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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 4, January 28, 2007, Article 3

GAPS IN AMERICAN MEDALLIC LITERATURE

Dick Johnson writes: "Dave Bowers is correct (as usual!) in his
statements in last week’s E-Sylum on existing books covering U.S.
medals. The field of American medals offers the greatest opportunity
for astute numismatists to collect, catalog and publish than any
other aspect of American numismatics.

"The field of American medals is unlike those of any other country.
The field and the number of medals is so vast that no one person can
collect them all, let alone catalog it all. American collectors can
only "chip away" at this monolith. They typically do this by
collecting "topics." Each collector carves his or her own niche,
defining their own turf, their own theme, what they wish to collect.
Thus the published work on American medals is fragmented.

"Oh, if we could only have a "Medallic Illustrations" as they have
in Great Britain.

"Here are some underlying reasons for this in the U.S.:

"1) No equipment in America could strike a medal larger than say,
silver dollar size, other that the U.S. Mint. A desired large medal
had to be struck at the Mint or be struck in Europe. This forced
early American medals to be small size.

"2) This changed with one event – the Columbian Exposition of 1892-3.
It attracted engravers to America and medal companies to be established
(and larger presses acquired. The first hydraulic press arrived at the
Mint in this period, and private industry began acquiring coining
presses which could strike coin-like medals).

"3) The ease of going into business. Most 19th century American
medallists were one- and two-man shops who with their existing
equipment struck medals smaller than silver-dollar size (mostly under
one inch). Thus most 19th "medals" are called "tokens" because of
this size to further confuse the issue. (Russ Rulau’s catalogs of
tokens are filled with medals – they bear no denomination or value
-- many storecards, for example, are medals.)

"4) The rise of the number of medalmakers after 1892 -- and the large
number of 20th century medal producing firms -- bang out thousands of
medals a day, perhaps millions every week. These appear in great variety
in addition to tremendous quantity. The chore of engraving dies, or
pantographically cutting dies, is the only limitation to this
activity, otherwise, it seems, we would be up to our knees in medals.

"Thus the great quantity of American medals is impossible to catalog
in total. It has to be done in small groups. We collect, catalog and
publish by medal TOPICS. And, of course, there are hundreds of topics
that have not yet been published. The opportunity exists, moreso, for
literature on medals to be written than any other aspect of American
numismatics.

"What say you, medal collectors? Catalog your collection and get
it published!"

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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