejected the staid design style existing for French state-sponsored medals, employing instead a new freedom in medallic design so different it launched the art medal movement.(►1899)
1878 After years of extensive research author Joseph Loubat (1831-?) published his sumptuous work on American national medals with the second volume containing line engravings of all 86 medals. M2 {1878} Loubat (Joseph Florimond) The Medallic History of the United States of America, 1776-1876. New York: privately published. 2 vols, pages. Reprinted (1967): New Milford, Conn. Norman Fladerman.
1879 The United States Mint strikes its first U.S. oval medal struck within an oval collar, the Rutherford B. Hayes Indian Peace Medal, 1879 (IP-42). In an attempt to imitate the hand engraved Indian Peace Medal bearing George Washington’s standing portrait, Mint authorities instructed chief engraver George T. Morgan to create the oval design and produce oval tooling (blanking dies, oval collar and housing). After some delays, the first oval medal was struck in November or December 1879. It first went on sale to the public (along with the oval Garfield Indian Peace Medal of 1881) in 1883 and continued to be offered until the stringent cutback of List Medals in 1986). (An earlier oval medal had been made at the mint, American Centennial Massachusetts Tree Medal, 1876, CM-38, but only 420 pieces were made, it is doubtful a collar would have been made for such a short run; these were probably trimmed oval after being struck on round gold and silver blanks.)
Circa 1888 French medallists refine process of artistic patina (similar to that placed on statues) to be applied to medals of exceptional artistic quality. Medallic portraits in the Famous Celebrities series by David d’Angers were electrolytically cast as galvanos were among the first medallic items to be patinated. (►1930)
1889 Commercial electricity became available in America ultimately to power machinery at U.S. Mints. It also eliminated the use of batteries for electrolysis work. (We have Thomas Edison to thank for much of the pioneering of commercial electricity, 1889, as generating stations, transmission of electric current and, thusly, modern electrolysis, despite his choice of direct current. It was, however, George Westinghouse choice of alternating current for commercial transmission required rectifiers to convert to direct current for electrolysis.) (►1901)
1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago spawns tremendous activity in coin and medal field. Medal issuers as far afield as Europe and South America strike medals: engravers emigrate to America (as August Frank) for the purpose of this gigantic medallic opportunity. The number of famous firsts inspired by this World’s Fair is legion:

  • First commemorative coins issued by U.S. for the Exposition and the first for three commemorative denominations: quarter, half and silver dollar.
  • First product medal at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition..
  • First stamp and stencil medal for Expo delegates.
  • Aluminum first used extensively for medals made for this event.

The activity – industrial, commercial and artistic – generated by this event is unprecedented in history, reflected by the vast number of coins and medals issued for this event, unsurpassed until the American Bicentennial. (►1976)

1892 U.S. Mint at Philadelphia receives its first hubbing press devoted exclusively to hubbing working dies for coin production and a more powerful hydraulic press for striking medals. While these presses can entirely replace screw presses, they still remain in use in the engraving department. The new presses are now powered by electricity for the first time. (►1901)
1892 Victor Janvier (1851-1911) establishes his atelier in Paris to produce three-dimensional reliefs, models and statues. He begins experimenting with existing die-engraving and sculpture-reducing pantographs, develops his revolutionary twin-cone drive. (►1899)
1898 American engraver Victor D. Brenner travels to Paris to study medallic art under Louis Oscar Roty, world’s leading medallist; to learn how to model bas-reliefs oversize and have models reduced by die-engraving pantograph; he also studied with Alexander Charpentier and at Julian Academy. Brenner – under Roty’s guidance – models his self-portrait in a pallet shape, reproduced only in galvano form (electrogalvanic cast) in Paris; second self-portrait this year, in two methods.
1899 Brenner creates first medallic model: Motherhood, modeled from a similar work by Roty; it was pantographically reduced and 3-inch die cut; [later issued in America 1911as fourth medal in Circle of Friends medal series; replicated by Medallic Art Company in 1929, even made into a silver plate by MAco 1976].
1899 Victor Janvier patents his die-engraving pantograph creating the most successful reducing machine to be used by mints and medal makers throughout the world during most of 20th century; establishes factory to manufacture his pantograph machines. (►1902)
1899 French art critic Roger Marx creates first art medal society series, the Société des Amis de la Médaille François (Society of Friends of the French Medal).The series ran from 1900 to 1920 with 63 medals by 56 artists. Its history was published by Nicholas Maier, 2010. It spawned similar art medal societies in Belgium, Austria, Germany, asubsequent series sponsored by the Paris Mint, and, ultimately the Circle of Friends of the Medallion in the United States.(►2010)
1900 Universal International Exposition at Paris made extensive use of art medals for award medals and extensive exhibits of medalli c artists’ work of both European and American medalists. A medallist from each nation exhibiting was selected as a “president” of his nation’s exhibiting artists. Bronze medals were awarded to every exhibitor, silver to previous exhibitors, plus a gold GRAND PRIX for the most outstanding.
1901 First fully electrified mint in the world built in Philadelphia for the Third U.S. Mint, on Spring Garden Street, replaced the Second Mint that had become overcrowded and inadequate. The new building and new source of power created many opportunities for innovations. In his annual mint report for 1902, Director George E. Roberts related some innovations of equipment and processes installed in the new mint building:

