From the Executive Director (Winter 2003)

by Ute Wartenberg Kagan

Dear Members and Friends,

The snow is falling on Audubon Terrace. Our last winter at our old location is rapidly approaching. Serious preparations for the move have been underway for the last six months. Certain parts of the collection are packed, some books are already on shelves in the new library, and our first annual meeting was held at the new location last October. We hope that the ANS will have completed the move by April 2004.

While all eyes are on the move, I am already looking at our next major project. At the Annual Meeting, our Trustee, Roger Siboni, announced that he had made a pledge of $250,000 towards developing an Exhibition Hall on one of the floors. As our opening exhibition we would like to put together a show of Members’ collections. Under Roger Siboni’s chairmanship we will form a committee that will oversee the organization of this project and help fundraise. If you are interested in this project, please contact me.

You might have read in my annual giving letter that we are working towards a major endowment campaign. Over the last five years, the ANS has raised very substantial monies towards the new location as well as endowment funds for a number of key positions such as the North American Curator, the Islamic Curator and the Librarian. Over the next six months, ANS Board Members and I will be approaching our key Donors for further gifts. We hope to be launching our campaign at the opening ceremony of the new building on June 18, 2004. Endowments for positions and programs will ensure that certain activities will happen on a regular basis. I am particularly delighted that the Stack Family has just generously endowed our renowned Coinage of the Americas Conference, which will from now on bear their name.

I am also delighted that our fundraising campaign for the Francis D. Campbell Library Chair is going well. Under the able chairmanship of John Adams, the Library Committee has raised some very significant sums towards our $2,000,000 goal. Well done, John! We hope to be able to set up similar individual fundraising drives for curatorships.

This issue features a major article by our Peter van Alfen, on the rebirth of the Olympic Games in Greece. The article was the result of the extensive research that Peter put into the exhibition of our most recent exhibition, Full Circle. The Olympic Heritage in Coins and Medals. The exhibition, which will run at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until October 1, 2004, shows the amazing collections of two of our members, Bernth Ahlstrom and Harmer Johnson. Among the several hundred objects are some of the rarest items of Olympic history, including a few early Olympic winner medals and one of the first torches ever used at the modern games, possibly in fact, the one that appears in the runner’s hand on our cover. The exhibition was made possible by a generous grant from the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation. As always our friends at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Vice-President Jamie Stewart, Rosemary Lazenby and many others, have been of immense help.

In all, the last months have been very exciting, and there is so much to come. For this holiday season I wish you and your families all the best.

Yours truly,
Ute Wartenberg Kagan

The First Century of Aviation in Medals

by Peter van Alfen

On a bitterly cold December day in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright took to the air in a craft that he had hand-built with his brother Wilbur. Mankind’s first powered flight was not long-lived, only 12 seconds, but it did offer an answer to a question that had teased technical minds for millennia: how can we soar like the birds? With the Wright brothers’ emphatic response the first century of aviation—a word built upon the Latin word for “bird,” avis—officially began.

Victor David Brenner’s 1905 Aero Club of America medal depicting the Wright Brothers on the obverse and a Wright Flyer airborne on the reverse (ANS 0000.999.6798).

1909 Congressional medal, obverse by Charles Barber, reverse by George Morgan, celebrating the Wright Brothers’ aeronautical achievements. Note that Barber reversed the order of the Brenner’s profiles (ANS 0000.999.45925).

Today the technical progress in aircraft and flight over the last 100 years is taken for granted. We think nothing of boarding, along with hundreds of other passengers, monstrous Boeing 747s, that weigh over 400 tons at take-off, and flying non-stop to destinations on the other side of the world. Jet air-travel, with its movies, magazines, and piped-in music, is now so commonplace that we freely complain about the uncomfortable seats and bad food on journeys that last hours, rather than days or even months. But this ease of air travel was a long time coming; the first all-metal, multi-engine airliners, like the 10-seat Ford Trimotor, were not introduced until the late-1920s; the first pressurized airliners, the Boeing 307 Stratoliners, that could fly “overweather,” were introduced in the early 1940s; jet airliners would not see regular service until the mid-1950s, and only in the late 1960s did jets all but fully replace older piston-powered craft, like the enduring Lockheed Constellation, on national and international routes.

Oscar J.W. Hansen’s Art Deco piece celebrating the 10th anniversary of the National Air Races, “The Olympiad of the Air,” in 1930 (ANS 1940.100.2166, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Eidlitz).

Small coin-like medal commemorating Amelia Earhart as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by airplane (ANS 0000.999.45913).

Notable developments in aviation were often fueled by war, such as the race between the Axis and Allied powers in World War II to develop jet-powered planes, a race that the Germans won with the Messerschmitt 262, the first jet used in combat. But during the Golden Age of Aviation, the 1910s through the 1930s, it was the bravery of singular men and women pushing the envelope of possibility that encouraged great strides in airframe and power plant development. This was the age of aviation “firsts”: the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop west to east (Charles Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis, 1927); the first to cross non-stop east to west against the winds (Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld, a.k.a. “The Crazy Baron,” Hermann Köhl, and James C. Fitzmaurice in the Bremen, 1928); the first woman to fly the Atlantic (Amelia Earhart, first as a passenger on the seaplane Friendship in 1928, then as a solo pilot in 1932); the first flight over the North Pole (Admiral Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett in a Fokker Trimotor named Josephine Ford, 1926); the first to fly over the South Pole (Admiral Richard E. Byrd and a crew of four, in a trimotor named for Floyd Bennett who died in 1928 of pneumonia while helping to salvage the Bremen along with Charles Lindbergh, 1929). This was also the age of barnstorming and air races, the “Olympiads of the Air.”

Medal commemorating the first east-west crossing of the Atlantic by “The Crazy Baron” and his co-pilots, portrayed on the reverse, in a modified Junkers W33, Bremen, pictured on the obverse (ANS 1929.999.424, gift of F.C.C. Boyd).

Medal by Julio Kilenyi commissioned by the Wright Aeronautical Corporation which built the Cyclone engines (one of which is pictured on the reverse) that powered Admiral Byrd’s Fokker Trimotor (pictured on the obverse) on his North Pole crossing (ANS 1930.163.3, gift of The Whitehead and Hoag Co.).

Although lumbering airships were invented before the Wright brothers’ first flight, they benefited tremendously from the subsequent technology developed for airplanes. For a while in the 1920s and 1930s these craft seemed to hold the key to speedy and comfortable long-distance air travel that the airplanes of the day could not provide; so important were these massive aircraft—some over 800 ft. long—that the spire atop the Empire State Building was designed to be a mooring post. For over a decade, air ships like Germany’s famed Graf Zeppelin, made hundreds of trans-Atlantic crossings carrying thousands of passengers in the type of comfort found only on board ocean-going vessels. Airships also had their non-commercial “firsts,” such as Lincoln Ellsworth’s polar crossings. The future of the airship, however, came to an abrupt end on May 6, 1937, when the Hindenburg burst into flames while mooring at Lakehurst, New Jersey, having just finished a trans-Atlantic crossing; 36 people perished.

Congressional medal, obverse by John Sinnock, reverse by Adam Pietz, awarded to Lincoln Ellsworth for his crossing of the North Pole in the airship Norge in May 1926 (ANS 1933.64.88).

During the Golden Age and even after, aviation milestones were celebrated with tickertape parades and medals commissioned from well-known artists, a commission often solicited by Congress. At times too the airlines and manufacturers would issue souvenir medals to draw attention to the latest technological advances. But in recent decades, fewer and fewer aviation medals have been issued, a sign not so much of a decline in medallic art, but an indication of just how routine, even ordinary aviation has become. This in itself is a remarkable achievement considering the inauspicious beginnings of the airplane a century ago at Kitty Hawk.

Medal by Annie Mouroux commemorating the record breaking Paris-New York flight of French aviators Maurice Bellonte and Dieudonné Costes in 1930. Showing a sense of humor, the men had painted a large question mark on the side of their Breguet Model XIX, clearly visible on the reverse of the medal. After 37 hours aloft, the pilot and his mechanic touched down in New York and were greeted first by Charles Lindbergh (ANS 1951.15.28, gift of Mrs. George N. Hamilton).

Medal of Congress by Laura G. Fraser celebrating Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic crossing (ANS 1985.81.39, gift of Daniel M. Friedenberg).

For a short time in the early 1940s, passengers on TWA’s Boeing 307s would receive this “club” medal. The 307 was the first airliner to have a pressurized passenger compartment allowing it to cruise at much higher altitudes than its contemporaries, which also meant it could sail “overweather” (ANS 1941.6.2, gift of F.J. Young).

KLM-Royal Dutch Airline souvenir medal from the 1950s depicting a Lockheed Constellation, one of the longest serving piston-powered airliners (ANS 1967.123.3, gift of Hillel Kaslove).

Commercial production of America’s first jet airliner, the Boeing 707, began in early 1958. Later that year Pan-American World Airways announced its first transoceanic jet service; in January, 1959, American Airlines used its new 707s to inaugurate a “new era,” as this medal proclaims, the first jet service across the U.S. (ANS 1959.247.1, gift of Harry M. Lessin).

ANS Staff and Trustees in Madrid

Six ANS staff members and numerous fellows, members, seminar alumni, board members, and former visiting scholars made presentations and took part in the Thirteenth International Congress of Numismatics, held in Madrid, 15-19 September. They were among some 865 numismatic scholars from throughout the world who assembled for the event, held every six years. The Spanish hosts, led by Dr. Carmen Alfaro Asins, Director of the Departamento de Numismática y Medallística of the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, provided an excellent ambiance in the city’s Sala de Congresos.

(l to r) Back row: Dr. François de Callataÿ, Mr. Robert Leonard, Mr. Arthur Houghton, Mr. Robert Hoge, Dr. Peter van Alfen, Muserref Yetim, Dr. Michel Amandry; Front row: Mrs. Linda Houghton, Dr. Elena Stolyarik, Dr. Michael Bates, Dr. Ute Wartenberg and Mr. Sebastian Heath.

Robert Hoge’s paper, “The Coinage of Arausio: A Missing Link (Confirming a Roman Mint under Octavian),” described a new example of a rare Gallic copper coinage. It is the first example of the series to show a mint name for this issue of Agrippa and Octavian that must be dated 30-28 BC. This is the only evidence for the existence of this mint in Roman Gaul.

Ute Wartenberg Kagan discussed a very early monetary hoard that contains about 270 archaic coins and uncountable fragments of jewelry and cut-up silver bars, entitled “An Early Hoard Revisited: The Coinage of Croesus?” Most of the hoard is now in the Israel Museum, but it was studied while still in the market place by the late Martin Price and then by Wartenberg while she was at the British Museum. The coins include Croeseid and Carian lion staters and fractions. The Carian pieces were previously rare or unknown.

