A version of this article appeared January 15, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Melted Penny for Your Thoughts.

The Obama administration has officially repudiated the idea of minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin to address some of its fiscal problems. Washington shouldn’t stop there. Next to go should be not only the penny but the nickel, too.

Already each penny costs the U.S. government more than a cent to manufacture and distribute, and that cost is only rising without a suitable substitute for the raw materials. The coin has less purchasing power today than the U.S. half-cent coin did when the government abolished it in 1857.

But how to eliminate a coin? There are 150 billion pennies in banks, the cash drawers of retailers, the pockets and purses of citizens, and the jars atop dressers. Françoise R. Velde, chief economist of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, suggests the government revalue (or “rebase”) all cents to the value of a nickel so that they would circulate side-by-side, both worth five cents. A Treasury proclamation would do the trick at no cost.

This change would cause mini windfalls all over the nation, as 100 pennies in that dresser jar suddenly become worth five dollars, but it would prevent the problem of scrapping all those loose pennies.

Sooner or later, the government should also rebase nickels to the value of dimes, since nickels also cost more to produce than they are worth. A Dallas speculator whom I know (but who wishes to remain anonymous) has already hedged for that event by squirreling away $1 million worth of nickels in a Texas warehouse.

At least the U.S. is lucky that it has only five coin denominations in circulation. Italy struck seven denominations of euro coins in 2002, but by 2012 merchants and the public were throwing away the two lowest ones, deeming them valueless. There is a sixth U.S. coin—the dollar piece—but Americans have largely rejected it. Though Washington has struck 2.38 billion dollar coins since 1979, the bulk (1.2 billion) now reside in Federal Reserve storage.

Fourteen countries have now eliminated their lowest or two lowest coin denominations. All then rounded prices up or down to the value of the nearest coin still in active circulation. “Merchants will always round up, costing more for buyers!” screamed the naysayers. Not so. A 2006 Wake Forest University study of 200,000 convenience-store transactions in the eastern U.S. revealed that the rounding tends to balance out in a year’s time.

After Israel dropped its one-agorot coin in the 1990s, a drugstore chain there established a policy of always rounding down, trumpeted the policy in advertising and gained a marketing advantage over competitors. Thrifty customers increased the chain’s sales.

So what coin denominations should Americans plan for in the long term, as the value of low-denomination coins declines further due to inflation? Keep the dollar as the unit, as well as a 10-cent and 50-cent division of the dollar. That is three coins to keep while eliminating the cent, nickel and quarter.

Then, add five-dollar and 10-dollar coins, and the U.S. would again have five denominations to fill the drawer of every cash register. Stop printing paper currency in these denominations and accrue even more savings, as coins outlast paper 20-to-one in circulation.

Australia made a transition like this in two steps, abolishing its one-cent coin in 1990 and its two-cent coin the following year, melting both to make medals for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. But it is more efficient to do it all at once—and more considerate to the vending-machine industry, the largest user of coins. Industry spokesmen in the U.S. estimate it could cost up to $3.5 billion to recalibrate all their machines, and they shouldn’t be expected to do so twice.

In the plan to eliminate the cent, nickel and quarter, the latter two could be melted and recycled into new denomination coins. But what about all those cents?

Here is where the Treasury deserves great respect. In 1982, it began making cents with a zinc core and copper plating, rather than with a copper-zinc alloy. A gold star award to the Treasury official who made that decision. The brilliant part is that when all those cents are scrapped—those minted before 1982 and those minted since—the result will be a mixed alloy of copper and zinc. Voilà, brass. Add a little virgin copper and you have bronze.

Thus all those cents could be melted and used for bronze statues or bronze bells. But it is tricky to achieve the proper resonance for a perfect bell sound. So I have commissioned a top American sculptor—Elizabeth Jones, former chief engraver of the U.S. Mint—to sculpt a life-size or larger statue of David Rittenhouse, the first director of the U.S. Mint and a prominent astronomer and financial officer for Pennsylvania.

Gathering 23.7 million of those unwanted cents would furnish ample metal for a bronze statue of Rittenhouse to stand in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. The surplus metal would be sold to pay the artist, foundry expenses and other costs. The city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania would receive a bronze statue at no cost, and Rittenhouse would be honored with the metal from coins created by the Mint he founded in 1792.

The Rittenhouse statue should be reason enough for the Treasury to issue a waiver to its 2006 policy outlawing the melting of pennies. An added bonus are the hundreds or thousands of other bronze statues and bell towers that could go up in other cities across America.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four boundaries must be considered here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medals by The Numbers


Committee members appointed to design the National Capitol Centennial Medal in 1900- Charles Barber disregarded all their suggestions for his own design. Medal struck in metal from Capitol roof.