  1. Heavier blanking presses, permitting dual blanking and sometimes even three blanks cutout with each press cycle of all dimes and quarters (larger size coins and all gold still blanked one at a time) [minor coin blanks still purchased by private metal suppliers].
  2. Automatic weighing machines; six new Seyss scales installed for weighing blanks – sorting out underweight (to be remelted), and overweight pieces (to be adjusted or remelted) – and to check weight of struck coins.
  3. Automatic adjusting of blanks, not by hand, but by shaving slightly overweight blanks in new upsetting machines.
  4. Gas furnaces replaced coal and wood burning ovens, for both melting metal alloy formulations and for annealing strip and blanks.
  5. Electric motors directly connected to all equipment including rolling mills, presses, blanking, upsetting – all now electrified.
  6. Electric generation, the Mint installs their own equipment to generate electricity, all mechanical equipment has individual motors – no longer were shafts and belts necessary to transfer power from their monster Corliss steam engine.
1902 First Janvier pantograph imported to America by Dietsch Brothers in New York, operated by Henri Weil (to produce die-struck decorations for lady’s handbags) and firm offered to cut dies for the jewelry industry. Weil cuts dies for decorative accessories until fashions change, offers to make medal dies. (►1907)
1902 England Spinks begins the serial book publication of mammoth work on world medalists by Leonard Forrer (1869-1953). E3 {1902-30} Forrer (Leonard) Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Coin, Gem and Seal-engravers, 500 B.C–A.D. 1900. 8 volumes. London: Spink & Son. Reprinted editions (1965) London: Spink Son; (1970) New York: Burt Franklin; revisededition (1980) London: Baldwin & Sons and A.G. van Dussen (Maastrich). 5,2 pages, illus.This is the preeminent reference work for engravers, diesinkers and medallists. International and covers all time periods, from ancient to date of public tion (early 20th cent). Forrer began running biographical information in Spink & Son’s monthly Numismatic Circular as early as 1892. These were gathered in bound volumes beginning in 1902, and continued through 1930. Volume 1 was revised slightly in the 1980 Baldwin/van Dussen reprint (volume 1 page references may be different in other editions). An Index of 311 pages (compiled by J.S. Martin) was added to the 1980 set.Forrer’s style is eclectic; he included excerpts from many sources (now called “cut and paste”) These are often in the language of the original, thus styles of listings are those of the original source. Errors are amazingly light for such large volume of data, but he does include some nonexistent artists (e.g. “Beach, J.”) and medals that are not those of the listee (e.g. Sneider, Robert contains medals he sold rather than he created). One idiosyncrasy: All artists from North and South America are all classed as American.
1907 First medal cut on Janvier pantographin America portrays Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Produced by Henri Weil (employed by Dietsch Bros. in New York), for sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt. His oversize models of complete design for bothsides of a medal replaced need for hand engraved dies or dies made by reduction punches with lettering added later by letter punches. Medals struck by Tiffany & Co with Weil’s dies. (►1910)
1907 The United States Mint, Philadelphia, purchases its first Janvier pantograph at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt who learned from sculptor Augustus St-Gaudens of its existence. St-Gaudens model for high relief $20 gold coin was to be the first American coin reduced on the Janvier. Medallic Art founder Henri Weil, who had instructed mint engravers on how the Janvier pantograph was operated, was later asked by St-Gaudens assistant, Henry Hering, for assistance in lowering relief. Chief engraver Charles E. Barber professed St-Gaudens’s model was still unsuitable, the relief was too high, ultimately lowered for the two varieties of this coin in 1907.
1909 First American art medal series, Circle of Friends of the Medallion issued in New York City with Hudson-Fulton Medal by John Flanagan and struck by Medallic Art Company. Twelve medals were issued by eleven artists, two a year until 1915. Medals house in books written by Charles deKay. It was the forerunner of the Society of Medallists. (►1930)
1910 Medallic Art Company is incorporated under control of Henri and Felix Weil who acquired rights to the name and the Janvier lathe former owned by the Deitsch Brothers. As sculptors’ assistants, their intent is to offer their services to American sculptors for making bas-relief productions either as galvano casts or struck medals, literally the first firm in America devoted exclusively to art medal manufacture. (►1930)
1910 International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals at ANS, lasted less than a month, but of profound influence in the numismatic field; an extensive illustrated catalog published the following year. NE2 {1911} American Numismatic Society. Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals … March, 1910. New York: American Numismatic Society. With introduction by Agnes Baldwin Brett. (1911), 412 pages, illus.[2,052 numbered items]. Often cited “ANS (IECM)” initials of title. The medallic work of 194 medallists of Europe and America (56) who accepted an invitation to exhibit in NYC; this catalog is an expansion of a brief list published before the exhibition.
1910 United States commission of Fine Arts established. An arbiter of taste in all federal projects including coins and medals, as well as rchitecture and sculpture.
