The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 30, July 25, 2015, Article 9


David Alexander submitted this review of Scott Miller's new book on the medals of the ANS. Thanks! -Editor

Madellic Art of the ANS Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society, 1865-2014. By Scott H. Miller. Studies in Medallic Art 2, American Numismatic Society, New York, N.Y. 182 pages hard cover, profusely illustrated, photographs by Alan Roche. Retail price $70 to ANS members, $100 to non-members.

Reviewed by David Thomason Alexander, ANA LM #1973 July 2015.

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) is now in its 157th year of service to the world of numismatics. It is the premier numismatic research institution in the Western Hemisphere and one of the global leaders in the study of coins and medals struck since ancient times.

To many American collectors, the name ANS evokes images of profound research and specialized publications, especially in the field of ancient coins where the Society has long been a recognized world leader. Looking over a complete listing of ANS publications proves demonstrates 150 years of undisputed leadership.

However, as author Scott H. Miller makes clear in his new study and catalogue of medals issued by ANS, the Society has also been an active participant and leader in the ongoing development of the American medal from the era of the Civil War down to our own time. The 60 medal issues Miller cites are an important part of the corpus of U.S. medals thanks to their issuer, the stature of the artists and the events honored.

Brooklyn native Miller has devoted decades to study of British and American medals. A Fellow of ANS, he is a Past President of the New York Numismatic Club (NYNC) and was a founding member of Medal Collectors of America (MCA) in 1998.

His new ANS medal book is the second in the Society’s Studies in Medallic Art; the first was David Thomason Alexander’s 2010 American Art Medals, 1909-1995, the Circle of Friends of the Medallion and the Society of Medalists. The two titles are the leading edge of in-depth research and publication in the field of the American medal.

Medal collecting has lagged far behind since numismatics took fire in the U.S. in the 1850’s. Accurate, readable, complete in-depth studies of American medals simply have not existed to encourage and guide interested collectors. This is in dramatic contrast to the nearly microscopic study of such coin as U.S. Large Cents.

ANS was founded just as the discontinuation of the Large Cent and Half Cent gave major stimulus to the birth of numismatic collecting in the U.S. Hundreds of Americans started collecting these coins and many soon branched out into other areas of coinage, as well as to medals and tokens.

There were many medal enthusiasts at the start. The first medal collectors were heavily influenced by the patriotic impulse that also propelled collecting of U.S. coins. Medals of George Washington attained great popularity and collectors clamored to obtain the many examples of privately produced Washingtoniana that appeared on the eve of the Civil War.

War brought a hiatus to medal issues and to the infant ANS, and as Miller points out, the coming of peace restored life and activity to both. Reactivated under the name American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, ANS was just shaking off its wartime lethargy when the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln galvanized its members and gave birth to its ongoing medal program.

Author Miller defines 60 pieces as ANS medals, beginning with the 1866-1867 Abraham Lincoln Memorial Medal. Each medal is illustrated in full color with Alan Roche’s masterful digital images. The artists and sculptors are identified along with each manufacturer, diameter are given in millimeters, listing of metals in which pieces were struck, issue prices and the numbers struck where possible.

The history of each issue is explored in great detail. For instance, Miller’s thorough research reveals that the 83 millimeter bronze and tin Lincoln medal was the most complicated of the entire series. In presenting its tangled story, the author demonstrates his skill and determination to uncover the facts, eliminate long-enduring myths and present the full story in convincing and readable style.

The complexities of this first medal are fully explored. The engraver of the dies for this medal was New York’s Emil Sigel, whose other known work was limited to Civil War tokens and private merchant’s issues. He was one of a large number of German die sinkers working in New York City that were mainly clustered in lower Manhattan.

Sigel was prolific, and among his best-known signed Civil War tokens were cent-sized coppers hailing a cousin, the 1848 German democratic refugee General Franz Sigel as “Hero of Pea Ridge.” That was an epic battle in the Western Department whose pivotal importance was muted by its trivial-sounding name.

Creating the dies for a medal of such exceptionally high relief and broad diameter must have been a challenge for a humble token engraver. The heroic height of the Lincoln’s bearded, frock-coated bust and the stark flatness of the obverse field have been cited as the causes of almost insuperable difficulties in striking the pieces.