Wartenberg’s paper was immediately preceded by a complementary presentation from ANS Council Member John H. Kroll of the University of Texas, in which the Croeseids were also the central subject. Kroll’s paper, “Who minted the first “Croeseids”? New stratigraphical evidence from Sardis,” announced the discovery of a gold Croeseid fraction and a tiny silver Milesian coin under a layer of debris resulting, without any possible doubt, from the destruction of part of the Sardis city wall when the city was taken by Cyrus of Persia in 547 or 546 BC. The early heavy-standard Croeseids therefore might well belong in fact to his predecessor Alyattes. At any rate, the recent proposal that the lion-bull coins should be attributed to the Persians after 547 rather than to Croesus, is now untenable. Instead, the whole chronology of the earliest western Anatolian coinages may have to be pushed back in time.

Michael Bates delivered one of the poniente or plenary lectures, on “Mining and Minting in the Islamic World and Elsewhere.” His argument was that mining and minting are causally related, in the sense that production of precious metals in and of itself usually brings about the production of coinage. All those who share in the output of mines, who might include the ruler himself, the central government, the local authorities, the owners of the land, the capitalists who finance the work, the merchants and others who provide the miners with goods and services, and the miners themselves—all these need to turn the ore or metal into money for use among themselves and for imports from elsewhere, and at the least possible cost. For this reason, mints are often set up at mines or near them. Bates discussed the 1849 Gold Rush, ancient and medieval mints as well as many Middle Eastern examples. Common features of many of the mining sites include the “rush” of miners to exploit a new discovery, private or semi-official minting of coins that imitate the most prestigious coinage of the region, coinage that is often large or crude or inadequately refined, the establishment of official mints near the mine, sudden bursts of coin production in the region, and the creation of centers of power and culture based on mining wealth.

Sebastian Heath participated in the round table “The Future of Web Databases for Numismatic Study” with a proposal for an ideal web database that would provide access to all participating collections through a single web site. The technology is available and not problematic, but such a system would have to solve far more difficult problems of copyright, revenue, appropriate credit, and appropriate use.

Elena Stolyarik discussed the two known examples of the silver didrachm coinage of Spartocus, presumably the ruler of the Bosporan kingdom on the north coast of the Black Sea. One of the two is in the ANS collection. The problematic dating and location of these issues can be clarified by comparison with other coinages. The reverse is closely associated with civic issues of Panticapaeum, and the small trident and two dolphins link it to the posthumous Lysimachus coinage of Byzantium and to imitations of the latter by the issues of the Bosporan kings in the second century BC. These connections make it possible to confirm the didrachms of Spartocus as royal Bosporan issues of 140/130 BC.

Peter van Alfen’s paper, entitled “West Greek Plated Coins and the Question of ‘Official’ Production,” addressed a somewhat controversial topic. Examining first the conceptual aspects of what we mean by “official” coinage in antiquity, van Alfen then moved on to the many examples of plated coins known from the Classical Greek cities of southern Italy. These have long been known to be connected to full alloy coins of the same cities by workmanship, style, and die links. They exist in numbers too great to be explained as “trial strikes,” private counterfeiting with stolen dies, or isolated freaks. Van Alfen argued that many of the plated coins that we have from these mints are, in fact, official issues, perhaps the result of fiscal expedients when the supply of silver was insufficient.

Quite a few others associated with the ANS as Fellows, Council Members, alumni and visiting scholars of the Graduate Seminar, and former staff members also attended the conference. A summary of the conference is available at

Sphinx, Ms. Muserref Yetim and Dr. Ute Wartenberg

Dr. Michael Bates, Mr. Sebastian Heath, Dr. Peter van Alfen and Mr. Robert Hoge.

ANS Board Member Professor Jack Kroll, Dr. Elena Stolyarik, Mr. Sebastian Heath, Mr. Robert Leonard and Dr. Peter van Alfen.

Traditional “Money” of America in the ANS Cabinet

by Robert Wilson Hoge

There are very few pieces of American origin in the American Numismatic Society’s collection of traditional ethnological objects considered to be monetary in their function. While it is true that many items held value for native American Indian peoples, and certain materials were widely traded, or even hoarded, seldom in the pre-European contact period did they constitute forms of “money” in and of themselves. Almost invariably, objects which embodied wealth or served as mediums of exchange also represented religious or spiritual significance or had some kind of utilitarian importance. Therefore, their value depended on social factors which could be quite complex.

Woodpecker Scalp

A good example of this context is that involving one of the most unusual specimens in the cabinet: a piece of “woodpecker scalp money” attributed to the Karok people of the Klamath River region, in northernmost California and adjacent parts of Oregon. The ANS’ historical example of this rare item was donated to the cabinet in 1922 by the Museum of the American Indian, the Heye Foundation. The Karok are a Hokan-speaking tribe who traditionally shared cultural features with other native groups of the Californian interior but also derived certain socio-economic and religious characteristics from the peoples of the coastal regions, to the Northwest. These two groups engaged in very different aboriginal socio-economic lives.

Woodpecker scalp “money,” Karok, Northern California. (ANS 1922.21.4)

Throughout California—and among the Karok for much of the year—acorns provided the primary food staple. They were gathered from native oak trees in the autumn, dried, hulled, and pounded with a stone mortar and pestle, and then leached in water to remove the poisonous tannin before being used to make a kind of mush or acorn-bread. The acorn harvest was supplemented by additional gathering and hunting. Native peoples enjoyed a relatively relaxed and plentiful life-style, with a rather high population density. Acorns provided an abundant, dependable resource which could be easily collected and stored by anyone.

On the Northwest Coast, on the other hand, life centered around the annual upriver run of spawning salmon. Again, sustenance was plentiful and populations were substantial, but the peoples of this region developed a much more aggressively individualistic social outlook. The Karok people and their neighbors were fortunate to live in the southern reaches of the salmon habitat, and so were able to take advantage of this great resource in the same manner as did inhabitants of the Pacific Coast farther north. It is probably from them that the Northern Californian peoples may have developed an emphasis on individual status and the quest for wealth, along with rules concerning acquisition and transfer of the wealth items.

Private or familial ownership among the Karok included a wide range of “valuables.” Among these were rights or control over local natural resources, such as salmon-fishing spots, acorn groves, root beds, sites for collecting shellfish or driftwood, and redwood trees designated for future use in construction. There were also particular objects representing value, not only woodpecker feathers but remarkable animal skins, dentalium and other seashells, and blades of obsidian. Wealth accumulation depended partly upon individual industry, often in the form of trade, but aggregated through inheritance.

Woodpecker scalps were especially prized for the brilliant red top-knots on certain species. Different species were involved, recognized by size and value variation. The ANS specimen appears to be from Dryocopus Pileatus, the Pileated Woodpecker. (Classicists and historians will recognize from this designation the term pileus — the famed “Liberty cap,” the bright red distinguishing feature of the bird.) The feathered top-knots were used in various exchange reckonings, but featured most importantly as a traditional part of the regalia worn and carried by participants in the Jumping Dance (also called the Red Woodpecker Hat Dance). This was a sacred ceremony of world revitalization, which was the central tenet of the native belief system. The principal purpose of accumulating wealth was to display it in contexts like this, either as a participant or as a sponsor, a benefactor of society. The items of value could also be used when needed in other contexts, from bride-price (women from wealthier families commanded bigger payments), to fines levied for certain social transgressions (such as homicide, wounding, adultery, or uttering the name of dead person-the wealthier the injured party, the higher the fine), to medical fees charged by shamans. Those too poor to pay could borrow needed items, or go into “debt slavery.”


In the Northwest coastal region, including northwestern California, the exoskeletons of several species of scaphopod mollusks, such as Dentalium indianorum, were traditionally recognized as a form of “money.” These dentalium shells are tube-like and open on both ends—making them highly suitable for stringing as beads. Like woodpecker scalps among the Karok, they enjoyed a primary use in a ceremonial context, but were widely traded and popular as decorative items for both ceremonial and general use. Tusk-shaped and usually from one to two inches in length, dentalia were “harvested” from the seabed off Vancouver Island, or in similar habitats of the region. Convenient and desirable as trading commodities, many found their way to the inter-mountain basin and even onto the Great Plains.

The ANS holds a fine example of a string of dentalium shells, also reportedly originating from the Karok of Northern California. This was another gift from the Museum of the American Indian, the Heye Foundation. The individual shells are well-matched, and show an attractive spiraled brown marking.

Disk and Cylinder Beads

Many forms of decorative beads, commonly small disks cut from various shells, were popular items of adornment and trade throughout the Americas in aboriginal times. Sometimes they were strung into standard lengths and served as commodities in that form. To European ways of thinking, they represented an un-coined substitute for money although they were not normally treated in that manner by native users. They did sometimes figure in “denominational” exchange systems, however.

Cylindrical magnesite bead, Pomo, Southern California. (ANS 1922.21.5)

We are told that in southern California, the Pomo people used strings of shell disk beads made of mussel, clam, abalone or olivella which they rated at 800 per one cylindrical bead of baked magnesite (magnesium carbonate). This hard mineral was normally found in a rough gray state, but was baked by the Indians to a fine red or reddish brown color, then drilled and polished in a cylindrical form roughly one inch long. An excellent example of one of these Pomo beads was given to the cabinet by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation.

A certain group of shell beads has gained attention as having played a distinctive monetary role during the early years of European colonization in North America. These are small, cylindrical pieces usually of about 1/2″ in length and 1/8″ in cross section. They were carefully drilled with a small longitudinal hole, for stringing, and carefully polished. This shell bead “currency,” used in trade between the native Indians of New England and the Middle Atlantic Coast and the early British and Dutch colonists in that region, is familiarly called “wampum.”


The word wampum comes from terms of Algonkian origin meaning “white shell bead.” While white beads, normally cut and polished segments of the columella (central, spindle-like portion of the whorl) of whelk shells (Busycon sp.), made up the majority of the beads commonly in use, dark purple “black,” “blue” or “violet” beads (cut from the shells of the clam Venus mercenaria) were actually considered twice as valuable. A fairly large-scale wampum “industry” had developed among the Narragansetts and their neighbors in Rhode Island and Connecticut, but the worked shell beads, either individually or in strings, did not truly function as money until they became current among the Europeans.

Two typical examples of strung wampum beads are in the ANS collection, both part of the same 1922 gift from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. Both are attributed to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) peoples of New Netherlands/New York. Traditionally, the beads were woven into patterned “belts” which commemorated and represented formal societal pronouncements, such as treaties or adjudications, and were then given to the principal participants involved, who esteemed them highly. (Unfortunately, there are no examples of wampum “belts” in the Society’s collection.)

In the desperate days of the 1620’s, early European settlers found that, because of the desirability of the beads among the natives, they could trade wampum for food so they began producing. In the years following, while settlers in the southern colonies generally reckoned values in tobacco, those of New Netherlands and New England (and even some farther south) adopted equations of wampum beads to coined money.

