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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 21, May 24, 2009, Article 20

DICK JOHNSON ON NUMISMATIC DESIGN COPYRIGHT RESEARCH

Dick Johnson submitted the following thoughts on researching U.S. copyright office records for information on numismatic designs. -Editor
To aid Tom Dalrymple in his research for medal copyright design records I have two comments: (1) few medals were copyrighted and (2) before 1900 artists obtained patents to protect their art work instead of copyrights.

Don't hold me to an exact figure, but let's say 25,000 different medals were struck in America before 2000. I would estimate fewer than 500 were protected in some way (by patent or copyright) -- that is 2% of the total. No way could it be even as much as 5%. So the chances of finding even one medal's record is slim at best.

The clerk at Medallic Art Company who handled all the copyright forms occupied the desk just outside my office when I worked there. She would only do this for the most important medals -- or those that would have a large possible sale -- as if someone would replicated a design we paid an artist to prepare. Few companies or organizations would copyright their own medal designs for the reason they saw little need to.

Official Inaugural medals, Society of Medalists, Olympic medals, recent world's fair medals, statehood, some space and sports medals and perhaps a few others were copyrighted. Few others. (Of the 6,000 medals I cataloged at Medallic Art, I would estimate fewer than 200 were copyrighted -- 3%.)

One exception is the American Legion For God and Country Medal. After 40 years the Legion headquarters obtained the legal protection they were seeking. The design patent number 162,975 was added to the edge of all those manufactured in the last quarter century of the 1900s. I suspect some of the local chapters were misusing the medal design.

Protecting medal designs goes back to the 18th century. The first I found was a private French medal of 1791 of Lafayette which was edgelettered: "Monneron (Patente) Se. Vende. A.Paris, Chez." Some private British medal manufacturers would place a registration number with a prefix "RFD" or "Reg No" on the medal. On both French and English medals some patent numbers are found on the edge.

In America an early example was a General Winfield Scott Patriotic Medal of 1861 by C.G. Quilfleldt and J. Lebretton which had all this lettering -- in tiny letters of course -- 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." Whew!

The Copyright law was changed about 1900. Designs were no longer granted patents. Instead it was transferred to the Copyright office at the Library of Congress and granted copyrights. Today they are classed as "VA" visual art.

Tom, if you (or an assistant) goes to the patent office in Alexandria, Virginia, you can do research yourself. After you sign in you can go to the design patents on the mezzanine and search original records as much as you wish. But as I say, don't expect to find much on medals. Otherwise, Good Luck.



Wayne Homren, Editor

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