John Sanford Saltus
At the meeting on Saturday I gave a sort of a brief history of the Society’s collection of decorations, war medals &c, and as it would be impossible to give a history of the collection without mentioning the name of a certain man by the name of Saltus quite frequently… and there was various things said regarding the fact that he was the donor of nearly all the collection.
—letter from Bauman Belden to John Sanford Saltus, December 21, 1914
Over time, historical societies and museums gradually change their collecting and exhibition priorities. It is the rare institution that does not, at some point, reevaluate what it will accept and what it will retain for its collections. And to a great extent, it is the interests and energies of a few individuals within the organization that drive the process. This certainly was the case with the American Numismatic Society with regard to its collection of orders, decorations, and war medals, which was created and developed largely through the efforts of a few officers and members of the Society, particularly John Sanford Saltus.
Saltus first became a member of the ANS in 1892, and, in 1893, he made his first donations of coins to the Society’s collections. While his donations of coins were numerous, he soon showed an even greater interest in building the Society’s collection of decorations. By the time of his death in 1922, Saltus had given the ANS 1,705 coins, but by comparison, his donations of medals, decorations, and orders totaled 3,336. In a relatively short time, the Society had assembled a significant array of medals and decorations.
ANS East Exhibit Hall, ca. 1945. The majority of the decorations and medals were exhibited in wall cases or these “swing” cases purchased in the 1910s and 1920s. Note how most of the medals were mounted on small labeled cards that slid into brackets for display; many of the medals stored in the coin cabinet today are still attached to these same cards, which have important data such as dates and donor information on their backs.
A major boost for the medal collection came in 1900, when the Society had the opportunity to send a display to the Paris Exposition. The Society’s Secretary, Bauman Belden, aggressively promoted the project. Despite the misgivings of some members and officers, the Society went ahead and did the display, which was very well received. A grouping of insignia, badges, and medals from the U.S. military and a variety of American fraternal and social organizations proved to be an especially popular element of the ANS presentation at the Paris Exposition. Encouraged by this success, the Society’s leadership decided to create a committee on insignia, which eventually evolved into the ANS Committee on Decorations, Insignia, and War Medals.
France, Légion d’Honneur, Louis Philippe issue (1830-48), Grand Cross Sash Badge, in gold and enamels. The Légion d’Honneur was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, as an award to French and foreign citizens foroutstanding civil and military services. It came in five classes: Grand Cross, Grand Commander, Commander, Officer, and Knight. When the monarchy was restored in 1814, the Order was held in such high esteem that Louis XVIII dared not suppress it. Instead, he altered the design, replacing the portrait of Napoleon with that of Henry IV, the first French king of the Bourbon dynasty, and the Imperial eagle with three fleurs-de-lis. Following the revolution of 1830, the new monarch, Louis Philippe, as a sign that his rule was constitutional, replaced the fleurs-de-lis with two tricolors. The Order is still awarded by the French government and remains held in high esteem. Some of the more recent awards of the Order were to the few surviving veterans of the Great War, including some British recipients.
Two of the most enthusiastic members of this committee were Belden and Saltus. They formed a dynamic team, with Saltus searching out interesting specimens on his travels around the country and to Europe, and Belden regularly scouring the sales and dealers shops in New York. When funds were required for an acquisition, Saltus was extremely accommodating. For example, in a letter to Belden dated December 31, 1905, Saltus wrote, “I think we ought to have a badge, ribbon and button of the ‘Military Order of the Carabao.’ If you can get one, do so, let me know how much it costs (if it has to be paid for) and I will give it to the Society.”
Great Britain, a magnificent 19th century sash badge of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (Lesser George), in gold and enamels. The Order of the Garter was founded in 1348 by Edward III and is the premier British Order of Knighthood as well as the oldest. Membership is limited to the reigning sovereign and twenty-five Christian Knights. Selected Royal Heads of State are admitted as Extra Knights or Ladies of the Garter
This particular letter also serves as an indication of how Belden and Saltus applied their wide-ranging interests to expand the scope of the ANS medals collection. Initially, the Society seemed to focus on collecting standard American military insignia and decorations. Although it would continue to do so, adding new examples as the uniform regulations changed and new decorations were issued, Saltus and Belden increasingly did not limit their search to officially issued material. The previously mentioned “Military Order of the Carabao” was a thoroughly unofficial organization of U.S. Army and Navy officers who had served in the Philippines around the turn of the century.
Order of the Carabao, USA. Veterans’ organization medal, ca. 1909. Bronze and gilt medal, with attached ribbon and lapel button. An example of the early twentieth-century American military and veterans’ medals and insignia, representing America’s early growth as a world power, which Belden and Saltus actively collected for the ANS.
The ANS Decorations, Insignia and War Medals committee—which by 1914 included Saltus as chairman and Bauman Belden and Stephen Pell as committee members—also had moved into collecting historic medals from earlier periods, as well as collecting many non-American examples. A great deal of their collecting activities were driven by current events and, on July 22, 1914, Belden wrote to Saltus, who was in France at the time, “I see by the morning papers that there is a very good prospect of a scrap between Servia [sic] and Austria, with a possibility of some of us taking a hand, which will, no doubt, bring out a new crop of medals.”