In 1637, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony regulated wampum beads at six to a penny for sums under one shilling and Connecticut authorized wampum as payment for taxes. In 1650, the Massachusetts value was lowered to eight to the penny, but authorized for payment of higher amounts. While the specific values fluctuated, the need for wampum remained. Surviving documents attest its widespread use as currency among colonists. Sometimes used individually (called seawant) the beads were frequently strung into specified lengths (called peag or wampumpeag) representing different denominations ranging from one penny to ten shillings, and counted by the fathom.

Following the successful establishment of John Hull’s Boston Mint, regulation became more complicated while the need for wampum currency decreased. In New York, wampum use as money persisted to the end of the 17th century although there are records of problems with poorly-made or counterfeit examples. Even while their use as money faltered, wampum shell beads continued to be manufactured by European settlers as trade items for Indians to the West. The Campbell family of New Jersey mass-produced “wampum” shell beads and other ornaments for over 100 years starting in the late 1700’s.

Aztec “Axes”

Controversy surrounds the high-arsenic content copper pieces, coas, often called Aztec axe or hoe money, which have been found in substantial quantities in parts of Mexico in contexts and numbers which suggest their possible use as monetary objects. We know that the principal “currency” of Central America at the time of the Spanish conquest was in the form of cacao—cocoa beans (noted as early as Columbus’ fourth voyage, and regulated by viceregal decree in 1555 at 140 per real). However, series of flat copper pieces ranging in size from a couple of inches to about nine inches in length were described as a local form of native money by 1548. These are in the form either of chisel blades or “T-shaped” cross sections of a mushroom. Efforts have been made to establish a taxonomy and chronology for these pieces, which seem to relate to earlier metallic items of analogous form originating in the northern Andean region.

(Left:) Smaller copper “axe money” coa, Mexico (ANS 1975.22.3). (Right:) Early copper “Hoe money” or coa, Mexico (ANS 0000.999.53380).

That the “axe money” was valued by aboriginal peoples, hoarded, bundled and buried as grave goods is certain, but before the institution of the Spanish coinage system these pieces may well have served primarily as status indicators of wealth, and even held religious connotations. Although they are known, in Spanish, as tajaderas (scrapers), hachuelas (little hachets), hachetes (axes), azuelas (coopers’ adzes), their resemblance to tools may be incidental, since none seem to show traces of actual wear although they were reportedly seen in use for smoothing ceramic vessals. Some coas—the flat, chisel-shaped ones—may date from the 9th century. The latest pieces undoubtedly date to the period after the Spanish conquest.

The ANS collection includes a number of examples of Mexican coas of several sizes and shapes, among them 1) a large flat long one, with acquisition data missing; 2) a small one, with elongated blade and flared end, donated by Alexandre Orlowski; 3) a broad T-shaped one, donated by Dudley T. Easby, Jr.; 4) a longer T-shaped one, donated by Miss Frances S. Reilly, from the collection of John Reilly, Jr. (Note: the great Reilly collection focused primarily upon East Asian materials).

Although small, the ANS collection of traditional items from the Americas which can be thought of as emblems or exemplars of wealth contains a selection of good, representative pieces. While modern collectors enjoy regarding such materials as “money,” this concept may be illusory. Native peoples of the Americas generally regarded items of value in terms of their social and ceremonial context, and the status which they could endow or represent. These items tended to become objectified as “money” once they were confronted by European concepts of economics. Sadly, the oral histories which must have informed traditional usages in native society are largely lost to us today.

T-shaped copper “axe money” coa, Mexico. (ANS 1966.28.1)

Early copper “axe money”, or coa, Mexico (ANS 1937.179.19457)


Sylvester S. Crosby, The early coins of America: and the laws governing their issue, Boston: S.S. Crosby, 1875 (various reprint editions).

Louis E. Jordan, “Wampum: Introduction,” in The Coins of Colonial and Early America, A Project of the Robert H. Gore Jr. Numismatic Endowment, University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame.

John M. Kleeberg, “The New Yorke in America token” in Money of pre-federal America, John M. Kleeberg, ed., Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings no. 7, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1992, pp. 15-57.

Alfred L. Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California, Washington: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, 1925 (also New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931).

J. Earl Massey, “Early money substitutes,” in Studies on money in early America, Eric P. Newman and Richard G. Doty, eds., New York: American Numismatic Society, 1976, pp. 15-24.

Philip L. Mossman, Money of the American colonies and confederation, a numismatic, economic and historical correlation, Numismatic Studies no. 20. New York: American Numismatic Society, 1993.

Charles J. Opitz, An ethnological study of traditional money, Ocala, FL: First Impressions Printing, Inc., 2000.

Alberto F. Pradeau, Numismatic history of Mexico from the pre-Columbian epoch to 1823, Los Angeles: Western Printing, 1938 (reprint, with annotations and revisions by Clyde Hubbard, New York: Sanford J. Durst, 1978).

Abraham Rosman and Paula G. Rubel, Feasting with mine enemy: rank and exchange among Northwest Coast societies, New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

A. Hingston Quiggin, A survey of Primitive money, London: Methuen, 1949.

Don Taxay, Money of the American Indians and other primitive currencies of the Americas, New York: Nummus Press, 1970.

The History of the ANS: The Sixth Decade

Abridged by Oliver D. Hoover from Howard Adelson’s History of the ANS

In the last instalment of this series we saw the American Numismatic Society solve some of its longstanding difficulties thanks to the leadership of Archer M. Huntington and the acquisition of new permanent quarters at Audubon Terrace. In the second half of America’s Gilded Age the ANS received new opportunities to expand and establish itself as a mature institution.

The American Journal of Numismatics

Now that the Society had a new and secure residence, it could once again resume many of the activities that it had previously been forced to put aside. The most notable of these was the resumption of the publication of the American Journal of Numismatics under the auspices and direct supervision of the ANS. It will be remembered that already in 1893 the journal had been given over to the Boston Numismatic Society and William T.R. Marvin, who published it as a quarterly until 1907. In that year, as construction was progressing on the new building, the Society bought back all plates, back issues and other associated material for $400, but retained Marvin as editor for future issues, beginning with volume 42 in 1908. However, the resumed series was not destined for long life. In 1920 the ANS published the fifty-third and last volume. Indices of earlier issues through volume 50 were included in volume 51 of 1918.

During Marvin’s tenure as editor there was almost constant discussion about how to improve the Journal and when he died in 1912 the decision was made to consolidate the four issues into a single volume published at the end of the year. As a replacement for the quarterly publication, the ANS began to issue monographs, the first of which was Ernest Babelon’s Les médailles historiques du règne de Napoléon le Grand, empereur et roi (1912), an important work describing medals commemorating important events in the career of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In addition to the Journal, during the sixth decade of its existence, the Society also produced several other books, thereby beginning the long tradition of monographic publication that continues to this day. The ANS published Agnes Baldwin’s The Electrum Coinage of Lampsakos in 1914, which was immediately followed by Bauman L. Belden’s Medals and Publications of the American Numismatic Society with an Historical Sketch in the following year. In 1913 an attempt had been made to establish a series devoted to American numismatic subjects with the publication of the first volume of the American Numismatic Series. Nevertheless, while this work by Edgar H. Adams and William H. Woodin on United States Pattern, Trial and Experimental Pieces was recognized as an outstanding achievement and is still a key reference today, it also had the dubious honor of being the last book in the series. The experiment with a specifically American publication series was not resurrected until the 1980s when the ANS began to print the papers given at the annual Coinage of the Americas Conferences.

Theodore Roosevelt and U.S. Coinage Design

As we have seen in previous instalments, one of the abiding concerns of the ANS was the aesthetic improvement of United States coinage, which at the time was deemed by many to be unattractive, particularly by comparison with European coins. Although the Society’s efforts on this front in the 1890s came to little result, the American presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) created a favourable atmosphere for renewing the struggle. Roosevelt was himself a strong proponent of change to the appearance of the coinage and hoped for a redesign that would take into account the aesthetics of ancient Greek coins. Needless to say, the ANS could hardly have asked for a better ally in the crusade for an improved coinage. In 1905 Roosevelt needed little convincing to support Augustus St. Gaudens’ beautiful high relief designs for the $20 gold double-eagle and the $10 eagle coins as well as Bela L. Pratt’s intaglio designs for the $5 gold half-eagle and $2 1/2 quarter-eagle.

Ultra high relief, 1907, AU $20 (ANS 1980.109.2119, bequest of Arthur J. Fecht)

Heartened by the President’s improvements to the country’s gold coinage, in 1908 the ANS redoubled its efforts to press for the beautification of the fractional coinage as well. Archer F. Huntington appointed a committee composed of George F. Cunz, Thomas L. Elder, Daniel Parish Jr., Victor D. Brenner, Milo H. Gates, and Edward D. Adams to draw up a series of design resolutions to be sent to the President for his consideration. Although there is no record of the resolutions actually reaching Washington, in 1909 the Society’s campaign began to pay off when the Lincoln head cent, designed by Victor D. Brenner, was issued to commemorate the centennial of the former president’s birth. This victory was followed in 1913 by the release of James E. Fraser’s buffalo nickel design and in 1916 by the so-called “Mercury” head dime and standing Liberty quarter, designed by A.A. Weinman and Herman A. MacNeil, respectively. After years of hard work in conjunction with many other individuals and organizations the longstanding dream of the ANS finally came to fruition and a new era in United States coinage was begun.


With the move of the Society into its quarters at Audubon Terrace came a series of notable changes to the organization itself. The old name of “The American Numismatic and Archaeological Society” was permanently dropped in favor of the shorter and more appropriate “The American Numismatic Society” in 1907. This change required a redesign of the ANS seal, which was undertaken by Victor D. Brenner. The result of his work was the graceful oak sprig badge with PARVA NE PEREANT and THE AMERICAN NUMISMATIC SOCIETY that is still used by the Society to this day.

In addition to the name change, adjustments were also made to the organizational structure, which led to the formation of a new constitution in 1910. This revised document took into account the creation of six new committees (The Committee on Foreign Medals, the Committee on Oriental Coins, the Committee on Masonic Medals and Tokens, the Committee on Paper Money, the Committee on Library and the Committee on Building and Grounds) in 1907 to supplement the four (The Committee on American Medals, the Committee on American Coins, the Committee on Foreign Coins and Medals, and the Committee on Ancient Coins) already created in 1905. The new constitution also abolished the presidency and vice-presidency, thenceforth placing all governing authority in the hands of an elected council of fifteen members.