Medals and medallic items exhibited at the International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals at the American Numismatic Society March 1910. Medalists from 11 countries sent exhibits.


In-house sculptors at Medallic Art Company until it moved out of New York City, 1972. Previously any sculpture chores performed by one of the Weil brothers, founders. Ramon Gordills was hired as factory artist when the last Weil died.


Articles written by Georgia Chamberlain reprinted in her book American Medals and Medalists, published by her husband in 1963 after her death.


Medals listed by Robert Julian in his book, U.S. Mint The First Century. Artists are identified for 412 items; 161 items have unknown artists.


Items are not medals in book 100 Greatest Medals and Tokens by Katie Jaeger and Q. David Bowers. Counterstamped items colonial coins, Hard Times, storecards, cut coins, encased postage stamps, plus 25 others, fall in class of tokens, thus 61 true medals.


Medals made by Medallic Art Company from 1906 to 1976 and cataloged by Dick Johnson before he left the firm Jan 1977.


Estimated number of sculptor-medalists of medals produced by Medallic Art Co. in 1906-1976 based on a sample of records; figure could increase when all records are checked for artists.


Dies from Scovill Manufacuring’s die vault, in Waterbury, that were deemed of “historical significance” and donated to 18 museums (plus others later) at suggestion of museum consultant Bruce S. Bazelon (registrar, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Harrisburg). In 1962 He examined 15,000 dies.


Estimated percentage of medals (and tokens) by unknown engravers issued in America during 19th century. Most hand engravers did not sign their work, thus engraver remains unknown.

IN RESEARCHING the early activities of what was to become Medallic Art Company in preparation for a history of the company, and the two Weil Brothers – Henri and Felix – one fact became quite evident. The pair continued to do what they had done for as long as they had been in New York City. They served at the direction of sculptors.

The Weils acquired art training in different ways. Henri had apprenticed to sculptor George Wagner, married to their sister, and served as his assistant for four years. Later Felix was also apprenticed to his brother-in-law as well. Each morning their job was to unwrap the clay model their brother-in-law was working on. At the end of the day they would moisten the clay and wrap the clay for the night.

Odd jobs around the studio occupied their daytime activities. It was impossible, however, to work for a sculptor and not observe the techniques and learn the ability to model the clay into final form. Henri was assigned small parts to model, which would be applied to a larger model. Later Felix did the same, perhaps inspiring him to become a sculptor. He enrolled at New York’s Cooper Union for nighttime studies.

At Cooper Union the pair met other aspiring sculptors, Felix’s fellow students. Not only did these people become close friends to the Weil brothers, these same artists were to gain fame later in life. While sculptors were competitors for art commissions, they tended to congregate in New York City, center of American business at the turn of the 20th century.

After leaving the Wagner studio Henri worked for a Belgian sculptor creating statuary for the 1892-93 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When he returned to New York he is employed by a sculptural firm preparing all the decorative work for the Waldorf Hotel.

Felix struck out on his own, left his brother-in-law and went to work for sculptor Alex Doyle, who had a commission for a Yorktown monument. After a brief period at Cooper Union, Felix also studied at night at the National Academy of Design. As work at Doyle’s studio declines he applied to Philip Martiny, who also had commissions for work at the Columbian Expo. He is sent to Chicago with Martiny‘s models, ultimately to work in the same building with his brother, each for a different sculptor.

Following a bicycle accident in Chicago, Felix spends a year in Mexico City, then returns to New York City to form a sculpture business with Jules Edouard Roiné, a partnership, Roiné & Weil to last for a decade.

Henri joins the Deitsch Brothers, ladies handbag manufacturers, as a sculptor for the fine decorative silverwork attached to their handbags, then in fashion. As often happens, fashions change neglecting the need for such decoration. Meanwhile Henri, at his employers’ insistence, imported the first Janvier pantograph to America.

To save his job, Henri suggested what he knew best: solicit work from sculptors for work for the new Janvier. Success was slow at first, but sculptors started bringing their models to Henri to cut dies to strike medals. This work from sculptors lead to the beginning of Medallic Art Company.

What I have learned was the procedure of how the Weils obtained work after they acquired ownership of the Janvier and the company name. The artists brought the work to the Weils. They knew the Weils as friends, and as part of the sculptural community in New York City.

The sculptors drove the business. This was to continue for two decades. The Weils were serving in a capacity they knew well, and did well. They could take a sculptor’s bas-relief model or models and do whatever the artist wanted, cast a galvano metal relief, or make the dies and have medals struck. The Weils had taken their talents from sculptors’ assistants to furnishing a finished sculptural product at the highest level of sculptural accomplishment.

Below is a list of 63 sculptors for whom the Weils did work – galvano casts or die-struck medals — that first two decades of the firm.  Later, after the Weils had hired Clyde Curlee Trees in 1919, he compiled a list of sculptors in 1927 who could be added to this list, prospects for new work for the Weils’ talents. Both lists follow.

