Olympic Games, Athens 1896

by Robert Hoge

I have been noting various kinds of additional work needed to pack and transfer the collections while at the same time watching for items of particular interest. One lucky find that I made—in an unlabeled tray and lying in an unlabeled box—was an example of the commemorative medal of the first International Olympic Games of the modern era, held through the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin at Athens in 1896.

Greece/Austria, Olympic Games Participation Medal, Athens, 1896. struck in Vienna. 0000.999.70623

This piece had been given one of our “provisional” accession numbers (indicating that the actual records on its acquisition are not readily available) along with a very brief and inadequate description. I was especially happy to run across this medal because we are working on plans for a future exhibit on numismatics relating to the Olympic games. A popular work, the first Olympic medal was produced by the die-sinking establishment of Wilhelm Pittner, in Vienna, Austria, which struck 25,000 of them in 21 days, as noted in Leonard Forrer’s Biographical Dictionary of Medallists (London: Spink & Son, 1909), p. 623. Since I have been focusing mostly on “problem” trays, I have also had occasion to see many items in our “backlog” of duplicates, casts, counterfeits, electrotypes and other suspicious sorts of things that have been relegated in the past to areas awaiting some future attention. With the size of our collections, and the volume of work always under way, such pieces have usually lacked the study necessary to do something with them, to identify them, box them, labeled them, catalog and file them (or dispose of them suitably). Then too, we often find that identical items may be encountered in various different locations within the cabinet—duplicate pieces which have been given slightly different descriptions, in some cases, and filed inconsistently over the years. I have had an interesting opportunity to note an array of early European medals which require a great deal of further study, including old reproductions of medals which are otherwise lacking in the cabinet.