During this period the ANS greatly expanded its staff in order to ensure the smooth running of Society business in the new building. In 1909 the positions of Assistant Curator and Assistant Librarian were created along with the post of Director. The latter was filled by Bauman L. Belden for a salary of $2000 per year, while Agnes Baldwin became Assistant Curator for between $400 and $800. The post of Assistant Librarian was not filled until 1930. This long vacancy is explained by problems encountered in trying to retain a full-time Librarian to care for the Society’s holdings. In 1909 Lyman H. Low, upon retiring from his business, offered to take up the post for a salary of $3000, but this was much too expensive to consider. Later William R. Weeks offered to work evenings in the library in return for $1500, but this too was more than the Society could afford. Attempts to find a Librarian for an annual salary of $1000 ultimately failed and in 1912 the position was left vacant. It was only filled in 1915 when Sydney P. Noe accepted the appointment. In 1913, Howland Wood also filled out the compliment of the Society’s staff by becoming the new Curator.


In the decade between 1908 and 1918 the ANS was involved in a bewildering array of exhibits focusing on a wide variety of numismatic and non-numismatic subjects. Indeed, there were so many in this period that the Society’s records finally stopped paying much attention to them. Several, including exhibits of Indian Peace Medals and Bismarck medals are only known today through contemporary newspaper articles.

Among the more important exhibits was the International Exhibition of Medallic Art of 1909, which was hosted in a temporary stucco hall erected in the space between the ANS building and that of the Hispanic Society. Some 2400 medals by contemporary artists as well as a group of Renaissance medals loaned by J. Pierpont Morgan were placed on display and published in three catalogues. The great success of the exhibition can be gauged by the fact that by the time it closed on April 1st, a total of 5,547 people had visited the show. At its conclusion, the ANS named the well-known Belgian sculptor, Godefroid Devreese as Commemorative Medallist for 1910 and commissioned him to design a bronze medal for the exhibition.

View of exterior of the American Numismatic Society joined to the Hispanic Society of America

Following the closure of the International Exhibition, loaned items were returned to their respective owners, but foreign medals that had been purchased by the Society were required to be shipped out of the country and reimported in order to comply with U.S. customs regulations. These purchased items, as well as some returning English pieces, had the misfortune of being shipped aboard the S.S. Minnehaha, which sank off the coast of the Scilly Islands on April 18, 1910. Luckily, the medals were insured, allowing the ANS to reimburse the English exhibitors and to replace its own lost medals.

In 1911 the ANS and the Hispanic Society hosted an exhibit of sculptures by Prince Paul Troubetzkoy that drew some 23,665 visitors and was so well received that it went on to be shown at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. The following year saw the Society return to its more traditional interests when it presented a display of private gold coins produced in California, Oregon, Utah and Colorado, as well as a show of the medals, plaques and drawings of Giovanni Cariati, a promising young medallist who had already had his work displayed at the Esposizione “Pro Museo Segantini,” Galleria Grubicy, Paris, and the Salon in 1906.

At the same time that the final preparations were underway for the display of Cariati’s work in 1912, George F. Cunz, the president of the American Historic and Historic Preservation Society, approached the Society about organizing a special exhibit of medals and other objects related to Joan of Arc to coincide with the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Maid of Orleans in 1913. Also in connection with the quincentennial celebrations, the American sculptress, Anna Vaughn Hyatt, who would later become Mrs. Archer M. Huntington, produced an equestrian statue of St. Joan leading the charge that was erected in New York City at Riverside Drive and 93rd Street. Its pedestal, made from stone taken from the dungeon in which Joan of Arc was imprisoned, was purchased and shipped from France by J. Sanford Saltus, John W. Alexander and George F. Cunz.

In 1914 the ANS also presented three separate exhibits devoted to United States and Colonial coins, Mexican coins, and paper money. These were quickly followed by displays of Indian Peace Medals and medals relating to Otto von Bismarck, the founder of a united Germany, in 1915.


Despite the earlier failure of the School for Coin and Medal Designing and Die Cutting, in the sixth decade of its existence the American Numismatic Society continued to express a keen interest in the production of medals and the general promotion of the medallic arts. In 1906 Victor D. Brenner was commissioned to design a medal to commemorate the return to America of the remains of John Paul Jones, the famous naval commander of the American Revolution. He had died and was buried in Paris in 1792, but as a sign of goodwill, in 1905, the French government had his body disinterred and sent home to the United States. The medal created to honor the returning hero featured his portrait on the obverse with the inscription JOHN PAUL JONES / .1749.1792. and the reverse allegory of Fame blowing a trumpet and proclaiming, AMERICA CLAIMS HER ILLVSTRIOVS DEAD, while the funeral cortege appears in the background. Two hundred copies in bronze, one hundred in silver and a single specimen in gold were struck. The latter ended up in the collection of J.P. Morgan and was probably struck for him in the first place. The silver pieces sold for $10 and the bronze for $8.

1906, AE, John Paul Jones Medallion by V.D. Brenner, (ANS 0000.999.5954) 80x60mm

Around the same time that the John Paul Jones medal was being produced plans were afoot for issuing a medal to commemorate Sir Francis Drake, the legendary privateer who became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe in 1579. This medal, designed by Rudolf Marshall, Royal Medallist to the Court of Austria, had originally been intended to appear in 1905, but concerns for historical accuracy caused delay and the piece was not issued until 1907. The obverse depicts a portrait of Drake based on a painting done from life by Abraham Janssens with the inscription: SIR FRANCIS DRAKE 1540-1596, while the reverse is a facsimile of a medallic silver map of the world that Drake commissioned after his return, apparently so that he could show to the curious where his ship had sailed. One of four known examples of this original map is in the ANS collection and currently on display in the “Drachmas, Doubloons, and Dollars” exhibit at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. One gold specimen and one hundred each in silver and bronze were issued of Marshall’s commemorative medal.

At the Fiftieth Anniversary Meeting in 1908, Archer F. Huntington again exhibited his generosity towards the Society by cancelling a loan of $25,000 and converting it into gift, thereby freeing the ANS from all debts. This benefaction, only the most recent of many, led George F. Cunz to recommend the striking of a special medal in his honor. This suggestion was unanimously adopted and initially Victor D. Brenner had prepared a design featuring Huntington’s portrait on the obverse and the Society’s building at Audobon Terrace on the reverse, but ultimately the ANS Medal Committee preferred to hire the popular English medallist, Emil Fuchs, for the job. Subscriptions totalling $1,094.73 were raised by the membership to defray the costs of producing one gold specimen for presentation to the honorand, eleven in silver to be given as awards to outstanding numismatists and bronzes offered for sale to the public. The medal’s obverse shows two male figures flanking a coin press with a third man examining a coin through a magnifying glass with the inscription: ARCHER MILTON HUNTINGTON MEDAL. The reverse depicts a female figure holding a scroll bearing an image of the new building and the words IN / COMMEMORATION / OF THE / FIFTIETH / ANNIVERSARY / OF THE / AMERICAN / NUMISMATIC SOCIETY.

1908, AR, Archer M. Huntington Medal, by Emil Fuchs, (ANS 0000.999.4316) 65 mm

In 1909, the Society participated in the double celebration of the tricentennial anniversary of the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson and the centennial of the first use of steam navigation on that river by Robert Fulton. By agreement between the ANS and the Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission, Emil Fuchs was chosen to design the medal which had official status and carried the insignia of both organizations. The obverse depicts Henry Hudson and a group of crewmen aboard his ship, the Half Moon, with the inscription: DISCOVERY OF HUDSON RIVER BY HENRY HUDSON A.D. MDCIX. A panel at the bottom shows the ship bearing its Dutch name HALVE MAENE. Fuchs agonized over the proper seventeenth century spelling of the ship’s name, not knowing whether Halve Maen or Halve Maene was correct. The dies were sunk with the latter spelling, but just as they were about to strike the first medals, papers were sent from Holland in which the former spelling was used. Deeply concerned for historical accuracy, Fuchs immediately suspended production and cabled a Dutch expert for an authoritative opinion on the spelling. Halve Maene was confirmed to be correct for the period and Fuchs was at last able to go ahead with striking. The reverse of the medal shows three allegorical figures holding Fulton’s ship, the Clermont, with a portrait of the captain. Two gold and one hundred silver pieces were struck for the ANS while the Commission issued specimens in virgin Alaskan gold for foreign dignitaries participating in the celebration as well as examples in silver, silver plated hard metal, bronze and aluminum for other participants and for public sale.

Detail of Hudson Medal (ANS 0000.999.4357)

1909, AV, Henry Hudson Medal, by Emil Fuchs (ANS 0000.999.4357), 76mm

The year of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was exceptionally busy for the ANS Committee on Publication of Medals because at the same time that it was overseeing the production of the Hudson-Fulton medal it also undertook work on a plaquette to honor the recently deceased President Grover Cleveland as well as a medal to commemorate the centennial of the establishment of the Archdiocese of New York. Both medals were designed by Jules Edouard Roiné, a well-known medallist and Society member. Two specimens of the Grover Cleveland plaquette were struck in gold, fifty in silver with serial numbers, and one hundred in bronze. The obverse showed the President seated while the reverse depicted the allegorical figure of Democracy looking up at the inscription: PVBLIC. OFFICE / A. PVBLIC. TRVST, words taken from Cleveland’s address of October 25, 1881, when he took up office as Mayor of the City of Buffalo. In 1914 further casts of this plaque were made for displays at the entrance to Cleveland Road in Tamworth, New Hampshire, the Grover Cleveland Home at Caldwell, New Jersey, and a new high school in Cranford, New Jersey.

The medal for the Archdiocese carried an obverse portrait of the presiding Archbishop Farley with busts of his seven predecessors around the circumference, while a representation of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese. One example of this medal was stuck in gold and presented to Pope Pius X. One hundred and one numbered examples in silver and bronze were struck for the ANS with the first of each series given to Archbishop Farley. Other unnumbered medals were later produced from the dies by the Roman Catholic authorities of the City of New York.

Almost as soon as these projects were completed, Roiné was also hired to produce a plaque to commemorate the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. This uniface piece depicted the Great Emancipator signing the proclamation freeing the slaves while the allegorical figure of Fame crowns him with a laurel wreath. Two specimens were issued in gold, seventy-five in silver and one hundred in bronze. An impressive large copy of this work is the ANS collection.

As if the Society had not already fulfilled its quota of new medals for the year, 1909 also saw the production of a medal by Bela L. Pratt to commemorate the opening of the New Theatre of New York. On the obverse a seated nude female figure holds a mirror, while the reverse depicts nude children drawing stage curtains to reveal a standing female figure holding a tablet. This piece was not of especially broad interest at the time and only one example was struck in gold for the proprietor of the theatre. Fifty each in silver and bronze were issued for subscribers.

In 1910, the ANS commissioned a new membership medal by the famous American sculptor and medallist, Gutzon Borglum, as well as a medal to commemorate the career of the pioneering French numismatist, Ernest Babelon. The latter was issued jointly with the Société Hollandaise-Belge des Amis de la Médaille d’Art and featured an obverse portrait of Babelon designed by Godefroid Devreese. The reverse, showing the Greek goddess Athena, was designed by Rudolf Bosselt of Dusseldorf.