Artists of MACO Medals

First Two Decades

Robert Ingersoll Aitken  (1878-1949)
Evelyn Longman Batchelder  (1874-1954)
Chester Beach  (1881-1956)
Gutzon Borglum  (1867-1941)
John Joseph Boyle  (1852-1917)
Victor David Brenner  (1871-1924)
George Thomas Brewster (1862-1943)
Richard Edwin Brooks  (1865-1919)
Roger Noble Burnham (1876-1962)
Henry Kirke Bush-Brown (1857-1935)
Charles Calverley  (1833-1914)
Pierre J. Cheron  or Pierrez Cheron (?)
Gail Sherman Corbett  (1871-1952)
Russell Gerry Crook  (1869-1955)
Leonard Crunelle  (1872-1944)
Ulysses S.J. Dunbar  (1862-1927)
Ulric Ellerhussen  (1879-1957)
Paul Fjelde  (1892-1987)
John Flanagan  (1865-1952)
James Earle Fraser  (1876-1953)
Laura Gadin Fraser  (1889-1966)
Daniel Chester French  (1850-1931)
Johanes Sophus Gelert  (1852-1923)
Louis Albert Gudebrod  (1872-1961)
Ernest Eimer Hannan  (1875-1945)
Jonathan Scott Hartley  (1845-1912)
Eli Harvey  (1860-1957)
Ernest Bruce Haswell  (1889-1965)
Henry Hering  (1874-1949)
Anna Hyatt Huntington  (1876-1973)
John Milton Jehu   (fl 1912-13)
Jeno Juszko  (1880-1954)
Thomas Hudson Jones  (1892-1969)
Gozo Kawamura (1886-1950)
Charles Keck  (1875-1951)
Ernest Wise Keyser  (1876-1959)
Isidore Konti  (1862-1938)
H. Augustus Lukeman  (1871-1935)
Edward McCartan  (1879-1947)
R. Tait McKenzie  (1867-1938)
Herman Atkins MacNeil  (1866-1947)
Paul Manship (1885-1966)
Joseph Maxwell Miller (1877-1933)
John Mowbray-Clarke  (1869-1953)
Josephine W. Newlin  (?)
Allan Newman (1875-1940)
M. Devoe White Peden [Mrs.] (?)
Attilio Piccirilli   (1868-1945)
Bela Lyon Pratt  (1867-1917)
George DuPont Pratt (1869-1935)
Steven Augustus Rebeck  (1891-1975)
Ulysses A  Ricci  (1888-1960)
Jules Edouard Roiné (1857-1916)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens  (1848-1907)
Hans Schuler (1874-1951)
Janet Scudder  (1869-1940)
Theodore Spicer-Simson  (1871-1959)
Jonathan M. Swanson   (1888-1963)
Lorado Taft (1860-1936)
Fred Martin Torrey  (1884-1967)
Adolph Weinman  (1870-1952)
Julia Bracken Wendt  (1871-1942)
Emil Robert Zettler  (1878-1946)

Additional Artists 
Trees Published in 1927

Mrs. Oakes Ames
Caroline Peddle Ball
Madeline A. Bartlett
Paul Bartlett
Edward Berge
Roger Nobel Burnham
Jules Leon Butensky
Gaetano Cecere
Rene Chambellan
Edwardo Conta
Joseph Coletti
Henri Crenier
Jorgen C. Dreyer
Antony de Francisci
Louisa Eyre
Robert Everhart
Sally James Farnam
Beatrice Fenton
Alexandra Finta
Edwin Frey
Harriett Frishmuth
Sherry Fry
Emil Fuchs
John Gregory
Beatrice Fox Griffith
Francis Grimes
Fredric V. Guinzburg
Charles Andrew Hafner
C.A. Hamann
John Hancock
Walter Hancock
Rachel M. Hawes
Leon Hermant
Frederic C. Hibbard
Charles Hinton
Malvina Hoffman
Victor S. Holm
Karl Hlava
Mrs. William Fetch Kelley
Josephine Kern
Henry Hudson Kitson
Isidore Konti
Gaston Lachaise
Anna Coleman Ladd
Albert Lasalle
Jack Lambert
Lee Lawrie
Arthur Lee
Alfred Lenz
George Lober
Frederick W. MacMonnies
Sue Watson Marshall
Joseph Martino
Herman Matzen
Harriett H. Mayor
Alfred Mewett
May Mott-Smith-Small
Mary Mowbray-Clarke
Joseph C. Motto
Eli Nadelman
Berthold Nebel
Josephine W. Nevins
Charles H. Niehaus
Violet Oakley
Sashka Paeff
Ernesto Bigni del Pratta
Ferrucio Piccirilli
Furio Piccirilli
Albin Polasek
Phinister Proctor
Brenda Putnam
Edmund T. Quinn
Frederick G. R. Roth
Charles Cary Rumsey
Antonio Salemme
Victor Salvatore
Anton Schaaf
Otto Scheizer
Ruth Sherwood
Emil Siebern
Walter A. Sinz
Karl F. Skoog
Ishmael Smith
Mrs. Lindsey M. Sterling
Eliza Talbott Taylor
Count Leo Tolstoy
Leilah Usher
Bessie Potter Vonnoh
Albert Weiner
Alice Morgan Wright
Enid Yandell
Albert C. Young
Mahonri M. Young
Marco Zim