1914 First use of term “art medals” in an article by U.S. Mint curator Thomas Comparette; he listed one year’s numismatic creations in three categories: coins, commercial medals and art medals issued in 1913. N7 {1914} Comparette (Thomas Louis) Coins and Medals Produced in the United States in 1913, American Journal of Numismatics 47: (1914) pp 142.
1919 Saltus medal established by the American Numismatic Society to recognize American medallic talent. The J. Sanford Saltus Medallon was created by Adolph A.Weinman, who won the award the following year, 1920.
1929 American engraver, medallist, chief engraver, U.S. Mint John R. Sinnock (1888-1947) first to use ART MEDAL as inscription on two portrait medasl of Thomas Edison.
1930 First issue of the Society of Medalists, founded by art patron George DuPont Pratt and Clyde Curlee Trees, president, Medallic Art Company. It issued two medals a year continuously for 75 years, reproducing the medallic creations of the top Americansculptor-medallists of the 20th century. Each medal was given a special patina.
1946 The first commercial epoxy resin is offered by Ciba, based on 1936 patents of Pierre Castan of Switzerland and S.O. Greenlee of the United States. Industry gradually adopts this “plastic tooling” for making molds and master models, among other uses. However, it was not employed by mints and medal makers for casting bas-relief coin and medal models until the late 1960s (as the use of plaster casts and galvano molds continued). It was more readily accepted after 2000 when the “clay and plaster” method of modeling was replaced by computer engraving for less than artistic models (as for coin relief models).
1947 Fédération Internationale de la Médaille (FIDEM) is founded to encourage art medal creation by world artists, ultimately to hold biannual meetings and exhibitions, issuing a conference medal for each meeting. Sites rotate among European countries and America. Conventional art medals later supplemented by increasing number of medallic objects. (►1965)
1961 In Poland the first art medal with pierced open work is created by Bronislaw Chromy, Animal Lovers bearing three owl-like creatures on the obverse – the piercing allowing the third to be seen on the reverse bearing the inscription: PIERWSZA WYSTAWA RZEZBNA PLANTACH KRAKOW 1961, 0.6KG.
1964 An International exhibition of coins and medals was prepared by Dr. Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli, Curator of Monetary History and Medallic art at the Smithsonian. Shown at the ANA convention in Cleveland, over 20 nations participated with six of them exhibiting medals—Denmark, France, German, Great Britain, Greece and Italy. This was the first exposure the American collectors had to the modernism of art medals of the French, the Italians and the Dutch. The French mint picked up many new American members for their Society of the Medal.
1965 An experiment was conducted in New York City, perhaps ahead of its time. The art publication Art In America commissioned a curator, then at the Whitney Museum, Edward Albert Bryant, to manage a project of reproduced bas-relief. He sought William Trees Louth and the Medallic Art Company for the intended replications. The two literally had to invent a new art form! The Medallic Object was born. A10 {1965} Bryant (Edward) Christmas For Connoisseurs, Art In America 53:6 (December–January 1965-66) pp 38-44 [advertisement p 136].\In a rare collaboration between Art In America and Medallic Art Company, the art publication commissioned seven artists to each create a medallic relief. This was the birth of a new art form in America: the medallic object. (►1966)
1966 The following year in France, Roger Bezombes creates his first medallic object, the first art-numismatic item reproduced by a national mint. The Paris Mint, under director Pierre DeHaye encourages their creation and sponsors mostof them, ultimately producing over 300medallic objects in two decades. (►1969) O45 {1985} Hôtel de la Monnaie. La Médaille-Objet With introducition by Jacques Campet, Director. Paris: Monnaies et Médailles. 216 pages, illus. The work of 124 artists — all reproduced by the Paris Mint — covering the new art format of medallic objects
1967 With active art medalists in Finland the Finnish Art Medal Guild is founded. It issues an annual art medal.
1967 The first hologram in a work of medallic art appeared in a highly creative art medal by Israel’s Yaacov Agam, titled And There Was Light Medal.
1968 The first high relief proof surface art medal struck by Medallic Art Company in New York City. The 1½-inch medal was the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Medal (MACO 1968-056) by Abram Belskie. It was issued by International Numismatic Agency (Neil Cooper) who wanted something different to make this medal stand out among hundreds of other medals issued on the death of the Civil Rights leader. Medals as large as six inches were ultimately struck with proof surfaces.
1968 The first free-standing art medal in America was created by Roy Lichtenstein called Salute to Airmail on the 50th anniversary of airmail carried by flight. It was electrolytically cast by Medallic ArtCompany (their Catalog # 1969-154) and issued by International Numismatic Agency. It was followed by an issue of The Society of Medallists issue #115, Cat and Mouse in 1988, also free-standing. (►1976)
1969 The first multipart medal was created Kauko Rasanen of Finland. His first of the new medallic form was the two-part medal, Jonah in the Whale. This inspired a number of these creative medallic objects and Rasanen continued to create many innovative forms in multiple parts, often fitting together like a puzzle. He was honored with a Saltus Medal by the American Numismatic Society in 1986.