When John Pierpont Morgan died in 1913, the Society honoured the memory of the man who had been so generous in lending his incredible collections for exhibits by issuing a medal designed by Emil Fuchs. This piece depicts an allegorical figure of Art on the obverse flanked by scenes of sculptors and painters, while the reverse shows a tablet naming JOHN PIERPONT MORGAN flanked by the figures of Fame and Industry. The great respect of the ANS membership for the deceased industrialist and philanthropist is shown by the fact that out of one hundred silver and two hundred bronze specimens struck for sale, only thirty-two bronzes still remained by January of 1914.

1913, AE, John Pierpoint Morgan Medallion by Emil Fuchs, (ANS 0000.999.4395), 89x74mm

An Expanding Collection

The sixth decade of the Society was not only a period of phenomenal medallic production, but it was also a time when the collections were greatly expanded by various gifts and donations. Slightly earlier, in 1905, Charles Gregory gave his collection of 1,411 Far Eastern coins, which included many rare Chinese, Japanese, and Siamese (Thai) coins. In 1906, Samuel H. Valentine, a brother of the Herbert Valentine who had served as ANS Curator of Archaeology and Librarian in the 1890s, donated some 2,880 U.S. coins and political pieces. These gifts, as impressive as they were, served to herald even greater things to come.

In 1908, Daniel Parish, Jr. expanded the collections with the addition of his collection of 3,541 coins and medals of modern Europe, estimated to be worth about $50,000. Later, he also added some 145 Greek and Roman coins.

One year after this, J.P. Morgan transferred his fabulous collection of 410 gold, 357 silver, and many bronze United States coins from the American Museum of Natural History to the vaults of the American Numismatic Society. Six years later, the ANS further benefited from this man’s wide reaching numismatic interests when it received an array of Greek, Roman and modern coins and medals on indefinite loan from the Morgan Library. The star in this group was an extremely rare Athenian decadrachm that is now on display at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. All of the Etruscan pieces, as well as a set of Roman aes grave and five Roman bronze medallions were purchased outright for the permanent collections.

When Isaac Greenwood was honored as the oldest living member of the ANS in 1911, he gave his thanks by presenting the Society with his collection of 3,139 specimens of modern United States, European, and Oriental coins and medals.

In addition to his other benefactions to the Society, Archer M. Huntington also added to the collections during the period 1908-1918. In 1909 he presented 1,160 medals struck at the French mint and in 1910, he and J. Sanford Saltus acquired and donated the 260 pieces in the George W. Devinny Collection of Decorations and War Medals. Three years later, the two men again joined forces to bring the Higgins Collection of 1,567 medals relating to the French Revolution of 1848 into the Society’s vaults. Further cooperation between Huntington and Saltus, with the added assistance of William B. Osgood Field, Edward T. Newell and Henry A. Ramsden, led to the acquisition of the excellent Lo Collection of Chinese coins. In 1914, Huntington also acquired and donated the Bryant Collection of 4,431 pieces of American paper money. This same year was also notable for the donation of a thirty-one pound eight thaler piece of the Swedish king, Charles X Gustavus, dated 1650, by Emerson McMillan.

J. Sanford Saltus, who became Second Vice-President in 1907, had earlier improved the Society’s holdings by donating an almost complete set of U.S. half-cents and a group of Indian Peace Medals. For the Joan of Arc exhibition in 1912, he presented the ANS with 221 medals related to the Maid of Orleans, and during the war years of 1914-1918 he filled the Society’s collections of military decorations with hundreds of new additions. However, his most famous donation to the ANS must surely be the fabled Confederate half-dollar, which remains a prize of the collection to this day and can presently be seen in the same exhibit as Morgan’s decadrachm.

The Great War

Although the United States did not officially enter the First World War until April 6, 1917, the outbreak of fighting in Europe three years earlier led to heightened patriotism in America as well as an increased interest in the combatant countries and militaria in general. In response to the new interests of the public, the ANS presented a wide variety of topical exhibits, including displays of medals commemorating Otto von Bismarck, military decorations of various nations, and coins of the United States and colonial America.

Before 1917 the ANS membership was largely untouched by events in Europe, with the notable exception of Mr. and Mrs. Huntington, who were detained by the German authorities at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. They were thoroughly searched and briefly suspected of espionage when several maps were found among their belongings, but they were soon released.

Unfortunately, once Woodrow Wilson and Congress issued a declaration of war, the polite and relatively non-partisan interest in the European conflict and the nations that it was devouring soon gave way to jingoism and war hysteria, even among the members of the ANS. In 1917 it was suggested that the constitution of the Society should be amended to state that, “Only native born citizens of the United States shall be eligible to the Council.” To the credit of the Council, it did not take immediate action on this suggestion, but held it over until the Annual Meeting of 1918, at which time it was presented for discussion. The issue was to be resolved by a vote in 1919, but by then the Peace of Versailles had been signed and the point moot.

As the war drew to a close, Bauman L. Belden attempted to convince the rest of the Council to strike all German and Austrian subjects from the membership rolls of the Society, but his colleagues again refused to be rushed into precipitous action. Instead they formed a committee to study the problem and to discover whether such exclusionary measures had been taken by other learned societies. When Belden pressed the proposal again in June of 1918 it was immediately defeated for lack of anyone to second it.

During the years of 1917-1918 the business of the ANS was hampered not only by coal rationing, but also by the fact that many members, including Edward T. Newell, who was elected President in 1916, and the Librarian, Sydney P. Noe, were called to the colors. Members like Stephen H.P. Pell received the Croix de Guerre for wounds incurred on the field of battle and A. Piatt Andrew distinguished himself in the ambulance corps.

The ANS celebrated the return of peace to the world at large in the way it knew best, with the striking of a commemorative medal in 1919 using the design of the American sculptor, Chester A. Beach. However, like the nations who had fought in the Great War, as the Gilded Age gave way to the Roaring Twenties, the American Numismatic Society also found itself forced to confront some of the ghosts of its past.

Dedication of the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Library

by Francis D. Campbell

On December 2, the ANS dedicated the new Library at 140 William Street to the memory of Harry W. Bass, Jr., former President and Councilor of the ANS. In the presence of over 80 people, Doris Bass, the widow of Harry Bass and President of the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation, cut the ribbon to open the new library, which occupies the fifth and sixth floors of the new building. On behalf of the Harry W. Bass. Jr. Foundation she also presented a check for $400,000, which brought the amount contributed to the ANS, by the Bass Foundation, to over $4,000,000. The entire building and its library will open to the public in June, once the renovation process and move of the massive ANS collections have been completed.

Doris Bass with her sons Michael Calhoun (l.) and David Calhoun (r.) in front of the library plaque in memory of Harry W. Bass

Harry W. Bass

ANS Librarian Francis D. Campbell delivered the following address:

When Harry Bass passed away, the ANS Library had almost completed another of the many projects that he guided and funded through his Foundation. That project was the digitization of the card catalogue. I wish he could have seen it completed because it so much represented Harry’s philosophy. He knew that information was of little value unless people had ready access to it and he knew that great libraries were of limited use if the population at large could not determine their holdings. And so, he initiated the process that ultimately displayed the holdings of this great library to anyone on the planet who had access to a computer. And he certainly understood the power of the computer. So, in naming this Library, there is no more appropriate name than The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Library. It is important that those who access it remotely or walk through its doors to look up references they have found via their computers, know who it was that made it all possible.

But Harry did much more for this Library. In 1968, he became a member of the Standing Committee on the Library, becoming its Chairman in 1980, a position that he held until his passing. During the 60’s and 70’s, he provided much support for the library’s binding program. In 1971, he established the Bass Library Fund, which has become the major library fund. During the same year, he funded the renovation of one of the library’s reading areas, which was afterward informally named the “Bass Room.” In the years prior to 1978, when he became the Society’s President, he had placed the library on a sound financial footing. After he assumed the presidency, he focused on enhancing the quality of library operations by funding expansion of computerization to include library applications. He also funded the installation of moveable shelving in the West Room of the Library.

When Harry relinquished the presidency of the Society in 1984, he began a new phase in his support of the library. Still a member of the Society’s governing Council, he now focused on building the library’s endowment, funding purchases of rare materials, and the completion of library computerization. He began his support of special acquisitions in 1990, with a sizable donation toward the purchase of items from the library of John W. Adams. At the George Kolbe sale of December 8, 1991, Harry, along with several other donors, contributed to the purchase of the New Netherlands Coin Company Archives. Beginning in November, 1994, the firm of Bowers and Merena commenced the auction of the legendary Armand Champa library, which was sold at four separate sales, the last occurring in November of 1995. I knew about some of the rarities to be offered and also knew that attempting to purchase only one or two would considerably deplete my library budget. Harry knew this as well, so he called me prior to the first sale and once again offered to help, pointing out that these sales would offer items that appear “once in a lifetime.” Through Harry’s generosity, more than 100 of these items are now in the American Numismatic Society Library. To mention just a few, the library acquired Raphael Thian’s “Register of issues of Confederate States Treasury Notes,” the personal diary of Joseph J. Mickley, several manuscripts by Walter Breen, and a number of rare counterfeit detectors and auction catalogs.

During the last years of his life, despite the fact that he was very much involved with other projects initiated by the Harry Bass Research Foundation and despite the fact that his health was failing, Harry still spent a good deal of time supporting computerization of the ANS library’s operations. I spoke with him for the last time a week before he passed away and found him still offering words of encouragement. He was a true friend and an extraordinary individual.

Harry gave not only financial support, but also gave of himself, taking time to get to know people. In 1970, when I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association Convention, which that year was held in Dallas, Harry extended a warm invitation to visit his home and inspect his library. He called his library the “Sanctum Sanctorum,” and it was quite a treat to be given a personal tour by Harry himself. In 1975, when Geoffrey North retired and I became Librarian Harry wrote to me expressing his confidence in me and indicating he would be available to provide “whatever assistance” he might in the years that lie ahead. He certainly delivered on that promise.

Now, if Harry were here today, he would no doubt be pleased with this tribute, but I know he would also say to me, “All this is fine, Frank, but you haven’t said a word about the future. The past is past, Frank.” So, I am sure he would be happy to know that we are planning to barcode the library collection and have already enlisted the consultant services of Wayne Hill of Anna, Texas to prepare our existing database to receive barcodes. And, oh yes, it was Harry W. Bass, Jr. who originally introduced us to W. L. Hill Consultants. Harry would also be happy to know that we will be developing a proper Online Catalogue on a new software platform and that we are preparing the first of what we hope will be many facsimiles of rarities in the collection. The first of the facimilies will be funded by Library Committee member, Dan Hamelberg. And, Harry would be more than pleased to know that we are well along, thanks to the efforts of the Library Committee and its Chairman, John W. Adams, with raising the funds to endow a Chair for the Society’s Librarian. Strong support for this endeavor has already come from The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Foundation. I would like to thank Foundation Trustees, Doris L. Bass, Michael L. Calhoun and Executive Director, F. David Calhoun, who are with us today and J. Michael Wylie, who could not attend. I am especially grateful to Doris Bass, Harry’s widow, for her continuing support as the Foundations’ President.