Give Santa a Medal

Santa Claus

Santa with Medal

Give Santa a Medal

’Twas two days before Christmas,
And my gift list complete.
Save one so important,
It had to be neat.

The gift I was missing,
The one to be handy,
For the spirit of Christmas,
So good for the family.

For the jolly ol’ man,
Who arrives Christmas night.
Himself good and generous.
Choose a gift that’s just right!

He travels a great distance,
To bring everyone good cheer.
What kind of a present
Would Santa hold dear?

No gingerbread houses,
No frilly white blouses.
No Hansel, no Gretel.
Give Santa a medal.

No milk, and no cookies,
By the tree and the rest.
Give Santa a medal,
He deserves just the best.

His effort rewarded,
In a box with red bow.
Give Santa a medal.
He’s our Christmas He-Ro!

So many of Medallic Art Company’s early products have ended up in museums around the world. Why? They weren’t created purposefully for museums, rather the early medals and medallic items the company produced were by American artists who were, or who later became, famous. Their medals showcased their collectible bas-relief work.

Also, medals are as desired by museums as they are by individuals. They are miniature works of art. While an art institution’s walls may be covered with paintings, and the sculpture courts filled with statues, every institution always has room for another medal. The passion for acquisition remains strong and continuing.

Medallic Art Company’s founders, Henri and Felix Weil, were sculptor’s assistants. When they developed the business their only customers were sculptors, often the sculptors the Weils had worked for previously. Every medal made for the first two decades was the work of a fine artist.

In 1914 the American Museum of Public Safety Edward H. Harriman Medal was first struck by Tiffany – and later by Medallic Art. This medal is found in museums because of the fame of its creator, sculptor James Earle Fraser, and the artistic nature the designer-medallist treated his subject (MAco 1914-012).

In 1940 the firm made its first medal directly for an art museum, in this case the Webster S. Rhoades Medallion for the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. The artist was Concetta Scaravaglione (1900-1970), a New York sculptor (MAco 1940-006).

Then after World War II the Art Institute of Chicago commissioned famed sculptor David Smith (1906-1965) to create for them a medallion in honor of benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan. Medallic Art struck this as well (MAco 1956-020).

After that, in the 1960s and later, art museums have called on Medallic Art Company to produce medals they can use to honor patrons, benefactors, prominent exhibits, new building dedications and opening celebrations of many kinds. Three medals have been made for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. To a medal for the Springville Museum of Art for their American Bicenennial Medal ((MAco 1975-227).

Dozens and dozens have been made for art museums by Medallic Art ever since. The flood gates were open. Perhaps a lot of this medallic work came to the firm – not only for its reputation – but also because Art is our middle name.

Yale Museum

Yale Museum

This weekend I attended the opening of the new Art Museum at Yale University. After 14 years in rebuilding the new home occupies a full block on the campus at Yale. The University’s coin and medal collection was formerly in the university library. It was moved to the Art Museum, more for security purposes than anything else. Now it occupies a very modern office with an adjacent room named for a famed Yale alumnus and sculptor, Bela Lyon Pratt.

I met with the curator and a special tour prior to week-long Opening Celebrations. Here is my report:

Yale Numismatic Department Reopens in New Art Museum

Bela Lyon Pratt would be proud. The numismatic department in Yale University’s newly refurbished and expanded Art Museum is named in honor of the Boston sculptor who numismatists know as the designer-sculptor of the incuse Indian Head series of gold half and quarter eagle coins of 1908-1929.

Pratt, a Yale alumnus, was also the creator of sculpture on the Yale campus including a heroic statue of Nathan Hale. An exhibit of two dozen of Pratt’s coins and medals is in the featured showcase at the entrance to the coin and medal department. For years this group of Pratt’s coins and medals were exhibited just outside the university president’s office, so there is great pride in a favorite son’s numismatic accomplishments at the highest university level.