1971 First book on art aspect of coins and medals, Cornelius Vermeule’s Numismatic Art in America is published A15 {1971} Vermeule (Cornelius C.) Numismatic Art in America; Aesthetics of the United States Coinage. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (1971) 266 pages, 249 illus. Major work as historical overview emphasizing art and style in American coins and medals. Author creates term Federalist style to describe early American productions. [94 artists cited]
1972 Franklin Mint acquires Pinches of London and one of the first medals the acquired firm strikes is a reduced version of the Waterloo Medal of Benvenuto Pistrucci. (FM PWM-1)
1974 On December 31st the United States changed its gold policy. Gold is allowed to trade freely and U.S. private citizens are permitted to own gold. The immediate reaction was issuing gold medals and the American public could purchase gold in any form and any amount (lifting the ban in effect since March 1933). At one minute after midnight in the new day, Franklin Mint began striking gold medals for sale to the public.
1976 Great outpouring of art medals for American Bicentennial issued by every entity – national, state, local municipalities, organizations, institutions, even individuals – in every medallic format.
1976 Working independently, the first free-standing medal outside America was created by Alex Shagin. While still at the Lenningrad Mint, he ceated an art medal to stand as sculpture. It was to be exhibited at FIDEM 1977; but, according to Shagin, the authorities would not allow such a dramatic departure from Socialist Realism to be exhibited at an international meeting. Unfortunately, when Alex Shagin came to America, the Soviet government would not allow him to take these medals with him.
1977 United States Mint’s medal issues over 100 years documented and illustrated in book by Robert Julian published by TAMS. M37 {1977} Julian (Robert W.) Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century,1792-1892. Token and Medal Society. 424 pages. [573 items, 69 artists, index of artists, p 418-419, compiled by DWJ] Monumental work on 19th century mint medals. Artists are identified for 412 items; 161 items have unknown artists.
1979 Mark Jones’ book, first entirely on art medals published in England. A26 {1979} Jones (Mark) The Art of the Medal. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Publications Limited, 192 pages, illus.
1982 American Medallic Sculpture Association (AMSA) is founded to promote art medal creation by American artists by frequent exhibitions. Dr. Alan Stahl organized its first exhibition at te American Numismatic Soceity where he was curator. Exhibit catalogs issued, AMSA Members Newsletter published.
1982 Similarity in England the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) is founded. It promotes itsmembers’ creations and issues an annual medal.
1984 First International Medallic Workshop with concurrent exhibition “Resurgence of The Art Medal” was held at Penn State University in America. The symposium brought many international teachers to America and exposed American artists to art medals. The exhibition, traveled to four museums and had a great influence on American artists.
1987 Beaux-Arts Medal Exhibition at ANS; catalog by Baxter. M42 {1987} Baxter (Barbara A.) The Beaux-Arts Medal in America. New York: American Numismatic Society. For Exhibition Sept 26, 1987 to April 16, 1988. 92 pages, illus. [112 artists listed, 368 medallic items]
1988 First Medals in America Symposium held at American Numismatic Society. MA1 {1988} Stahl (Alan M., editor) The Medal in America. New York: American Numismatic Society. Coinage of the Americas Conference, Sept 26-27, 1987.
1996 Marqusee Collection donated to Cornell University’s Herbert Johnson Art Museum. C14 {1996} Marqusee (John E.) One Hundred Years of American Medallic Art, 1845-1945; the John E. Marqusee Collection. Ithaca, New York: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. 98 pages. [138 artists listed, 416 items].Collection in Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. Margusee was a friend of sculptor Leonard Baskin who simultaneously donated a rare Saint-Gaudens medal which became the keystone medal of the Marqusee collection with a full-page catalog description of the medal (written by DWJ).
2010 First book published on French art medal series by Nicolas Maier. M65 {2010} Maier (Nicolas) French Medallic Art, 1870-1940. Munich: Author (2010) 415 pp, illus, in three languages: German, English, French. Discusses development of art medal in France, leading up to establishment, in 1899, by art critic Roger Marx, of Soceiet des Amis de la Medaille Francois (called SAMF throughout the book); illustrates 63 medals in SAMF series by xx artists until series halts in 1930. Author continues numbering system for medals of prominent French medallists (1863-1940) for a total of 336 medals by 73 artists.
2012 First American art medal with color applied by pad printing issued. The Guide Book of United States Coins – universally known as the “Red Book”– is illustrated in red and gold color on an art medal bearing portrait of editor Kenneth Bressett for his 50th year in this position. Sponsored by Rittenhouse Society, Bressett’s published books are listed on spines of books shown on medal’s reverse. Medal was struck by Medallic Art Company.
Acknowledgements: Art medal scholars Donald Scarinci, Alan Stahl, Ira Rezak and Harry Waterson aided the author in reaching the goal of 100 leading developments in the art medal field.

