Dick Johnson submitted these thoughts inspired by a recent article in The Numismatist. Thanks
The January issue of The Numismatist arrived this week with an article, page 33, on the British Churchill crown (KM 910). The author, Todd Sciore, mentions the obverse Queen's portrait on this coin is by sculptor Mary Gillick. But he fails to mention the reverse -- with the portrait of Winston Churchill -- was by famed sculptor Oscar Nemon (1906-1985).
Nemon was extremely dissatisfied with the portrait in its final form on this 1965 coin. His original design was rendered into a flat, detail-less appearance by the British Royal Mint. Granted, it had to be struck with a single blow on the Mint's coining presses, so Mint engravers greatly reduced Nemon's higher relief portrait model and in so doing removed a major portion of the facial detail.
Three years later an American, Neil S. Cooper, met Nemon who again expressed his dissatisfaction with the coin's appearance. Ironically enough, Cooper was a publisher of medals in New York City. "Can I issue a Churchill medal with the portrait you wanted to appear on that coin?" Cooper asked Nemon.
Nemon was delighted with the offer. Since the 25th anniversary of D-Day -- end of the war in Europe -- was approaching in 1969, Neil and Nemon decided this should be the theme of the new issue. Nemon dusted off his original Churchill portrait, unhurriedly reworked that Churchill portrait, added the lettering '"D-DAY 1944" under the portrait, and prepared an appropriate reverse of the Churchill family coat of arms.
He shipped both models to Cooper in New York City. He'd show those Royal Mint officials -- and the world! -- what his interpretation of the great British statesman should exhibit, what should have appeared on that 1965 coin.
Neil Cooper was somewhat of a numismatic gadfly. In the 1950s he and his brother had traveled the world and noted the coins in circulation in parts of the world. He came up with the idea of issuing coins for areas which did not have their own. He established International Numismatic Agency, had coins first made for Gardiners Island struck at Franklin Mint. Other Franklin Mint productions followed, including a four-coin set for Malta, the Knights of Malta, modeled by Ed Grove, and a five-coin set for the Greek Order of St. Dennis of Zante, modeled by Gilroy Roberts of Franklin Mint.
He settled in New York City and married an art dealer. With her new married name, she established Paula Cooper Art Gallery and the pair circulated among the high end Art World in both America and Europe. Her artist friends were some of the most prominent in the field. These included Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean Arp, and hundreds of others.
But it was natural for Neil to have met Oscar Nemon. Neil was not a name-dropper, but had a charming ability to influence top-name artists to create models he could promote, just as his wife could sell their art work. Nemon gladly agreed for this likeable American entrepreneur to produce and promote a medal of his Churchill portrait. The Paula-Neil team prospered but the marriage didn't last. The Paula Cooper Art Gallery, however, is still in existence.
Neil recognized the limited ability of Franklin Mint issuing only proof surface coins and medals. He turned to Medallic Art Company, also in New York City at that time, for a relationship that lasted over a decade. It was a foregone conclusion that Nemon's models should be struck by Medallic Art.
The stunning medal was struck by the firm (catalog number 1970-11) bearing Nemon's outstanding portrait. It is one of more than two dozen art medals of Neil Cooper's issues.
In the catalog of Winston Churchill Medals by American J. Eric Engstrom -- isn't it interesting Americans venerate British medals? -- he had this to say about that medal:
This important portrait piece, by the designer of the Churchill Crown, is the artist's definitive medallic portrait of Churchill. Its vital style conveys the same energy as the artist's other Churchill works; the siren-suited bust at Windsor, the statue in the House of Commons, and the commemorative crown. The artist prepared several models before the final model was complete in 1969.
While I read that article in the January issue of The Numismatist, I was amazed the author had not done enough research on his subject. He neglected to even mention the artist's name!
Wayne Homren, Editor
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