Bela Lyon Pratt plaque

Bela Lyon Pratt plaque

Above that showcase is a cast bronze plaque bearing Pratt’s portrait in a three-quarter standing view, the 1910 creation of his student, Richard Henry Recchia. That very plaque was familiar to me, as I had auctioned it May 14, 1989 (Collectors Auction Limited #31 lot 295) with a full page description and its illustration on the catalog’s cover.

The plaque was purchased by New York City numismatist Tony Terranova who hung it on his dining room wall. I mentioned this plaque in conversation with Yale curator William E. Metcalf as early as 2008. “I want that plaque for the museum.” said Bill. I gave him Tony’s contact information and Bill negotiated its purchase. Tony graciously gave up ownership and possession for such a permanent and important purpose to serve as the keystone exhibit at Pratt’s namesake numismatic department.

Actually two rooms, the coin and medal department is a combination office-vault, and a study room, which is officially the Bela Lyon Pratt Study Room. Here is where the library is located with book shelves 15 feet high attained by a moveable library ladder on three sides of the long room. Library table in the center with 16 chairs where university students — and visiting scholars — examine the department’s treasures, drawn from both coin cabinets and library shelves.

Outside these rooms is the exhibit area assigned to the coin and medal department. At present with six showcases now filled with some of Bill’s choice items from the collection’s ancient coins. This area is open to the public for viewing at all time the museum is open.

The collection contains nearly 100,000 items, nearly half of which are ancient coins, but with extensive holdings across the spectrum of numismatics. The collection is the accumulated accretion from over 200 years of alumni donations dating from the early formation of the university itself in 1802. But curator Metcalf points out it is not all alumni donations, as specific collections have come from California and elsewhere for a variety of reasons.

Acquiring the same items two or more times is difficult to avoid, explained Bill. For example they have four sets of The Society of Medalists, the leading art medal series in America, now ideally located in an Art Museum.

The collection was not always blessed with such a home. It had been housed in a special room in the Sterling Library at the center of the Yale campus. A similar configuration of vault-office room, its second home was the numismatic library, last administered by numismatist John Burnham, who left in 1995. For reasons of poor security — the collection’s Brasher Doubloon and others had disappeared over the years. Fortunately the Brasher Doubloon was later recovered (and sold at auction).

Transferring the coin collection to the Art Museum made sense. But the Sterling Library demanded to retain possession of the numismatic books. Bill had to start building a numismatic library all over again. While deep in ancient numismatics, the library has not grown to full capacity for modern numismatics. [Note to current authors: if your book covers important references to art and numismatics then a copy could be donated here particularly for university level study.]

Dick Johnson and Bill Metcalf

Dick Johnson and Bill Metcalf

Curator William E. Metcalf, is the former chief curator at the American Numismatic Society and long involved in academic numismatics. In fact, his curriculum vitae — academic record of educational positions, publications, speeches, professional services, honors and awards — is nine pages long, the longest I have observed in the numismatic field. Those are rare credentials!

In fact, he holds two positions at Yale — a rare situation at the university! He is Professor Adjunct of Classics and also Ben Lee Damsky Curator of Coins and Medals. He teaches classes obviously in classics for Yale students and also has the title and keys to the coin and medal department in the Art Museum.

Bill is affable and extremely knowledgeable, such a delightful conversationalist. Here is someone, I found, who could discourse on just about any level of numismatics. Ancient numismatics (outside my knowledge) to esoteric subjects as the use of the Janvier reducing machine in America (of which I am conversant), Bill is expert in all. Right man for the position as coin and medal curator at such a prestigious institution. (Can we now thank those thousands of donations by alumni over the years at this point?)

The new Art Museum is an amalgamation of three buildings. The old Yale Art Gallery is the centerpiece, it took over Street Hall to one side, and an entirely new building was constructed on the other side, the modern Kahn Building. To the credit of the architects they have merged all three into one large showplace. It occupies one entire block on Chapel Street in New Haven (despite its singular address 1111 Chapel) it actually has a street running through the middle of the New building!

Yale Museum

Yale Museum

The Pratt Coin and Medal Department with vaulted windows looks out on both Chapel Street and High street tunneling through the building at street level.

On my first visit to the New Art Museum yesterday I found it ample. Here is where expansion can occur for the next 200 years. Here is where scholars can be drawn for future studies. Here is where students with open minds can be filled with the knowledge of art — and for our interest — with numismatic knowledge. Here is where the public can come and see the treasures of the ages. We are now satisfied the numismatic department was moved from the library to an art museum for all the right reasons. Good move.

This week, in week-long celebration of the reopening of the museum, artists, academics and friends will gather to join with Yale in celebration of a vibrant new institution. The Art Museum has a new home.

I had a chance to chat with the institution’s director, Jock Reynolds, before I left. The Art Museum is in very competent hands at every level.

I was once asked to describe the Hall of Fame Series of medals in one sentence.  I wrote “One of the most popular series of medals in the world.” I should have included the word “portrait.”

