The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 21, Number 27, July 8, 2018, Article 17


Dick Johnson submitted these entries from his Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Terminology. Thanks! -Editor

Jeff Shevlin's article in last week's E-Sylum included his definition of so-called dollars. He said "So-called dollars are historical U.S. medals that commemorate a person, place or event in the United States history. They are 33mm to 45mm in size." There is more, of course, so I have chosen the term for this week in The E-Sylum for readers to respond. I agonized for years for a better definition than the half-page long one in the 1963 standard work by Hibler and Kappan. Shevlin boiled their definition down to two lines.

It was not until I studied similar items — gedinkthalers in Germany and jettons in France — did I realize the one factor that made them different from other medals -- they were struck on coining presses as were coins. So-called dollars are coin-medals.

Since the term "so-called dollar" is so fuzzy and indistinct I believe it should be replaced with a more accurate term — say Souvenir Medal. So I have added it to today's terms. It would not eliminate any existing medals from those already assigned and listed in HK, but would, in fact, add more varieties, as a larger medal to the dollar size of so-called dollars.

If you have an opinion whether to change the use of the term "souvenir medal" for "so-called dollar"please e-mail me at and copy Wayne Homren. A discussion in The E-Sylum would be a useful start.

So-called Dollar. Originally political medals struck in silver similar to a United States silver dollar including such items as Bryan dollars (1896, 1900) and Lesher or Referendum dollars (1900—1901). Later the term was corrupted to include any medal similar in size and relief — but not necessarily similar in composition — to the U.S. silver dollar (1 1/2-inch or 38mm) or gold dollar (14mm). The term is similar in concept to a German word, GEDENKTHALAR, a coin-like medal in similitude to the large silver coins of three or five-mark denomination, and to the French word, JETTON, for a small, coin-size medal. True so-called dollars are indeed COIN-MEDALS, struck on a coining press, utilizing equipment normally used for striking large coins: UPSETTING (rimming) machines, blanking dies, collars and such.

There was no problem utilizing exact diameters of existing coins when these medals were issued for the U.S. centennial of 1876 and for the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93, nor for the political medals of 1896-1901. Silver dollar-size vending machines and turnstiles did not exist at that time but with the rise of this industry in the 20th century, slug laws were enacted to prohibit the manufacture of coin-like pieces that would work in these machines.

These problems were noted as early as 1904 when the round Louisiana Purchase Exposition coin of admission (HK 305) was replaced by the octagonal varieties (HK 306 and 307). The round variety was too similar to a silver dollar. Later, in 1939, the Manufacturers Trust Company, a bank which obtained the contract to issue the official medal of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, changed from its original intention for a round medal to an oval one (HK 491) just because of their concern with these slug laws.

The term "so-called dollar" is not precise and current usage has further corrupted it to include a wide variety of medals from 33 to 45mm diameter (including commercial, fair and exposition pieces, and others). To clarify the term, it should be employed to include only those medals of the above-mentioned diameters struck in a coining press , and exclude art medals of any size. See COIN-MEDAL, SOUVENIR MEDAL, COMMEMORATIVE MEDAL, GEDENKTHALER, JETTON.

O16 {1963} Hibler and Kappen

Coin-medal. A medal made like a coin — struck in a coining press on an upset blank with low-relief coining dies. The appearance of a coin-medal is like that of a coin in every aspect, it just does not have a denomination and is, of course, not intended as money. The similarity between coin-medals and coins include size, method of manufacture, type and height of relief, composition, and some technical factors, like the presence of a rim (from UPSETTING) and the option to have a smooth or REEDED EDGE (from the type of COLLAR). Coin-medals are also like coins in that they may — or may not — have a proof surface; they differ in that sometimes they are given a patina finish rather than remain COIN FINISH.The original concept of SO-CALLED DOLLAR in the United States and GEDENKTHALER in Germany, was that these numismatic objects were coin-medals, as close to coins as possible, but without denomination and status of a circulating medium. Both so-called dollars and gedenkthalers were in imitation of large silver coins — the U.S. silver dollar, and the German three- or five-mark coin.

There are several inherent reasons for the popularity of a struck piece of this size (approximately 38mm or 1 1/2 inches): (1) convenience — it is a large coin and a small medal in one size; (2) design size — it is ample size for the designer to express his artistic design; (3) but most important of all, the machinery for producing such pieces is readily available, high-speed coining presses, upsetting machines and others, all could easily accommodate this size piece.

Thus what began as an imitation of a silver-dollar size coin around the turn of the 20th century became somewhat standardized for souvenir medals, collector medals — and the boom of the 1960s in America — the proof finish silver medal. All are medals, but closely resemble coins. See SO-CALLED DOLLAR.

Souvenir Medal. A medallic memento; a medal issued in honor of a public celebration or event. The occasion of the event can be anything: an anniversary, dedication, fair, exposition, coronation, inauguration, launching or any such public celebration. The medals issued upon the completion of a public project — roadway, bridge, tunnel, dam or such — all fall within this category. Souvenir medals are often sold to the public or given to some participants. They fall within the large class of COMMEMORATIVE MEDALS, and become permanent historical mementos of the celebration.

For the original owners, possession of such a medal recalls their personal involvement — their participation, or attendance, or sheer endorsement of the event, its sponsor, or its subject matter. Souvenir medals are significant for the historical information they provide. We know of the date of the first step on the moon by man, or the delayed coronation of King Edward VII or the completion of the Alaskan pipeline — or thousands of events in history — because of permanent medallic memorials issued for these events.

Souvenir medals — like all commemorative medals — are a broad category of medallic art, in contrast to those award, prize or recognition medals given to recipients, or to medals of purely artistic or commercial nature. Souvenir medals are also very similar to HISTORICAL MEDALS because they almost always bear a date. Likewise they include all the medals known as SO-CALLED DOLLARS.
CLASS 12.6

Jeff Shevlin responds:

Dick's comments are very appropriate.

Part of a complete definition of what is a so-called dollar includes what is not. For example religious medals, military medals, athletic medals, award medals, store cards and advertising pieces are not considered so-called dollars.

Dick Johnson adds:

Jeff Shevlin has earned the Order of the Peacock for catching errors in a draft of today's E-Sylum article. I bestow this coveted award to the first reader who responds to an error they have found in one of my E-Sylum articles. This is only the third time such award has been made in, perhaps, 1,500 E-Sylum articles, so my batting average is "purdy good."

I applaud the readers of The E-Sylum. You are the cream of numismatics, your knowledge of the field is outstanding. Any misstatement or factual error is immediately recognized and cause for response. For statements of opinion may cause a reader to have a different opinion. Certainly, a response is welcomed and may be the cause for a lively discussion.

Wear the Order of the Peacock with pride, Jeff. It is a rare numismatic decoration.

Book lovers should be word lovers as well.

Looking for the meaning of a numismatic word, or the description of a term?  Try the Newman Numismatic Portal's Numismatic Dictionary at:

Or if you would like a printed copy of the complete Encyclopedia, it is available. There are 1,854 terms, on 678 pages, in The Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology. Even running two a week would require more than 19 years to publish them all. If you would like an advance draft of this vital reference work it may be obtained from the author for your check of $50 sent postpaid. Dick Johnson, 139 Thompson Drive, Torrington, CT 06790.

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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