David Ganz is traveling with his wife Kathy, and this week they visited London. David forwarded this diary of his visit to the British Museum.
There's a special exhibition on political, satirical medals, old and modern.
Entitled "Medals of Dishonor", it is a major display in room 90 on the 4th level, not too far from
the sit down restaurant. More than showing a Karl Goetz medal, they have sketches of portions
of the artwork and ephemera. Even Kathy liked it and called it fascinating.
Goetz, of course, is a satirical medallist (1875-1950) who is famous for his Sinking of the
Lusitania, a propaganda piece that suggests that Germans had advance knowledge of the sinking
on an unarmed passenger ship.
Philip Atwood and Felicity Powell authored a 136 page full color
book with the same title as the exhibit (British Museum, 2009, £17).
From the early 1600'sonward, medals were used for satiric purposes. The exhibit
thoughtfully includes some 2008 medals created as propaganda satire (think Iraq, Saddam
Hussein, Tony Blair's involvement as prime minister, and some anti-American themes. The
content of the themes may be disturbing, but the composition of the medals is quite real. Most
interesting is the use of drawings of the artist, sketches of components of the medals, and background commentary.
We then made our way through Greek and Roman (ancient) galleries where, remarkably,
Greco-Roman coinage from the Museum's world renowned cabinet is fully integrated into the
display. That means, for example, that of (say) a hundred odd objects in a room, three to a half
dozen numismatic items are displayed with appropriate explanations.
To see statues, heads and
other objects together with coinage that illustrates the same thing is remarkable. It also shows
that a museum can use numismatic items – something that many American museums have yet to
We ambled through the museum towards room 68, the history of money exhibit
sponsored by Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HKSB), an exclusive and inclusive exhibit that starts
with primitive money (cocoa beans, cowrie shells, a small two foot diameter example of Yap
stone money), then various examples of coins, tokens, medals and paper money over a 2,700 year
span – integrated with an engraving reduction machine, a weighing machine and coining presses.
Long live the British Museum! I agree with David's assessment. I greatly enjoyed my visits to the general galleries and the numismatic exhibit. What a marvelous museum.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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