The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 9, February 26, 2006, Article 23


Regarding Katie Jaeger's February 2006 Numismatist article,
Alan V. Weinberg writes: "I avidly collect American Institute
and other pre-1900 American award medals and enjoyed her article.
One error stood out, though: the presentation cases holding many
medals were not "celluloid" as described in the article - they
were vulcanite, hard rubber, thermoplastic as these ornate
"tintype" cases are formally known. All three terms are
interchangeably used.  Another equivalent term is "gutta percha"
(sounds Hindu, huh?). So that's four long-used terms for the
same fabric."

At Alan's request I forwarded his note to Katie, who replied:
"I was going crazy trying to determine the material from which
those boxes were made!  Whoever curated the collection at the
NYHS called it celluloid, and I finally went with that description,
even though it seemed doubtful, after reading a couple of websites
on the history of plastics to see if I could figure out positively
what the material was. In hand, it feels exactly like good quality
plastic - smooth, hard, quite dense, and having a high sheen.

I read that celluloid was first used to make billiard balls, and
that is exactly how it feels, so I said to myself, well, OK.  But
the colors, dark red and black, are typical of vulcanite, so
obviously Alan is right.  Thanks for the correction!  Q. David
Bowers and I will have a brief discussion of presentation cases
in the introduction to our book "The 100 Greatest U.S. Medals and
Tokens", and I plan to illustrate two of these.

I have many questions on how the molds for these were made: they
sure do look die-struck, and I guess they were, if they are in
fact thermoplastic - wasn't that struck in presses while heat was
applied?  I have seen other cases that look to have been stamped
from molds, but seem to be made of painted cardboard, with a
somewhat leathery feel.

[Alan writes: "The cardboard, leathery feel is fiber...primarily
a product starting in the early 20th century. As with thermoplastic,
the dies are applied with heat and pressure." -Editor]

I detected another error in my article.  The copy editor rewrote
some of my timeline entries to make them fit in the box, and
introduced the term "uniface" to my description of the 55 mm
unsigned medals of 1870. I didn't catch this in the page proofs,
unfortunately.   There are no uniface American Institute medals
that I know of!!!!  I think she assumed medals were uniface because
only a new obverse die was created, but in fact, existing reverses
were being used with it.

There is another unclear element to what was published - the fact
that Alonzo and Thaddeus Wakeman returned to their Institute posts
soon after the scandal clouds dissipated. When Thaddeus died in 1848,
the Institute showed him full honors.   In fact, the only American
Institute staffer who did not remain in his position after the scandal
was Charles C. Wright, who was the source of the testimony against
Dodge and the others.  Probably when the bad publicity hit, the
Wakemans and the other two resigned in a huff, and the Wakemans
were later entreated to return (because they did all the work).
I'd speculate that when Wright learned that these people were
retained, he quit.  Just a theory!"

[Since we've recently discussed what makes material appropriate
for The E-Sylum, I thought I'd add that I feel this sort of exchange
is absolutely appropriate, and Iím very happy to publish it.  There
is only so much space in a printed publication, but there are no
such limits here in cyberspace.

Itís the perfect place for annotations, background, commentary and
corrections to printed articles -- I wish we could do more of this.
I rarely have the time to write up many of my own comments and
questions, but those from readers are always welcome.  The on-line
availability of researchers like Katie (and eager fact-checkers like
Alan and the rest of our subscribers) adds a whole new dimension to
our collective numismatic knowledge.  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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