As you look around this building today you will see a work in progress. When I look at some areas of the new Library I think of a garden in which the seeds have been planted and are waiting to sprout. Thanks to the Bass Foundation and many others in this audience they will sprout and with some watering along the way by all those who care about this Library, they will flourish. Thank you all for being here.

From left to right: Michael Calhoun, Donald Partrick, David Calhoun, Doris Bass and Ute Wartenberg Kagan at the luncheon after the Library Dedication on December 2.

ANS Opens Olympic Heritage Exhibition

by Pamela Plummer-Wright

On October 15, 2003, the ANS opened a new exhibition entitled Full Circle: The Olympic Heritage in Coins and Medals. This extraordinary exhibit celebrates the return of the Summer Olympics to Greece and was co-sponsored by the Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation.

Full Circle: The Olympic Heritage in Coins and Medals

Mr. Jamie Stewart, First Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of New York graciously opened the exhibit and was accompanied by Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Executive Director of the Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation USA, (co-sponsors of the exhibition) and Mr. Donald Partrick, President American Numismatic Society. Also in attendance were His Excellency & Mrs. Adamandios Vassilakis Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, Ambassador Michael Sotirhos, Vice President, of the Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, The Honorable Martha Mavrommatis, Consul General Of Cyprus and His Excellency & Mrs. Andrew Jacovides.

Objects from the exhibit

The exhibition offers a full range of remarkable Olympic material, artifacts from the ancient Games, including coins, vases and athletic equipment. From the modern games, visitors will be able to see a set of the winner’s medal. Also shown is a host of other material relating to the modern Games, such as poster, pins, and the first Olympic torch (from the 1936 Games). All these artifacts provide a succinct overview of the Olympic movement, both ancient and modern, as the Summer Games return to Greece in 2004. The exhibit runs for one year, until October 2004 and may be seen at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 33 Liberty Street.

Mr. Jonathan Kagan, Mr. Donald Partrick, and Dr. Jay Galst

Dr. Peter van Alfen, Dr. Elena Stolyarik, and Mr. Robert Hoge

Ambassador Michael Sotirhos and Mr. Arthur Houghton, former President ANS

Mr. Harmer Johnson and Dr. Ute Wartenburg Kagan

Mr. Theodore Prounis, Ambassador Loucas Silas, Pamala Wright, Mrs. Lila Prounis, Ambassador Michael Sotirhos

Mr. David Tripp, Rosemary Lazenby and Susan Tripp

Full Circle: The Olympic Heritage in Coins and Medals

by Peter van Alfen

In the summer of 2004, the Olympic Games return to Athens, Greece, where the first modern, international Olympics were held in 1896, 1,500 years after their ancient namesake had faded from view. Significantly, it is the land that nourished both the birth and rebirth of the Olympic festival that welcomes the first summer Games of the 21st century, a new era in the history of the spectacle. To mark this historic event, the ANS has opened a new exhibit entitled Full Circle: The Olympic Heritage in Coins and Medals. The exhibit is on display at the Federal Reserve Bank in Lower Manhattan and will remain open through the Athens Summer Games, closing on October 1, 2004. Thanks to some extraordinary loans from ANS Members and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition features a full range of Olympic coins, medals, ancient sports equipment and modern memorabilia, all of which will be discussed more fully in our upcoming exhibition catalogue. All these artifacts provide a unique and timely overview of the Olympic movement, and help to elucidate the origins of the spectacle, both in its ancient form and its modern reincarnation.

(1896.HJ.01) 1896 first place winner’s medal, silver, by Jules-Clément Chaplain. View of the Athenian acropolis (Harmer Johnson collection).

The Full Circle

“And far shines that fame of the Olympic festivals won in the racecourses of Pelops, where competition is held for swiftness of feet and boldly laboring acts of strength. And for the remainder of his life, because of the Games, the victor enjoys a rest as sweet as honey” (Oly. I.94-8, trans. Race). Pindar, the famed poet, composed these lyrics in an ode celebrating an Olympic victory nearly 25 centuries ago. His words are as fresh today as they were when he wrote them. But a hundred years or so ago, only Classicists and school boys studying Greek would have been fully attuned to the implications of what Pindar was saying. At the end of the 19th century, the Olympics Games were mostly unknown, simply part of a long-dead ancient Greek festival. The fact that the Olympics today is a such renowned, world-wide phenomenon is due primarily to the efforts of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who announced in 1892 the ambitious idea to revive a festival that had not been celebrated for a millennium and a half. Coubertin’s efforts were clearly successful, but in retrospect it took decades before the idea fully caught the world’s attention. And although he called it the “Olympics” the spectacle that Coubertin bestowed upon the modern age was considerably different from its ancient predecessor.

The Birth Of The Olympics

This is clear enough when we consider for a moment the circumstances of Pindar’s ode written in the 5th century BC: the victor Pindar celebrated was Hieron, the tyrant of Syracuse, who was the owner, but not the jockey, of the steed that won the Olympic horse race in 476 BC. As was common for a wealthy victor, Hieron hired a poet to compose a song for a chorus that would sing his praises. This tradition may have already been centuries old by the time the chorus raised its collective voice for Hieron; already in 476 the Games were celebrating their 300th anniversary. The Greeks of Pindar’s generation believed the date for the first Olympic Games was 776 BC; some claimed that the great hero-god Herakles (Hercules in Latin) was the founder. These first “Games,” however, were according to tradition nothing more than a single foot race along the Alpheios River near the sanctuary for the god Zeus at Olympia. In fact, this footrace which was to become the Olympics was a sideshow in the festival honoring Zeus, the King of the Gods. Like at all such festivals in antiquity, in addition to the animal sacrifices and subsequent banquets, there were numerous diversions, such as dances, songs, stories and athletic displays, all for the entertainment of the festival-goers and the attendant gods. The foot race that began so humbly in 776 had become by Pindar’s day an extended, multi-day sporting contest and the major attraction of the festival honoring Zeus Olympios.

Stater of Olympia, with Zeus’ bird, the eagle, in flight on the obverse; Nike, the goddess of victory, on the reverse (ANS 1969.30.21, gift of B.Y. Berry).

As time wore on, more athletic events were added to the program. The week-long Olympic Games in the 5th century generally opened with the most pompous, splendid and dangerous event: the chariot race. Immediately following the chariot race, single horses were raced along the same course with the jockeys riding bareback without stirrups. Both of these equestrian events were a way for wealthy people to participate in the Games without undergoing the training and ordeals of a typical athlete; because of the expense of raising and training horses the equestrian events were the sport of only the most well-off contestants. And since the charioteers and jockeys were mere hirelings, the owner of the horses was always considered the victor. In the Classical period it was only through this indirect participation that women were allowed to take part in the Games, since as a rule they were otherwise barred from competing in and even watching the Olympic Games (there was, however, a sequestered 160m sprint for girls in honor of Zeus’ consort, Hera). A few women sponsored chariots to compete on their behalf, as did Kyniska, the daughter of King Aigisilaos of Sparta, a two-time Olympic victor in 396 and 392 BC, and thereby achieved a distinction generally reserved for men.

(ANS 1967.152.465): Obverse of a tetradrachm of the island of Cos, c. 450 BC. Discus thrower arched over tripod. From the 8th century BC onwards, tripods were often awarded to victors at Panhellenic athletic contests.

The events of the festival continued with the pentathlon, which included discus and javelin throwing, a standing long jump, running and wrestling, although if one person won the first three contests, he was simply declared the overall winner without having to do the others. The running events of the first Olympic Games were expanded beyond the stadium race of around 200 meters to include a double stadium of 400 meters and the long distance run of 24 stadia or about 4800 meters. The body contact sports, like wrestling and boxing, were rather gruesome, and at times even lethal, in part because the contestants followed only a few rules and wore only simple protection for their hands. The pankration, a vicious form of wrestling with only one rule—no eye-gouging—was a contest still more bloody than boxing. None of these contact events had rounds or weight classes; the fight continued until one person dropped. Of course, at times, an opponent might be beaten to death, but anyone who killed his challenger was banished from the stadium for the rest of the Games. The last event was the 400-meter race in armor, with contestants carrying a shield and wearing a helmet and greaves. This was the one non-equestrian contest where the participants were at least partly clothed, as almost every other event took place in the nude.

The ‘Discus-Thrower’ or ‘Diskobolos’ by the Athenian sculptor Myron, ca. 450 BC. One of the most famous and copied statues ever made, particularly in Olympics-related art. The motif of the Discus-Thrower was heavily used in media relating to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics especially.

While these events formed the traditional program, from time to time new events would be introduced and eventually dropped, as sometimes happens today. One such short-lived event was the mule car race, introduced in the Games of 500 BC and discontinued a few decades later. Neither as dignified nor as exciting as the chariot race, the event was still expensive and limited to elites. One victor, Anaxilas, the tyrant of Rhegion, commemorated his win in the Games of 484 BC by issuing a coin depicting the mule car and driver.

Tetradrachm of Messana in Sicily, c. 400 BC. Anaxilas, the tyrant of Messana and Rhegion, first issued this type of coin to commemorate his mule-car victory in either 484 or 480 BC (ANS 1997.9.8, John D. Leggett, Jr. bequest).

Part of Coubertin’s idealization of the ancient Games stemmed from their Panhellenism, meaning they were open to contestants from any of the Greek city-states (poleis) around the central and eastern Mediterranean. In the Age of Nations, Coubertin translated this Panhellenism into Pan-Nationalism; Coubertin also hoped that, as was the case in antiquity, temporary truces would be enacted between warring poleis/nations so all could compete in peace, a dream that is still pursued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today. Panhellenic and local games in general multiplied in the 6th century BC, as various regional and city festivals honoring patron deities began to attract participants from all over the Greek-speaking world, and began to add athletic contests to their own festival programs. At Athens, for example, games were added around 566 BC to the Greater Panathenaia, a festival honoring Athena, the city’s patron deity. Some of these local contests attracted greater esteem than others; by the end of 6th century four Panhellenic Games were considered the most prestigious: the Isthmian Games honoring Poseidon, the Nemean Games for Zeus, the Pythian Games at Delphi for Apollo and, still the pinnacle of all the Panhellenic competitions, the Olympic Games at Olympia. The circuit for the “big four” was so arranged that one set of Games took place every year; on this cycle an Olympiad was every four years, a cycle replicated today.