Portrait medal series had existed in Europe long before. Swiss engraver Jean Dassier (1676-1763) worked in France where he created a 72-medal series of Famous French Celebrities, then moved on to England to engrave a series of British Kings and Queens.

In America the U.S. Mint struck medals of army and naval heroes at the discretion of the U.S. Congress. These were more single-issue medals that had a similarity of size and theme that seamed to fall into a series.

They struck medals bearing the portrait of presidents as they were inaugurated late in the 19th century, but overlooked, at first, earlier presidents.

Even America’s two 20th century medal series, Circle of Friends of the Medallion and The Society of Medallists overlooked portraits. They had no rule against portraits in either series, but few bore portraits.

There had been no true American portrait series until Presidential Art Medals, of Ohio, issued a series of U.S. presidents, in half dollar size, created by a top American sculptor and struck as fine art medals by Medallic Art Company.

The success of that series led to a second – honoring U.S. States – each of which bore a portrait of their most famous son, then a third series on Signers of the Declaration of Independence. All three series were created by one artist, Ralph J. Menconi (1915-1972) and all three series bore portraits on every medal, all of half dollar size, convenient for collecting, placing in an album, as collectors had done with coin series.

The success of President Art’s three series got everyone thinking about other potential medal series. In New York City, the Hall of Fame series was a natural for a medal series.

The Hall of Fame honors the most famous Americans chosen by a select group of judges and sponsored by New York University. The first election was held in 1896, and elections were held every four years thereafter.

Bronze statues of the honorees were installed along a Colonnade partially circling a building designed by famed architect Stanford White at the University’s Morningside Heights campus. Niches for 102 statues appear on both sides of the Colonnade walkway.

Once a person was elected to the Hall of Fame – the world’s first such hall of fame now widely copied by other organizations and fields – a statue was commissioned to be created slightly oversize by a a prominent American sculptor. Once cast in bronze, it was installed in its own niche in that outdoor colonnade.

I cannot say for certain who came up with the idea first, I suspect it was Medallic Art’s president Bill Louth, but it was a brilliant concept. In 1962 he formed a coalition to sponsor and market fine art medals of these most famous Hall of Fame Americans. If it was Bill Louth’s program it was in imitation of one by his uncle, Clyde Curle Trees who created The Society of Medallists, three decades earlier in 1930.

The coalition consisted of New York University, the owner of the Hall of Fame, the National Sculpture Society who would furnish an art committee, the Medallic Art Company, which would manufacture the medals, and the Coin and Currency Institute which would market the medals.

Over the next 13 years, 96 medals were created by 42 sculptors, predominately members of the National Sculpture Society. While the design was left to the artist each submission had to pass the approval of the Art Committee composed of at least five of the artists’ sculptural peers.

Rules for the medal design were simple. It had to be a portrait on the obverse, significant scene from that subject’s accomplishment for the reverse plus lettering on either side, in legend or inscription, HALL OF FAME FOR GREAT AMERICANS AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY.

Medals were struck in two sizes. A large 3-inch (76mm) bronze only, and a small 1¾-inch (44mm) size in bronze and silver. The silver medals were serially numbered.

If I had to name the persons most responsible for the success of this series if would be Julius Lauth (1913-1991),  art director at Medallic Art Company and Robert Friedberg (1912-1963) owner of Coin and Currency Institute. Lauth (no relation to  Bill Louth, just a similarity of last names to the despair of our company telephone operators) kept on top of issuing commissions to qualified sculptor-medalists, all 96 commissions.

Julius knew who was available and who would have an empathy for the subject. For the theologians, for example, he would choose a sculptor with sympathetic religious beliefs. Or of similar ethic or background heritage as the American portrayed in a relief work of art.

Julius had a dossier on each artist in his head. He was a masterful art director. Artists adored him, not only for the generous commissions he bestowed but also for his gentle demeanor and useful design suggestions. He never gave orders to artists, he was always attuned to their creative egos. In return, artists would do anything to please Julius, even if it meant another day or two completely remodeling a medal design he had briefly suggested.

But of paramount importance, if the sculptor who prepared the bronze bust in the Hall of Fame Colonnade was still alive, he would commission that artist for the medal. Such artist would already have the images still in his mind. It would be a superb companion piece to compliment their heroic sculpture in medallic form.

And in one case, where a sculptor died, as had Laura Gardin Fraser, Julius  had to retrieve what she had accomplished to that point and reassign it to an artist with similar style and aptitude, Karl Gruppe.

I also remember in a conversation with Julius he was aware of the medal sequence, commissioning lesser known honorees, holding back some more popular ones for the last of the series. He wanted to maintain collector interest right up to the end.