Ripping through the hoary hand-me-down tales traditionally associated with this historic medal, Miller quickly explodes the long-repeated anecdote that the dies broke after only 16 medals were struck, impelling the nimble Sigel to convince the ANS medal committee of the need to cut entirely new dies. The author demonstrates that the breakage only affected the shoulder of the obverse die and proves that all known Lincoln medals were struck from these dies, whether in bronze or softer “block” tin. New dies were made and paid for but were not actually used until 1915 and then only to strike two archival specimens in Lead. ANS learned a costly lesson about engravers, medal-making and accountancy.

The author also explores the history of the reductions of the Lincoln Medal in seven-, 16- and 35mm diameters made in England by J.S. and A.B. Wyon that have long puzzled bewildered collectors. He shows that the minute pencil eraser-sized 7mm medals were uniface with no reverse design in place. After recovering from the stress of the Lincoln medal, ANS contracted with famed die sinker George Hampden Lovett in 1876 to produce its first Membership Medal, a 42mmn design struck in gold, silver and bronze. Its obverse presented an early version of the Society’s seal, three oak leaves and three acorns below the Latin motto PARVA NE PEREANT, Let not the Small Things Perish.

Miller’s determination to clarify the historical record is seen in his coverage of the 42mm Cleopatra’s Needle Medal of 1881. Struck in gold, silver, bronze and white metal, this medal commemorated the placing in New York’s Central Park of an obelisk of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III that was a gift of the Khedive of Egypt.

Financing the complex task of transatlantic shipment of the multi-ton monolith was William H. Vanderbilt, assisted by two New Yorkers active in the Society, Robert Hewitt Jr. and Algernon Sidney Sullivan. There was a heavy Masonic flavor to this event, which might explain Bauman F. Belden’s omission of Cleopatra’s Needle from his early listing of ANS medals.

The unique gold example surfaced in Stack’s 2012 Americana auction, where it was catalogued by the reviewer, and was purchased on behalf of the Society.

ANS medals began appearing with some regularity in the 1880’s, including Swedish sculptor Lea Ahlborn’s contributions. She created the 1883 medal for the Centennial of the British Evacuation of New York; 1884 Memorial Medal of ANS President Charles Edward Anthon; and 1890 46mm medal honoring ANS incorporator and scholar Daniel Parish Jr.

The name Tiffany & Co. appears with the 1893 Christopher Columbus Quatercentenary (sic) Medal, which attracted criticism by hailing manufacturer Tiffany on the obverse while ignoring designer James H. Whitehouse and engraver William Walker. This 77mm medal was struck in the wake of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where a proposed numismatic display had been rejected. It appeared in silver and both “bronze and gold bronze” finishes.

The name of Victor David Brenner appears on six ANS medals, starting with the 50mm medal for the Opening of Saint Luke’s Hospital in 1896. A Jewish immigrant from Russian Lithuania, Brenner prepared his earliest medal dies by cutting by eye directly into the die steel, but after study in Paris under Louis Oscar Roty, his later works were created by sculpting large-diameter models for reduction by the Janvier Reducing Machine.

The Saint Luke’s medal was also notable for its distinctive portrait of the patriarchal William Augustus Muhlenberg. Miller’s choices of illustrations includes a reproduction of an oil portrait of Muhlenberg attributed to F.O.C. Darley and joins a fascinating studio photo of youthful artist Brenner. Photos of presentation cases and publicity shots appear throughout the book, adding substantially to its appeal.

The author unearths some remarkable facts. The 64mm Greater New York or Charter Day Medal of 1898 by Edward Hagaman was struck by Tiffany to mark the consolidation of the five boroughs. This medal was presented in gold to the aged Andrew H. Green, “Father of Greater New York,” whom Miller tells us “was murdered by a man who had mistaken him for another elderly gentleman who had stolen the killer’s girlfriend.”

Consolidation also inspired ANS President Andrew C. Zabriskie’s attempt to fold ANS into the New-York Historical Society. This attempt would have obliterated the Society and its work. Its failure thanks to a members’ uprising brought forward Archer M. Huntington as the great benefactor and leader of a still-independent ANS.