Copyright © 2012 by D. Wayne Johnson

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This is the second 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.

COMPOSITION is the material of which coins and medals are made. Numismatists use that term where others might think of “metals” or “alloys.” The broader term is used because medals are infrequently made of nonmetal material, as will be mentioned. The other meaning of the term “composition” – the arrangement of elements in a design – should not be used in numismatics to lessen the confusion between the two meanings.

Note that the metals used for ancient coins, even hundreds of years before the birth of Christ are still those same metals used for coins and medals today:  gold, silver and bronze. The ancients did not have some great insight, but rather they had metalworking experience.

These metals had been worked by man for centuries before (as early as 4,000 BC for bronze. China’s choice for early coins was bronze, India was silver, western countries preferred precious metals silver and gold. These three metals, employed for the world’s earliest coins, possessed the most desirable characteristics required for coin making. They also possessed desirable wearing qualities for circulating, then as now.

Metals In A Coinage System.
As coins of different denominations were created to facilitate commerce, a  coinage system was established. Higher denominations required more costly metals. Thus two and three metals were employed. These could be coins of pure metals or several metals combined to form an alloy in which to strike the coins.

A coinage system that employs two metals, as gold and silver, is called a binary system. The Lydians, who first struck coins in 640 BC, developed such a two-metal binary system in 550 BC.  When a system has three metals, as gold, silver and bronze – or any three metals pure or alloyed – for its coins is said to be on a ternary system. If four metals are employed it is a quaternary system.

In 1920 Great Britain reduced the precious metal content of their coins by half, going off the sterling standard. They went from a ternary to a quaternary system. They continued striking .500 silver coins, with additional alloys, but eliminated silver entirely in 1946. Their crowns and shillings, formerly struck in silver were thereafter struck in copper-nickel. (Their coinage system was decimalized in 1968, but their coins still continue to be struck in copper-nickel.)