Robert Friedberg was a genius who build a coin dealership following World war II into a numismatic institution. His knowledge of the field, and of marketing, led him to create a coin department, a leased department in a department store. He emulated the Marcus organization which had the philatelic department in Gimbels.

In New York City at the flagship Gimbels, Friedberg establish a coin department right next to the stamp department on the first floor.  To justify the high rent, he supplied the coin department with plenty of numismatic material on a continuing basis.

The success of a New York department store led to opening coin departments in other Gimbels stores around the country. At the height of the Friedberg expansion he had coin departments in 38 states. Purchases at these departments were typical gift items, often called the “grandmother trade.” Hall of Fame medals would be ideal gifts although many adult collectors would obtain these for themselves.

Bill Louth and Bob Friedberg worked out the details of the Hall of Fame series to maximize exposure, sales and profits and to level out the workload for both organizations. They settled on a schedule of six or eight new medals a year, in the two sizes, with a silver version only in the small size, and delivery of enough quantity to supply all thirty-some-odd coin departments throughout the country. And they intended to maintain that schedule.

Each organization promoted the series. Medallic Art issued a five-inch square brochure prepared by the firm’s advertising agency. It was reported to have won awards but didn’t sell many medals. In contrast Coin and Currency issued a much thinner same-size brochure which helped sell medals and the series, but didn’t win any art awards.

Bob Friedberg died soon after the program started. The business continued, however, under his widow, Goldie and his brother, Jack Friedberg. As a family business, it was ultimately controlled by Bob’s two sons Ira and Arthur Friedberg.

In the 1980’s New York University sold their Morningside campus to City College of New York. The status of the Hall of Fame was – and is still – in limbo. Since that time no elections have been held, no new statues have been erected, and no new medals issued. Ninety-eight of the 102 niches are filled, only four remain open. Four names have been elected for those openings, however.

Visitors to New York City can still travel to Morningside Heights and walk the Colonnade, viewing the magnificent statues overlooking the Hudson River. Or they can own a a set of fine art medals created by some of the most talented medalists of the 20th century.

For the hundreds of collectors who have 90 or more of these medals they would like to have the medals created for the last honorees who have been elected, even if their statue is not in the Colonnade. That would give some closure to the series.

Below is a list of medals in order of issue, the MAco catalog number and the Colonnade location. Pictures, artists names, other data and a brief note I wrote in 2004 can be found here: www.medalcollectorsorg/Guides/HFGA.html

A gallerie of many of this series can be found here: www.medallic.com/galleries/famous_americans_gallery.php

