The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 3, January 15, 2012, Article 13


Tom Kays did some research and submitted this item about the "curious white medal in a small red box" that Gene Brandenburg brought to Tuesday's Nummis Nova dinner. Thanks! -Editor

Absent Minded Beggar medal box At dinner Gene showed a curious white medal in a small red box he had for many years. Not certain where it was first acquired, the box top reads "The Absent Minded Beggar Medal." Inside a 51mm, white medal of Birmingham describes bathing places with a wheel of cities and miles distant from London.

Principal Bathing Places of England medal Principal Bathing Places of England medal

At first we can only guess this would be something of an insult to receive. Imagine being told by London city folk to take a bath and just how far away from London to go to do it. What Londoner would give such an uncouth message and to whom? How often did they insist, "Get outta town, you dirty beggar and take a bath" - and then give the miscreant a nice cased token for the tramp as a reminder of just how far to go before stopping some healthy distance from London.

At dinner we could only guess who would deliver this admonition so often to think of engraving it on a token? In later research, the first clue came from the box top. The "Absent Minded Beggar" is a snippet of poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1899 to honor wayfaring English lads on their way to South Africa to fight the Boers. Humble English lads in uniform apparently didn't ask much for themselves as they passed among ungrateful and selfish countrymen. Gilbert and Sullivan put the poem to music, a patriotic rallying call to "give, give, give."

In 1900, a national commemorative "Absent Minded Beggar Medal" was issued to honor the magnificent response of Britain's sons to the empire's call to arms in the Transvaal War. This medal was advertised in the Daily Mail to aid widows and orphans of soldiers. The red box was for this medal, but the medal in the box was not the one it ought to be.

Looking further, from "The Sanitarian, a Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Preservation of Health, Mental and Physical Culture," August 1894, Volume 4 of a continuing series entitled "The Medals, Jetons and Tokens Illustrative of Sanitation" by Dr. H. R. Storer of Newport, Rhode Island reports a fine thematic collection of medical-oriented tokens addressing water supplies, mineral springs, bathing, drainage, sewerage, diet and similar topics.

QUICK QUIZ: Yes there are medals touting sewerage - Can the readership show an example? -Editor

Storer writes: "I am at last enabled to give the description of a medal which I previously merely knew the existence. Obverse: The Principal Bathing Places of England, with miles distant from London. Exergue: J. Ottley, Medalist Birmingham. To right: Scotch Universities; To left: English. Reverse within circle: Miles Distant from London. Between edge and this circle, the names of the principal towns of England, with figure to correspond. Spink & Son Num. Circular, Sept, 1893 P.365, No 4."

In the 19th century, medical cures from "marvelous water," the best in the world, for every known ailment were broadcast in medical journals with tours and testimonials as to the curative affects to be obtained in every spring and brook. Medalist John Ottley was elder of a family of Birmingham medalists including Thomas Ottley operating from about 1818 to 1900. Their medals were known for unbelievable detail.

Sold at auction, I found a cased set inscribed for J. C. Haworth of the Conservative Club of Blackburn England (started in 1864 and by 1881 Hayworth was its president) that held two, 51mm medals in white metal. One was this Bathing Medal and its mate, a detailed "Map of the World" showing the "Sandwich Islands" in lieu of Hawaii. The date of manufacture of both is circa 1850. So it was an ironic pairing of mismatched beggar's case with bathing medal that stumped us for a while. Go figure.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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