When victory was declared, the greatest prize an Olympic winner could take away from the Games was kleos, the fame that attended his name for generations afterwards, and sometimes was immortalized in the words of paid poets like Pindar. But tangible symbolic prizes were given as well: at Olympia the prize was a crown of sacred olive leaves; at the Pythian Games, a crown of laurel leaves; at the Nemean Games, a crown of wild celery; and at the Isthmian Games, pine branches. By contrast, at lesser Games—like the Panathenaic Games in Athens—the cities offered cash prizes or other valuables (perhaps in order to attract “big-name” contestants). Competitors at Athens, for example, won both money and large so-called Panathenaic vases filled with oil made from the olives in Athena’s sacred grove. For the first modern Games, Coubertin’s desire was to follow the example of those at Olympia, Nemea, Isthmia and Delphi, by awarding the winners simple wreaths and diplomas. But in addition, following modern practice, winners were also awarded a victory medal, an object unknown in antiquity.

The ancient Games continued uninterrupted for a thousand years. But as Christianity began to spread across the Mediterranean in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, pagan festivals like the Olympics lost their charm. Whether by edict, like that of Theodosius I in 393 ordering all pagan cults and centers closed, or simply a lack of interest, the Games faded away.

The Olympics Reborn

Coubertin’s push to breath new life into the Olympics—15 centuries later—was due partly to his desire to invigorate the young men of France with a healthy dose of athletic exercise and competition, which was all but lacking in their curriculum. Inspired in part by the role that sports played in British and American education, Coubertin spent time in both England and the United States touring schools and attending sport matches. He was convinced that such competitions encouraged “clean living, courageous actions, physical proficiency, mental agility, and good sportsmanship” (Weyland 1952: 3). Around this time, the German-led archaeological excavations at the site of Olympia in Greece aroused considerable interest in the ancient Games in educated circles; Coubertin hit upon the idea of a cultural, religious, and athletic festival of such spectacular proportions that it would stimulate the youth, not only of France but of all the world, to higher ideals. In 1894, he announced in Paris that the first modern, International Olympiad would commence in two years.

The Baron’s tenacity in promoting his project saw success in Athens in 1896, when the first international Olympic Games to be held in Greece since the 4th century AD opened to great local fanfare (although few others in the world paid attention!). Despite this initial success, it took several decades before the Olympic Movement spread across the globe and the Games settled into a familiar and accepted routine. In fact, the period between 1896 and 1936 was the most crucial for the establishment of the modern IOC Olympic tradition; for this reason this period is the primary focus of our exhibit. While the Athenian Games of 1896 were the first international Olympics to be held in the modern era, it was in fact the Games of 1936, the so-called “Nazi Olympics” held in Berlin, that have, for better or worse, rightly been styled the first truly modern Olympics. It was the Berlin Games that reached for the first time the levels of outlandish opulence that we have come to expect from the spectacle. Moreover, the 1936 Games were the first to be broadcast on a primitive form of television, an indispensable component of the Games of recent years.

Olympiad I, Athens, 1896

The efforts to draw international attention to the revived Olympics were largely ignored: representatives from only fourteen nations participated in the first Athenian Games. There were no national teams at this time and those who participated did so either as members of a collegiate or athletic club team, or as private individuals. Despite the lukewarm response from the international community, the enthusiasm of the Greek hosts ensured that the Games were a remarkable success. Relying primarily upon a series of commemorative stamps and the goodwill of philanthropists, like the Alexandrian merchant Georgios Averoff who financed the rebuilding of the 4th-century BC Panathenaic stadium of Lykurgos in downtown Athens, the financially-strapped Greeks were able to secure the funds necessary to inaugurate the Olympic spectacle in a way worthy of Coubertin’s vision. King George I of Greece presided over the opening and closing ceremonies and presented the prizes to the victors: an olive branch, diplomas, and silver medals. The athletes from the US, most from Princeton and Harvard universities and the Boston Athletic Association, took nine first places and five second, far more than any other country. This overall US victory was to set a trend for decades to come. But the hero of the 1896 Games was Spiridon Louis, who won the marathon, the only Greek victory, to the excited cheers of his countrymen.

Special-issue 1 drachma stamp depicting both the Athenian acropolis and the rebuilt 4th century BC stadium of Lykurgos where the 1896 Olympics were held.

Olympiad II, Paris, 1900

The success of 1896 inspired the Greeks to lobby vehemently for the Games to stay permanently in Athens. But this was not the desire of Coubertin, who wanted a changing venue with every Olympiad. War in Greece quieted the demands from Athens and the Games for the second Olympiad went to the Baron’s home city of Paris. The French Games, however, were destined to be the most miserable of all the modern Olympics, notable only for the first appearance of women in the Games. Consumed by their preparations for the Exposition Universelle Internationale, the Paris World’s Fair that was to take place in 1900, the officials of the Fair were indifferent to the Games and thought to use them as entertainment scattered among the various exhibits of new art and technology; in fact, the program included such “Olympic” events as checkers, leapfrog, fire-fighting and life-saving. Pressure from Coubertin changed this—at least for the track and field events—and a separate schedule and venue, in the Bois de Boulogne, was obtained. But preparations for the Games did not start until the 11th hour, and little information was sent overseas. As a result, only 13 nations participated on a poorly laid-out field, where the athletes outnumbered the spectators. Missing too was the grand procession and ceremonies of 1896. It was also in Paris that the Olympic ideal of harmonious competition was challenged for the first time when the French insisted on holding finals on a Sunday. University regulations made it impossible for many of the US athletes to compete on the Christian Sabbath, thus many lost their standing in the Games. By the second Olympiad, the idea of the modern Olympics already seemed doomed to obscurity.

1900 winner’s plaque for firemen and fire-engine competition, silvered bronze, by Frederic C.V. de Vernon. Victorious athlete/angel scattering laurel branches over Paris (The Lighthouse collection).

Olympiad III, St. Louis, 1904

Coubertin’s idea somehow survived Paris, only to have its resolve tested again in St. Louis. As in Paris, the Games were relegated to side-show status at a World’s Fair—this time, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Unlike the French, the US officials were more organized in their preparations, but were perhaps too methodical and stale in their approach, so much so that Coubertin was overly disappointed and did not attend. There were no elaborate opening ceremonies for the Games, and while Alice Roosevelt, the president’s daughter, was on hand to pass out the winners’ medals, the whole affair was more business-like than Olympian. The 94 events were spread over four and a half months, and many were simply lost in the chaos of the Fair. European participation was also negligible. In fact, France and England to all purposes boycotted, leaving a meager eight nations and the US to compete.

Cover of a daily program from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (The Lighthouse collection).

Athens, 1906

The Games in Paris and St. Louis had drained out of Coubertin’s Olympic Movement its solemnity and symbolism; both sets of Games were merely another series of international competitions. Already it was time for a fresh start. In the years that had passed since the 1896 Games, the Greek yearning to have the Games remain in Athens had not abated. Coubertin proposed holding quadrennial Games in Athens in the intervals between the Olympiads, and suggested commencing the cycle in 1906, but political unrest in Greece in 1910 forced the idea to be abandoned forever. Nevertheless, the unofficial Games of 1906 rejuvenated the flagging Olympic spirit, attracting as many participants as there were in the Games ten years before. The pageantry of the Olympic Games was also restored, again by the efforts of the Greek king and crown prince. King Edward VII of England and a handful of lesser European dignitaries also attended and paraded with the Greek royals, cinching international attention. Despite the fact that these Games were in retrospect never recognized as officially Olympic by the IOC, the American Olympic Committee took pains to solicit nation-wide contributions to send a selected US team to Athens. This was the first team to a wear a distinctive uniform, one with the US flag emblazoned on the chest.

Reverse of souvenir medal from the 1906 Games depicting the Olympic stadium in Athens (The Lighthouse collection).

Olympiad IV, London, 1908

With Coubertin’s vision once again on track, following a second joyous success in Athens, all seemed to bode well for London in 1908. The Olympics had finally, of themselves, garnered international attention and were attracting participants from more than the original dozen or so countries; 22 nations were to compete in London. For the IV Olympiad, the newly organized British Olympic Committee took diligently to the task of hosting the Games and erected at Shepherd’s Bush, in London, a great stadium, the first constructed specifically for the modern Olympics. The Committee also was determined to imbue the Games with the grandeur and pomp of the British Empire, and thus made sure that the smallest details of the program were in order, including the use for the first time of gold, silver and bronze medals denoting first, second, and third place. In spite of the careful preparations, however, the Olympics of 1908 were not a happy set of Games. Many contestants, especially those from the US, felt that the British were poor referees and purposely insulted the competitors. There was so much bickering, in fact, that the London papers called the Games a fiasco, and quite seriously sugested that they be stopped forever. The international cordiality and goodwill that the Games were intended to foster were lost under the stormy skies that summer. For the future, the IOC subsequently made drastic changes in the way the Games were handled. No longer would the host city or country be responsible for setting the program and the rules of competition; for 1912, all such rules would be standardized and there would be a new corps of international officials and a jury of appeal.

Third place winner’s medal from the 1908 London Games by Sir Edgar Bertram MacKennal. The obverse depicts a victorious athlete being crowned while the reverse shows St. George, patron saint of England, slaying a dragon (The Lighthouse collection).

Badge for services rendered from the 1908 London Games (The Lighthouse collection).

Olympiad V, Stockholm, 1912

Once again, the future of the modern Games seemed to hang in the balance; failure in Stockholm would seal the fate of Coubertin’s well-intended plans formed two decades before. But King Gustav V and the Swedes were determined to make the Games of the Vth Olympiad the best yet, and they succeeded. A national lottery was held to raise the growing sums needed to host the Olympics, which, following the model of London, meant that new stadiums and extensive entertainment programs were de rigeur. To Coubertin’s great pleasure, the Swedes also extended the program to include competitions in the fine arts of literature, painting, sculpture, architecture and music, competitions in which the Americans faired poorly (Coubertin himself, under the pen name Georges Hohrod, found success in the fine art competition, winning a prize for his “Ode to Sport”). In stark contrast to the gloom of the London Games, those of 1912 were described as a exceedingly joyful, which no doubt helped the Olympic Movement to survive the long interruption caused by the brutality of the First World War. Because of the war, for the first time in Olympic history, modern or ancient, the Games were cancelled; Berlin was to host the Games of the VIth Olympiad in 1916.

Participation medal from the 1912 Stockholm Games by Erik Lindberg. Obverse, Zeus seated on Ionic column holding a figure of Nike; Reverse, quadriga with charioteer and victorious athlete (Harmer Johnson collection).

1912 Olympic poster by Olle Hjortzberg.

Silver competitor’s badge from 1912 Stockholm Games (Harmer Johnson collection).