Hall of Fame Medals Series

Position Issue Date Name Die Number ©
26 1963 Benjamin Franklin Medal. . . . . 63-1-2 1962
31 1963 Abraham Lincoln Medal. . . 63-1-3 1963
3 1963 John James Audubon Medal . 63-1-4 1962
16 1963 Walter Reed Medal. . . . . 63-1-5 1963
59 1963 Henry David Thoreau Medal. 63-1-6 1963
91 1963 Mark Twain Medal . . . . . 63-1-7 1963
79 1963 Roger Williams Medal . . . 63-1-8 1963
27 1963 George Washington Medal. . 63-1-9 1963
30 1963 Thomas Jefferson Medal . . 63-1-10     1962
88 1963 James Fenimore Cooper. . . 63-1-11 1963
80 1963 Mark Hopkins Medal . . . . 63-1-12 1963
70 1963 Susan B. Anthony Medal . . 63-1-13 1963
82 1963 Henry Ward Beecher Medal . 63-1-14 1964
5 1963 Samuel F.B. Morse Medal. . 63-1-15 1963
61 1963 Stephen C. Foster Medal. . 63-1-16 1964
93 1963 Edgar Allen Poe Medal. . . 63-1-17 1964
65 1963 Peter Cooper Medal . . . . 63-1-18 1964
4 1963 Eli Whitney Medal. . . . . 63-1-19 1964
53 1963 Ulysses S. Grant Medal . . 63-1-20 1964
58 1964 Edward A. MacDowell Medal. 63-1-21 1964
77 1964 Alice Freeman Palmer Medal 63-1-22 1964
94 1964 George Bancroft Medal. . . 63-1-23 1964
44 1964 Joseph Story Medal . . . . 63-1-24 1964
18 1964 Josiah Willard Gibbs Medal 63-1-25 1964
43 1965 John Marshall Medal. . . . 63-1-26 1964
56 1965 Robert E. Lee Medal. . . . 63-1-27 1964
11 1965 Maria Mitchell Medal . . . 63-1-28 1965
21 1965 Thomas Alva Edison Medal . 63-1-29 1965
81 1965 Phillips Brooks Medal. . . 63-1-30 1965
97 1965 Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.. 63-1-31 1965
60 1966 Daniel Boone Medal . . . . 63-1-32 1966
75 1966 Sylvanus Thayer Medal. . . 63-1-33 1966
96 1966 John Greenleaf Whittier. . 63-1-34 1966
40 1966 William Penn Medal . . . . 63-1-35 1966
32 1966 Daniel Webster Medal . . . 63-1-36 1966
38 1966 Patrick Henry Medal. . . . 63-1-37 1966
6 1966 Robert Fulton Medal. . . . 63-1-38 1966
15 1966 William Thomas Morton. . . 63-1-39 1966
39 1966 Grover Cleveland Medal . . 63-1-40 1966
12 1966 George Westinghouse Medal. 63-1-41 1966
13 1966 Louis Agassiz Medal. . . . 63-1-42 1966
42 1966 Woodrow Wilson Medal . . . 63-1-43 1967
20 & 22   1967 Wilbur & Orville Wright. . 63-1-44 1967
95 1967 William Cullen Bryant. . . 63-1-45 1967
74 1967 Mary Lyon Medal. . . . . . 63-1-46 1967
57 1967 David Glasgow Farragut . . 63-1-47 1967
37 1967 James Monroe Medal . . . . 63-1-48 1967
78 1967 Emma Willard Medal . . . . 63-1-49 1967
84 1968 William E. Channing Medal. 63-1-50 1968
99 1968 Ralph Waldo Emerson Medal. 63-1-51 1968
72 1968 Jane Addams Medal. . . . . 63-1-52 1968
55 1968 John Paul Jones Medal. . . 63-1-53 1968
101 1968 Irving Medal. . 63-1-54 1968
64 1968 Gilbert C. Stuart Medal. . 63-1-55 1968
45 1968 James Kent Medal . . . . . 63-1-56 1968
41 1968 Theodore Roosevelt Medal . 63-1-57 1968
69 1969 Frances Elizabeth Willard. 63-1-58 1969
14 1969 William C. Gorgas Medal. . 63-1-59 1969
25 1969 Thomas Paine Medal . . . . 63-1-60 1969
87 1969 Sidney Lanier Medal. . . . 63-1-61 1969
33 1969 James Madison Medal . . . 63-1-62 1969
102 1970 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 63-1-63 1970
48 1969 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.. 63-1-64 1970
68 1969 Edwin Thomas Booth Medal . 63-1-65 1970
90 1970 John Lothrop Motley Medal. 63-1-66 1970
98 1970 James Russell Lowell Medal 63-1-67 1970
10 1970 Simon Newcomb Medal. . . . 63-1-68 1970
76 1970 Booker T. Washington Medal 63-1-69 1970
66 1970 Augustus St-Gaudens Medal. 63-1-70 1970
83 1970 Horace Mann Medal. . . . . 63-1-71 1970
36 1970 Alexander Hamilton Medal . 63-1-72 1971
35 1970 Andrew Jackson Medal . . . 63-1-73 1971
92 1971 Francis Parkman Medal. . . 63-1-74 1971
1 1971 Elias Howe Medal . . . . . 63-1-75 1971
71 1971 Lillian D. Wald Medal. . . 63-1-76 1971
28 1971 John Adams Medal . . . . . 63-1-77 1971
80 1971 Walt Whitman Medal . . . . 63-1-78 1971
9 1971 James Buchanan Eads Medal. 63-1-79 1971
34 1972 John Quincy Adams Medal. . 63-1-80 1972
54 1972 T.J. Stonewall Jackson . . 63-1-81 1972
7 1972 Asa Gray Medal . . . . . . 63-1-82 1972
63 1972 James A.M. Whistler. . . . 63-1-83 1972
17 1972 Joseph Henry Medal . . . . 63-1-84 1972
85 1972 Jonathan Edwards Medal . . 63-1-85 1972
46 1973 Rufus Choate Medal . . . . 63-1-86 1973
50 1973 William Tecumseh Sherman . 63-1-87 1973
23 1973 Albert A. Michelson Medal. 63-1-88 1973
29 1973 Henry Clay Medal . . . . . 63-1-89 1973
24 1973 George Washington Carver . 63-1-90 197x
67 1973 Charlotte S. Cushman Medal 63-1-91 1974
62 1974 George Peabody Medal . . . 63-1-92 1974
8 1974 Matthew Fontaine Maury . . 63-1-93 1974
89 1974 Harriet Beecher Stowe . . 63-1-94 1975
100 1974 Nathaniel Hawthorne Medal. 63-1-95 1975
52 1974 John Philip Sousa Medal . 63-1-96 19??
    Statue created, but no medal was created:    
51   Franklin Delano Roosevelt 97  
    Voted into Hall of Fame, but no statue or medal was created:    
    Louis Dembity Brandeis 98  
    Clara Barton 99  
    Luther Burbank 100  
    Andrew Carnegie 101