(Clad compositions, which became popular in the late 20th century, have obscured these “-nary” designations; future metallurgical grammarians will be required to redefine these terms.)

Coinage Metal Alloys.
The earliest coin makers learned that pure metal, particularly gold and silver, was too soft to withstand the harsh conditions from circulation. These metals, as with most coinage metals, were alloyed. The popular alloy of sterling, for example, has a silver content of .925, added to .075 copper for strength and hardness. This alloy proved satisfactory as a coinage composition, to strike, to circulate, to retain its color and its value. Later coin silver was introduced with a greater alloy of 90% silver, 10% copper.

Coins were struck in these alloys through the years, except for occasions when the precious metal content was reduced for political reasons: creating debased compositions. In the 19th century copper nickel was introduced and numerous experiments were made in other minor coinage metals.

Modern Alloy Problems.
The gradual rise of primary metal costs in the 20th century has brought economic pressure to change coin compositions. As mentioned, Great Britain stopped using silver in coins in 1920 (all except Maundy coins). The United States stopped striking silver in circulating coins in 1964 (except for silver coins sold to collectors and bullion coins sold to investors). These changes were brought about by the increase in the market price of silver. Coins struck in alloys without precious metal became a token coinage.

In 1965 U.S. silver coins (of 90% silver) were worth more for their silver content than their face value. The obvious event happened: coins were withdrawn from circulation and melted. Gresham’s law came into effect: coins with least intrinsic value replaced in circulation coins of greater intrinsic value, “bad money drives out good money.” This caused a severe coin shortage and widespread trouble for all small commercial transactions. Other countries confronted similar problems; the problem was worldwide.

U.S. Treasury officials were faced with some difficult decisions. What also influenced the solution were the millions of vending machines and fareboxes that were engineered to accept silver coins (including tests of surface resistivity). What was needed was a lower cost alloy that could still be accepted in all those venting machines. The solution was to strike coins in a clad composition. With a layer of silver, or silver-like metal, on each side of a lower-cost base metal, the total costs of blanks would be less, but this would still meet the requirements of the vending machine industry.

In 1981 a similar situation occurred with the price of copper, effecting the striking of cent coins. Here again the solution was a clad composition of copper coating a zinc base metal. In the United States, cents struck from 1982 forward were of copper clad zinc composition.

(The clad technology also created a new industry – manufacturing the clad strip and supplying this, or blanks cut from the strips, to the mints. It was also a brilliant solution for what could be done with all the skeleton scrap after the blanks were cut out. Copper coated zinc scrap, for example, could be melted, and with little reformulation – addition of virgin copper – poured into ingots of – bronze! Scrap technology must be taken into consideration with every decision of coinage composition.)

In each of these solutions the color and appearance of the prior metal was retained (as well as surface resistivity – necessary for vending machine detectors). It is interesting to speculate what the next major change in coin compositions will require and when this will occur.

Nonmetallic Compositions.
For centuries mint officials have wrestled with the problems of composition of the coins they were required to strike. Metal shortages, fluctuating prices, new technology, wartime metal needs, economic and political factors have all influenced coinage metal needs. Mints have experimented with substitute compositions endlessly. It continues today as substitutes for copper and zinc in cents and perhaps a substitute for a copper-nickel five cent piece, are high priorities as these metal prices have risen beyond the face value of the coins.

In 1868, for example, a Boston firm patented a composition it called Diatite. Unheard of today, it was one of the many unsuccessful coinage compositions, with only two tokens in existence as evidence of this experiment.

In 1865 a dentist and amateur metallurgist, Lewis Feuchtwanger, was more determined. He proposed to the U.S. Mint a nickel-silver alloy as a coinage metal; it contained copper, nickel, zinc, tin, antimony and other metal elements. The Mint wisely refused because of the multiplicity of components (This would have been a scrap technology nightmare.) However, the U.S. Mint later did strike copper-nickel cents, 1856-65, which was not entirely satisfactory, but an altered alloy was satisfactory for five-cent pieces, 1865 onwards. Feuchtwanger designed and issued storecards in his own composition, all struck by Scovill of Waterbury.

In 1942 the U.S. Treasury considered producing cent coins in plastic. In other times the media listed in the adjacent chart below have been considered to replace metal alloys for coins.