Brenner went on to create ANS medals and plaquettes honoring Prince Henry of Prussia (brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II), explorer Amerigo Vespucci and Revolutionary naval hero John Paul Jones that are among the most sought-after by modern collectors.

Jules-Ėdouard Roiné is another name that appears in the roster of ANS medalists in the early 1900’s. Miller resolves the long-disputed status of his 1908 plaquette honoring Algernon Sidney Sullivan (1826-1887), Indiana-born jurist and philanthropist with deep Virginia connections who spent much of his legal career in New York City.

Sullivan was a beloved figure by young and old especially in the circles of New York’s Southern Society and in the legal community. His son George H. Sullivan set up a Memorial Fund in his father’s memory to present these plaquettes inserted in hard-cover books each year to five of the most deserving young lawyers who had launched careers in the city.

Reading this eulogistic book today reveals that the honoree was a man of almost messianic greatness and virtue. His son expected ANS to administer this medal program, select annual winners and present the medals, a task far beyond the Society’s purview. Presenting the issue’s complete history has resolved this question and proven the ANS connection.

Miller decided otherwise in the question of the 1910 Actors’ Fund Medal, a 69mm piece designed by the great sculptor Chester Beach. Archer M. Huntington commissioned this medal and examples are known with a minute ANS seal in the field below the figure of Tragedy on the obverse.

Medals are also encountered without the seal, leading the cataloguer to conclude that this feature was an accidental addition to the design triggered by Huntington’s known interest in the fund. His role with the New Theatre of New York was enough to make its sumptuous 1909 Opening Medal an ANS issue.

Collectors will welcome the coverage of the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Medal, one of the most amazingly common of all American medals. Commemorating Henry Hudson’s discoveries of New York harbor and the river named for him and recalling Robert Fulton’s first steam-powered voyage to Albany, this issue by Austrian-born artist Emil Fuchs exists in six diameters and five metals from four-inch silver to three-inch gold on down to 1¼ silverplate.

A 1910 plaquette by Belgian medalist Godefroid Devreese for the International Medallic Exhibition hosted by ANS appears with only two each struck in gold and bronze. There is no explanation for the failure to issue more. The obverse shows Columbia standing on clouds with a laurel branch and flag while a nude male with lyre appears to be falling from the sky at left, an uncomfortable design that may simply have turned off the ANS committee.

World War I saw a number of ANS medals honoring Allied leaders and America’s role in the struggle. During this era, Adolph A. Weinman created the coveted 1919 J. Sanford Saltus Award Medal, the same year that John Flanagan designed his handsome medal hailing the New York visit of Britain’s Prince of Wales, later Duke of Windsor.

The late 1930’s and the years 1945-1976 saw release of few ANS medals. The Society’s 1958 Centennial Medal by Laura Gardin Fraser stands nearly alone. Its bold design concept was that “Nature created the first dies,” and received praise from many observers who overlooked some gaffes.

The late Cornelius C. Vermeule deplored “the ill-proportioned square-faced brute” discovering a split fossil on the obverse and “the twin mountains of muscle bending over their great anvil and huge casting-type dies on the reverse.” (Numismatic Art in America, Cornelius C. Vermeule, second edition revised by David T. Alexander, Whitman Publishing, 2007, p. 170).

Miller’s research shows that ANS medals have appeared in intermittent bursts: nineteenth century, Gay ‘90’s, early 20th century. World War I. The Roaring 20’s were busy, while an ongoing sprinkling of Society-related commemoratives and members’ medals spanned the decades.

Much of the early 20th century activity must be credited to the active interest and generosity of such member-benefactors as J. Sanford Saltus, whose death in 1922 left an unfilled void. Then too, the Great Depression (“the invisible scar”) and Second World War had a numbing effect that lingered on until the 1950’s.

The World War II years were a particularly sterile era for Society medals, and only in 1976 was more or less continuous activity resumed with such issues as the city and state Bicentennial medals, Eugene Daub’s majestic Statue of Liberty Centennial oval and Marcel Jovine’s imposing 125th Anniversary Plaquette of 1983.

Comprised of only 60 medals, the series might be considered relatively brief, yet it contains almost limitless treasures of numismatics, art and history. Rarities abound and there are almost certainly additional discoveries to be made. As author Miller observes, the story of the American Numismatic Society and its medals is not over, but continues into the future.

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