Olympiad VII, Antwerp, 1920

Once the smoke of battle had cleared following the Armistice of 1918, there was talk already of resuming the Olympics. Antwerp was awarded the Games, partly in recognition for what the Belgians had suffered during the war. Given only a year’s notice to prepare for the Games, the city did the best it could, despite the fact that Belgium had been devastated by bombs and trench warfare. The results were well received, and the Games once again helped to encourage international cordiality, although Germany and the other Central Powers were excluded from the event. A couple of major innovations made their appearance in the opening ceremonies of the 1920 Games: the first was the oath of amateurism sworn by one of the competitors on behalf of all the others. The second was the unveiling of Coubertin’s latest creation, the Olympic flag with its five rings symbolizing the union of the five continents, Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Europe.

First place winner’s from the 1920 Antwerp Games by Josué Dupon. Obverse, victorious athlete; Reverse, view of Antwerp (The Lighthouse collection).

Participation medal from the 1920 Antwerp Games by Pierre Theunis. Obverse, female crowning athlete; Reverse, athlete in biga (The Lighthouse collection).

Olympiad VII, Paris, 1924

Paris was afforded the chance to redeem itself for its Olympic sins of 1900 when Coubertin announced his retirement from the IOC, and announced too his wish that the 1924 Games go to his native city. The Baron’s perseverance over three decades had succeeded in installing the idea of the Olympic Movement firmly into the minds of the post-war generation. The Olympics were now big business, with cities vying fiercely for the honor of hosting them. Perhaps also the First World War had helped to spread Coubertin’s gospel of athletics, since 1924 saw the largest turn-out of competing nations to date: 44. (A significant increase over the 29 nations at Antwerp; Germany was still not invited, however). As expected, the Parisians fully redeemed themselves by hosting Games that reflected the recently adopted Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius (“Swifter, Higher, Stronger”). They also introduced the concept of the Olympic Village to house the athletes, although the group of wooden shacks they provided was quickly out-done by the more elaborate villages in the years that followed. This too was the Olympics fictionalized in the 1981 Hugh Hudson film Chariots of Fire.

Second place winner’s medal from the 1924 Paris Games by André Rivaud. Obverse, naked victorious athlete helping rival off the ground; Reverse, harp as symbol of the fine arts program and different sports equipment (Harmer Johnson collection).

1924 Olympic poster by Jean Droit.

Participation medal from the 1924 Paris Games by Raoul Bernard (ANS 1937.161.1, gift of D.M. Bullowa).

Olympiad IX, Amsterdam, 1928

By 1928, the Olympic festival had settled into a familiar, amicable routine. Moreover, the Games of the IXth Olympiad were marked by an aura of peace and harmony; for the first time in 16 years, the Germans were once again invited to participate. There were a number of other firsts as well: the first Olympic flame was lit atop a tower next to the stadium; the program contained the first full set of track and field events for women (much to Coubertin’s consternation who was opposed to idea of women participating in the Olympics); for the first time too Asian contestants won gold medals. In fact, athletes from 28 of the 46 nations won gold medals, a record that was to stand for four decades. This strong international display also aroused considerably more world-wide enthusiasm for the Olympics than in previous years. A nod to the Greek heritage of the Games was also codified in the 1928 Games: during the Parade of Nations in the Opening Ceremony, Greece marched first, while the host country, Holland, marched last, a protocol repeated to this day.

Participation medal from the 1928 Amsterdam Games by by Johann Cornelius Wienecke (ANS 1942.129, gift of Mr. and Mrs. S.H.P. Pell).

Olympiad X, Los Angeles, 1932

With the world mired in the Great Depression, the prospects for the Los Angeles Games did not seem rosy. There was concern that some nations could not afford to send their teams to a place as far away as Los Angeles, and indeed financial problems were partly to blame for the drop in participating countries to 37 from the 46 of the previous Olympiad. Those countries that did attend, however, found to their delight that more effort and money went into the preparation of the Games then ever before: over three million dollars had been raised for the Los Angeles Games, a princely sum at the time, especially in light of the country’s financial woes. The impressive cash flow ensured that the first US Olympics in nearly 30 years would be a showcase of American hospitality, ingenuity, and national goodwill. To be sure, cities had early on recognized that the honor of playing host to the Olympics also allowed a certain degree of national posturing and propaganda. As today, well-conceived and -presented Games could give a city and country international distinction of the highest order. While some earlier host cities had been roundly applauded for their efforts, none had yet attained the spectacular levels of Los Angeles’ preparations, a new benchmark that was too short-lived. The massive proportions of the Coliseum Olympic stadium impressed the world, as did the 321 acre Olympic Village, complete with its own post office, movie theatre, and international cooking staff. Los Angeles’ investment certainly paid off, both in terms of international reputation and financial returns: the Games were near perfect, with numerous records broken on the field and in attendance. But perhaps even more remarkable was the continuously sunny California weather; never had the Games been so sun-kissed.

Participation medal from the 1932 Los Angeles Games by Julio Kilenyi (The Lighthouse collection).

Car plaque from the 1932 Los Angeles Games (The Lighthouse collection).

Olympiad XI, Berlin, 1936

In 1931, when the Games of the XIth Olympiad were awarded to Berlin, Adolf Hitler was not yet in power; had he been, the IOC might have reconsidered the German bid. A shrewd judge of propagandistic possibilities, Hitler soon recognized the potential that hosting the Games offered as a tool for promoting his political and racial agenda. While the preparations for Los Angeles had been monumental, Berlin’s would be inconceivable: 30 million dollars were spent to host the 1936 Games, ten times the expenditure in Los Angeles. Four stadiums were built within the 325 acre Reichssportfeld. The Olympic Village, constructed entirely of stone, easily eclipsed in grandeur that of 1932; the Germans even imported one of Los Angeles’ wooden bungalows to set in the center of the Village so the point would not be missed. But while the Nazis toiled to build their Olympic vision, the opposition to sending teams to the Berlin Games grew stronger in many countries, even though the Germans had pledged—disingenously—that there would be no discrimination against non-Aryan athletes. In the US especially there was tremendous resistance, so much so that fundraising for the US team made virtually no progress. In fact, it was only by a narrow, last-minute vote that the decision was made to send the seriously underfunded US team to Berlin to join 48 other nations. But despite Hitler’s attempt to co-opt the Games for his own agenda, the efforts fell flat. This was due mostly to the remarkable performance of the US African-American sprinter and long jumper, Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. Several lasting contributions did, however, come out of the Berlin Olympics. The first torch relay was run in 1936: a torch lit by magnified sunrays in the sacred precinct of Olympia was then carried by over 3,000 runners through seven countries to Berlin arriving during the course of the Opening Ceremony. With its technological and visual modernism, the Berlin Games also provided a glimpse of what was in store for the future Olympics. Television cameras for the first time sent live pictures of the events to spectators miles away. Moreover, Leni Riefenstahl’s two-part movie of the 1936 Games, Olympia: Fest der Voelker and Olympia: Fest der Schoenheit, helped to define the way we look at the modern athlete both as a cultural icon and as a performer, albeit within the context of Nazi symbolism and propaganda.

Participation medal from the 1936 Berlin Games by Otto Placzek. Obverse, five athletes representing the five continents pulling the ropes of the Olympic bell; Reverse, Berlin Olympic motto (The Lighthouse collection).

(1936.HJ.03) Proposed participant’s badge. A splendid example of the Nazis’ attempt to use the Berlin games as a propaganda vehicle: the IOC flatly objected to this design and had a new one be prepared—without the swastika (Harmer Johnson collection).


Baron de Coubertin did not live to see the XIIth Olympiad, nor did he live to see the Games of that Olympiad cancelled because of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. By the time he died in 1937, the Olympic Movement had become so well rooted in the modern psyche that not even another World War could disrupt permanently the modern Olympic cycle. After the Second World War, the Games quickly resumed; London, once again, was the host in 1948.

1974 Canadian commemorative by A. Mann depicting the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (ANS 1995.109.523, gift of Dr. Jay M. Galst).

In the years after the war, coins, and not just medals, began to play a more important role in the modern Olympics. Both winner’s medals and participation medals have been a staple feature of the modern Olympics from its inception; they have also served as an important measure of contemporary artistic expression. The nascent IOC’s decision to include medals among the winner’s rewards meant that the commissions for the designs would inspire their own form of competition. The first commission was from the famed French sculptor Jules-Clément Chaplain, who designed the stunning winner’s medal for the 1896 Athenian Games. In subsequent years, the design of the winner’s medals changed with every Olympiad until Guiseppe Cassioli’s design was adopted as the permanent summer Olympic winner’s medal beginning with the 1928 Games. In contrast, Olympic participation medals have been ever-changing. The host cities of each the Games have decided the commissions for these medals, both as souvenirs to be sold and as awards themselves to be given to individuals benefiting the city’s efforts.

1988 US five dollar gold commemorative by E. Jones (ANS 1988.167.1).

But while medals have been an important part of all the modern Games, coins have not been, which is odd considering the numismatic heritage of the Olympics. For centuries, coins had been a feature of the ancient Games—both the official coinage of Olympia, for example, which provided currency for pilgrims and participants, and celebratory issues from elsewhere, like those of Anaxilas of Rhegion. In the modern era, it was Finland that reestablished the minting of Olympic coinage to welcome the Helsinki Games of 1952, over half a century after the first modern Olympiad. Still it was not until the 1964 Games that the tradition, as it were, of striking commemorative coinages for every Olympiad began. Since 1976, these issues have not been intended as actual circulating currency but rather as official numismatic souvenirs. Increasingly popular as collectors’ items, Olympic-themed coins have also been issued by other non-host countries due to the appeal of such pieces for generating revenues. Mint surcharges and seigniorage fees from these coins are used to support both the Games and governments, incentives which have led to a dramatic increase in the number and types of Olympics-related coins now available. Indeed, this plethora of Olympic coinage and the scores of winner’s medals and participation medals from the last century of the Olympic Games illustrates the central role that numismatics have played in the presentation of this modern spectacle, a role that freely draws upon its ancient heritage.

The ANS is deeply grateful to the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation for their generous underwriting of the exhibit, and to the following individuals and institutions for the generosity of their loans: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mr. Bernth Ahlstroem (Keeper of the Lighthouse Collection), Dr. Jay M. Galst, and Mr. Harmer Johnson.

Bibliographical Note: much of the section here on the ancient Olympics is heavily based on Finley and Pleket (1976), while the modern section draws mostly from Weyland (1952). Both these works present rather traditional views of the anicent and modern Games that have been challanged by more recent studies, such as those by Young (1996) and Golden (1998). The divergent and more controversial views of the Olympics will be addressed more fully in our upcoming exhibition catalogue.

Further Reading and References

M.I. Finley and H.W. Pleket, The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years (New York 1976).

Mark Golden, Sport and Society in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press 1998).

Alexander Weyand, The Olympic Pageant (MacMillan 1952).

David C. Young, The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival (John Hopkins University Press 1996).

Nobert Mueller, ed., Pierre de Coubertin, 1863-1937. Olympism: Selected Writings (International Olympic Committee, Lausanne 2000).