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Collector's Guides and Checklists



Series and Sets
of American Medals

AN INTRODUCTION

D. WAYNE JOHNSON, EDITOR
COLLECTOR'S GUIDES AND CHECKLISTS SECTION.

THE first American medals issued as a group were the Seasons Medals in tribute to George Washington (who else?). The theme of the three medals -- The Shepherd, The Farmer, The Family – were traits that Washington was said to possess. Designed by an American painter living in London, John Trumbull (1756-1843), the dies were engraved by Belgium-native Conrad H. Kuchler, and struck by Matthew Boulton at his Soho Mint in Birmingham. The medals were struck 1798 (but dated 1796) and were intended as American Indian Peace Medals. Three-medal collector sets still exist, a very few in proof, and some even in cases.

The British connection of this set is important to mention because it was a British medal promoter, James Mudie (flourished 1815-1820), who is credited with creating medal series. Mudie reasoned, appropriately, that any one who would want one medal would like a second to go with it. If a buyer had two, why not more? Thus he sought multiple subjects with a common theme. (Mudie hired Edward Thomason, 1769-1849, to strike medals for him in his Birmingham plant. Thomason liked the series idea so well he went on to create more series than Mudie, including his famed Thomason Medallic Bible Series.)

Mudie called his group of medals a "suite," (the same term now used for a group of software programs banded together). For numismatists, however, the concept developed into two terms with precise meanings -- sets, two or more medals issued at one time, and series, medals of similar theme issued over time, sold on a subscription basis, often issued at common intervals.

The first American medal series -- to be struck in America (by the U.S. Mint) -- was spawned by a lottery. The American Art-Union was modeled after a similar organization in England which awarded medals as prizes with grand prizes offered as donated works of art, paintings and sculpture. A new medal was issued each year for the three years this lottery existed, 1847-49,. The three medals were created by Charles Cushing Wright, bore a common reverse with obverse portraits of Washington Allison (1847), Gilbert Stuart (1848) and John Trumbull (1849) the same artist who designed the Seasons Medals.

Nineteenth century U.S. Mint medals fall into ersatz series though this was not the original intent. After the Civil War, the Mint created missing medals of American presidents to fill in this 3-inch medal series, thereafter keeping it up-to-date with each new president. Individual medals for army and navy victory battles were also grouped into a similar series. Numismatic author Robert Julian wisely arranged U.S. Mint medals into these ersatz series in his monumental work, Medals of The United States Mint, The First Century, 1792-1892.

Series of medals for American numismatic organizations began in 1865 in New York with medals issued by the American Numismatic Society and in Philadelphia in 1884. The first public subscription medal series began with the Circle of Friends of the Medallion (1909- 1915). But the grand dame of all American medal series was -- and still is -- The Society of Medalists (129 medals in all, 1930-1995).

In the last half of the 20th century medals in series took off in rocket speed with the founding of Franklin Mint in 1963. This one firm alone issued over 160 such series before it reached a saturation point where the market could not absorb any more right away.

All these medals will be listed in this section over time. For the most part there is no one source where lists of sets and series can be found in one location. It is the intent of the Medal Collectors of America to provide just such data. Franklin Mint medal series have been published, so our attention will concentrate on others first, but all sets and series of American medals are destined to be documented in this website.

May we have your feedback? Please email us with your comments. Do you have a set or series in your collection and you would like to express your observations. Like? Dislike? Good points? Bad points? Would you want to add some collector lore for other collectors? Do you have a variety? Is it engraved with a recipient's name? Is it mounted in an unusual way? Have you researched the medal's history? Send us your remarks, comments, revelations.

We welcome whatever you wish to add as a Collectors' Response. We will place these comments on line in this website. (Please allow us to edit for space requirements, and please, no attachments at first.) Comments must be signed. Email me at dick.johnson@snet.net

Enjoy your medal collecting!

 


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Dick Johnson (who writes under the name D. Wayne Johnson) wrote his first numismatic article in 1949 at the age of 19. His 1998 script, The Medal Maker, was narrated by Elizabeth Jones, former Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, and made into a home video by Hollywood film producer Michael Craven. Johnson created Coin World, the world's first numismatic weekly in 1960 and served as its first editor. He was first Director of Research for Medallic Art Company, a position he held for a decade and where he edited the firm's collector newsletter, The Art Medalist. He has owned or managed two numismatic auction firms specializing in medallic art. In his retirement he is compiling a directory of American artists, diesinkers, engravers, medalists and sculptors of coins and medals. He has collected the terms of coin and medal technology and plans an encyclopedia of this vital information. Also in the medallic field he has written answers to basic inquiries (FAQs) for coin and medal artists at www.amsamedals.org/frameset_faq.htm and for medal collectors at www.medalcollectors.org/Questions/index.html where he is also editor of the Collector's Guides and Checklists section. He is a frequent contributor to e-Sylum, a weekly internet newsletter for collectors interested in numismatic literature (free at: www.coinbooks.org ).