The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 41, September 25, 2005, Article 16


Dick Johnson writes: "In answer to Carl Honore’s recent
discovery of a World War I Victory Medal (in last week’s
E-Sylum) I must relate he does not have a die trial. It is
just a "junky" (read very poor quality) medal. And here is
the story of this medal.

After the Great World War the news of a proposed Victory
Medal (of course, it was not known as World War I then until
World War II occurred) set the sculptural community in New
York City abuzz. The order came from the Secretary of War
for such a medal (later the Quartermaster Corps would handle
orders for military medals and decorations, and even later, the
Army Institute of Heraldry, which in turn became the Institute
of Heraldry under the Department of Defense).

The Secretary of War in 1919 named sculptor Herbert Adams
to oversee the creation of sculptural art for production of this
medal. James Earle Fraser jumped right in and started working
on a design and models. He convinced Adams right away who
gave him the green light to proceed. (It’s great to have the right
friends, now called networking.)

Here is a quote from the Felix Weil manuscript on the history
of Medallic Art Company (which he and his brother, Henri,
founded): "At about this time James Fraser was working on
the models of the Victory Medal. We procured an order [from
Fraser] without any mention of price to make wax reductions.

"Quite a number of these were made to allow Fraser to
change his model until he was fully satisfied and then made
hubs for each side and a set of dies from which we made
sample medals."

Felix went to the studio of Daniel Chester French (again
networking) to obtain a letter of recommendation to the
Secretary of War stating the Weils were capable of producing
these medals. (They could make the dies but striking such a
large quantity would require subcontracting. They got Scovill
Manufacturing Co in Waterbury to agree to strike the medals,
which the Weils would then patina, add the ribbon drape
and package.)

"When sample medals were completed, the government
sent out large quantities of specifications -- written with our
help -- to a number of firms to bid. I believe the required
amount of medals were three million pieces."

The Weils bid 70 to 75 cents each. "When the bids were
opened we learned the bids ranged from 17 cents to $1
each. The firms that had bid the lowest prices were firms
who had never made medals but had equipment sufficient
to do the work."

"Well the contracts were awarded, the firm of Aronson of
Newark get the contract for one million medals at 17 cents
each. Other firms out west got the rest."

Felix comments on the quality of Aronson medals. They
produced it cheaper but of such poor quality that, as he said,
"they should not have been accepted." The process included
striking, creating the patina finish, adding the ribbon drape and
packaging. The cost of the bronze, the ribbon, and cardboard
box had to be included in that 17 cents.

Carl Honore’s medal was undoubtedly from that Aronson
batch. They took short cuts which, of course, ended with a
shoddy product, still evident today. It is interesting to note
that Aronson was never asked to strike any more military
medals – and that Medallic Art Company was a prime
supplier of these (striking many millions even through the
second World War).

There is another story of how the Weils got paid for all their
work they did for Fraser. I’ll leave that for a later time. But I
will say I have in my collection the obverse galvano of Fraser’s
Victory Medal from that period.

In regard to the loop on these medals. I know it is a different
variety for collectors – with and without loop – however a
professional medalmaker can add or remove a loop at will.
You can never know if or when this has been done."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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