But where most nonmetallic compositions are found is in tokens, and to a smaller degree, in medals. Tokens have been struck or fabricated in most all of the materials listed in the chart. Medals, likewise have been made in more than half of these. The experience found among nonmetallic compositions for tokens and medals have given experience to mint officials not to use these compositions for coins. They still wisely use metal for coin compositions.

Handy & Harman Medal

Obverse, reverse and edge of
the Handy & Harman Medal.

Compositions for medals.
Unlike coins, medals and medallic objects have no restrictions on composition; medals are far more democratic. They can be made in any permanent composition. Obviously firms in which their product is a suitable coinage material, may request their medals made in their product material. In 1966 Medallic Art Company created a medal for Handy & Harman, a major supplier of silver and bronze, for their 1967 centennial. The bimetal was struck in bronze with a silver inlay covering half the obverse design (catalog 1966-006).

Before plastics were developed, Bakelite, Vulcanite and hard rubber were materials employed for many products. I remember one medal issued by a firm which manufactured combs in hard rubber, active in the last half of the 19th century.  Obviously its medal was made in hard rubber. The term for this category of medals is called product medal.

Despite the wide variety of metal compositions available for striking medals, the old standard – bronze, silver gold – still are most popular today. This is particular true for award medals with an obvious rank of medals. Three or more classes of awards can be created with additional divisions of medal size and plating, gold-plated silver – vermeil – below solid gold, and above silver.

Bronze, time honored, is even more desirable in that it can be given a patina finish, much like statues. The intent of the firm’s Society of Medalists was that each issue be given a different patina. This became unpractical after the 20th issue.

Numismatic medals.
Numismatists like many different compositions in any individual medal, it provides them with a separate VARIETY.

One of Medallic Art’s first customers, Thomas Elder had the firm strike four or five metal varieties in 1910. Recently, a chemist, Thomas Wilfred, had his New York Numismatic Club Presidents Medal struck in six different metals for his 1983 medal

Coin And Medal Compositions               

A. Metallic

  1. acmonital
  2. albata
  3. alpacca
  4. aluminum
  5. aluminum bronze
  6. argentin
  7. bath metal
  8. brass
  9. bronze
  10. copper
  11. copper nickel (cupro-nickel)
  12. chrom-steel
  13. electrum
  14. german-silver
  15. gold
  16. goldene
  17. iron (ferrous)
  18. lead
  19. manganese
  20. nickel
  21. nickel-brass
  22. nickel-silver
  23. oroide
  24. orichalcum
  25. palladium
  26. pewter
  27. platinum
  28. silver
  29. space metals
  30. sterling
  31. tin
  32. titanium
  33. tombac
  34. type metal
  35. white metal
  36. zinc

B. Plated Metals

  1. bronze gilt
  2. gilding metal
  3. goldplated
  4. rolled gold
  5. sheffield plate
  6. silverplated
  7. vermeil

C. Nonmetallic

  1. bakelite
  2. boxwood
  3. ceramic
  4. glass (crystal)
  5. hard rubber
  6. horn
  7. ivory
  8. leather
  9. plastics
  10. porcelain
  11. soap
  12. steatite (soapstone)
  13. stone
  14. terra-cotta
  15. vulcanite
  16. wax
  17. wood (bois durci)

Some Compositions Terms

Acmonital.  An alloy of stainless steel.
Albata.  Alloy of nickel, copper and zinc; an early name for nickel-silver.
Alpacca.  Onetime trademark for an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc; a form of German-silver or nickel-silver.
Aluminum.  A very light-weight metal in silver-white color.
Aluminum Bronze.  A bronze alloy with five to ten percent aluminum. commercial aluminum bronze formula is 86 copper, 10.5 aluminum and 3.5 iron which is a high strength,
Amalgam.  Any soft metal alloy from which a medallic item is cast or struck; an alloy without specific formulation, as pot metal, which is pliable to some degree.
Anodized Aluminum.  A coating, actually a plating on aluminum which unlike other plating can be done in color.
Argent.  French, silver.
Argentin, Argentine.  Base alloy of tin and antimony, made to resemble silver; a white metal most always silverplated.
Base Metal.  An alloy or metal usually of low value to which plating is applied; or the chief constituent of an alloy, not a precious or noble metal.
Bath Metal.  A brass alloy once used for striking medals. Named after Bath England, it was invented by William Wood (1671-1730) an English ironmaster and owner of copper and tin mines in western England.
Bell Metal.  The bronze alloy for making bells can be used successfully for striking or casting medals.
Brass.  An alloy with the major component of copper, plus moderate zinc or tin content, which is highly ductile and has a yellow hue.
Britannia Metal.  A silver-white alloy of tin, antimony and copper, and often of zinc and bismuth.
Britannia Standard.  A fineness of silver, 958.4 parts per 1000.
Bronze.  An alloy of copper with additional metals of zinc and/or tin in small amount, infrequently with other metals as trace or impurities. Bronze is the world’s most popular alloy for coins and medals, irrespective of how they are made.
CastIron.  A ferrous metal object formed in a mold.
Coin Silver.  A fineness of 900 fine; 9 parts silver to one of alloy, usually copper; silver United States coins have been struck in this fineness from 1837 to 1964.
Copper.  A metal element, the basis for many coinage and medal alloys, making it the most useful metal in the field.
Copper Nickel.  An alloy predominantly of copper, to which is added nickel for hardness and a white color.
Cupro-nickel.  The term for copper nickel in England and France.
Engraver’s Brass.  A copper alloy that is a favorite of engravers because it is so well suited for all types of engraving.
Feuchtwanger Composition.  A three-component alloy employed for several private issue tokens – and proposed for United States coinage by its developer – but never accepted.
Fineness.  The quality or purity of precious metal in numismatic or medallic items. In America fineness is expressed as a decimal part per 1.000, as sterling is .925; in Europe it is expressed as whole parts per 1,000, 925 is sterling.
Fine Silver.  Commercially pure silver, usually .999 fine; silver with no alloy.
German-silver.  A copper alloy of silver-white color because of the presence of nickel and zinc, now called nickel-silver. There is no silver in German-silver or nickel-silver.
GildingMetal.  A base metal, an alloy of copper and zinc.
Gold.  The heavy yellow precious metal, idolized by man for eons, ideal for coins and medals for the highest value and most desirable issues.
Goldene.  A brass alloy resembling gold in which cheap tokens and coins are struck;.
Iron.  The metallic element, silver-white in color, but useful to man for its malleable and ductile qualities.
Karat.  A measure of gold based on 24 parts; 24 being pure gold.
Lead.  A soft bluish gray metal, a metallic element, often used for proving dies in modern times, also a material in which medals have been cast or struck.
Nickel.  A metallic element, of silver-gray color and often alloyed with copper and other metals for a coinage metal.
Nickel-silver.  An alloy of nickel, copper and zinc.
Oreide.  Obsolete form of oroide, the brass alloy.
Oroide.  A brass alloy resembling gold in color and brilliancy widely used in striking low-cost coin-like and token-like medals.
Pewter.  A high tin content white metal alloy, usually very soft and infrequently used for striking medallic items.
Phosphor-bronze.  A bronze alloy with very small amount of phosphor.
Pinchbeck.  An alloy of copper and 10-15% zinc.
Platinum.  A heavy, gray-white precious metal. Platinum has great strength, it never tones or corrodes, but has a very high melting point.
PotMetal.  An alloy without specific formulation but which is made by melting scrap in a pot, hence the name.
RedBrass.  A copper-zinc alloy with less than 15% zinc which has a characteristic bronze red or copper red color.
Silver.  A gray-white precious metal, which because it is highly malleable and coinable is widely used as the composition for coins and medals.
Space Metal.  A new metal alloy formulated in space, outside the gravity restrictions of the earth.
Sterling.  A fineness of silver, 925 parts per 1000 (alloyed with 75 parts copper for hardness).
Spelter.  A zinc alloy, or zinc solder, in which the zinc content is more than half.
Tin.  A very soft white to gray silver-colored metal; an element used in pure state, or alloyed with other metals particularly to form white metal or pewter. 7305-(010)05.4
Tombac.  A copper-zinc alloy.
Type Metal.  A lead alloy containing tin and antimony, it was readily available in letterpress printing shops until the mid-20th century.
Vermeil.  Goldplated silver or silver gilt. Such a composition has the texture, fineness, hardness and smooth finish of silver, but the color of gold.
Wartime Alloy.  Made of a substitute alloy during hostilities.
White Metal.  An alloy with a base of tin, with or without lead, and any of several other medals – copper, antimony, bismuth for the most part.
Yellow Brass.  A copper alloy of high zinc content which has a permanent typical brass golden color.
Zinc.  A silver gray metal that in pure state rapidly corrodes.

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