As the “scrap” of which Belden spoke developed into WWI, an event that ultimately killed millions of people and shattered empires, the ANS decorations committee members gradually came to expand their collecting activities to reflect the unfolding significance of the historic events of those times. In the spring of 1914, they had still been looking primarily backward, with Saltus asking if they had all examples of U.S. medals “relating to the Spanish War” and Belden informing him that they did in fact have everything except for the “Sampson medal for Santiago.” But by the end of that year, when Belden was notifying Saltus that he had located a source for the Sampson medals they needed for the collection and was proceeding with purchasing them, they also were seriously discussing the availability of “imitation iron crosses.” By June 1915, Saltus and Belden were reviewing what the Society had and did not have in terms of the “standard” military medals of both the combatant nations and their neutral neighbors.
Germany, Saxony, Order of Sidonia, Sash Badge, in gold and enamels. Saxony’s first female order, the Order of Sidonia, was founded by King John in 1871, in honor of Sidonia of Münsterberg, wife of Duke Albert, founder of the ruling Albertine line. It came in one class and was reserved for exceptional works of charity. It was normally worn from the breast on a bow, but when it was awarded to royalty, it was suspended from a full-length sash. It is one of the scarcest female orders. From its institution in 1871 until the end of the Kingdom in 1918, it was only awarded ninety-seven times.
One neutral nation of particular interest was of course the United States. The committee actively collected decorations connected with the growth of America’s military power and larger role in international affairs. They pursued badges of American veterans of foreign wars—such as the campaigns in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and China—and in August 1915, Belden informed Saltus that he was working on researching a piece on U.S. war medals for the next issue of the journal. The result was a very thorough summary, with descriptions and histories of America’s war medals and decorations. He continually kept Saltus updated through 1915-16, as he made purchases ranging from a Romanian Military Commander’s Cross to a U.S. Army expert rifleman’s badge.
After the United States entered the war in 1917, the ANS was presented with the chance to make a contribution to the national effort, and that contribution was greatly facilitated by the collecting work that Saltus and his committee had done. On November 23, ANS President Edward Newell wrote to Saltus and Belden:
An unusual opportunity for service to our country has just come to our society. A campaign has been begun for establishing valor medals for our Country which shall bear comparison with those of our Allies. Dr. William T. Hornaday, Director of the Bronx Zoological park, whom you may know, has taken the initiative, and a request for the help of our Society has been made. Dr. Horanady has had considerable experience in securing legislation for the protection of wild animal life, and is well equipped for directing the steps for securing a proper appeal in Congress…. This appeal comes to us as a logical organization for supporting the plan. Personally I feel that this is one of the few directions in which we, as a numismatic Society, can serve our country at this time. A few of our members have already expressed their warm sympathy for the movement, and we all felt it would bring great credit to the Society if we should take the lead…. We have been asked to prepare reproductions in color of the medals of our Allies for distribution to Congressmen and for an educational programme in the newspapers. Our members may also be asked to write to their representatives urging cooperation. Perhaps it may be necessary for a representative of our Society to appear before the Congressional Committee, in which case we would, of course, have to bear the expense of that representative. For properly conducting the campaign would be required.
Saltus, not surprisingly, donated the funds necessary for this project. The collection he and Belden had built was used in creating the promotional images for the campaign, and in 1918, President Wilson and Congress authorized new valor and service decorations for the American military, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the decoration that would eventually become known as the Silver Star. The usefulness of the ANS decorations collection was further demonstrated in that last year of the Great War, when three sculptors who had been commissioned to work on designing new decorations for the U.S. Navy came to the Society to study its many examples of both American and foreign awards.
Russia, Order of St Andrew, Sash Badge, in gold and enamel, made in 1865, by Julius Keibel of St. Petersburg. The Order of St. Andrew was founded by Peter the Great in 1698 and was the premier Imperial Order. It came in one class and was named in honor of the Apostle. Julius Keibel was the official manufacturer of Russian Orders from when he succeeded his father in 1862 until his death twenty years later, at which point his son Albert took over the business. When Albert died in 1910, the firm ceased to exist. They had been the official manufacturer of Russian orders for over seventy years.
The Society also used the collection to create a popular exhibit of American insignia and decorations at its headquarters. According to the Society’s official history, this exhaustive assemblage of “the distinguishing marks on the uniforms and men of the Army and Navy of the United States,” including caps, collar ornaments, shoulder straps, chevrons, insignia, badges, decorations etc.,” was useful and instructive not only for the public, but also for “many Army and navy personnel who visited the museum on that occasion.” The nation’s military was expanding rapidly at that point, and many new recruits were bewildered by the wide variety of insignia used by the different units and branches of service. The exhibit was quite a success, contributing to a sizable increase in attendance at the ANS museum in 1918. Almost 13,000 visitors came to the Society that year, approximately double the previous year’s total attendance. Once the armistice was signed, however, the public’s interest in military subjects quickly waned, and the exhibit was dismantled a month later.
Serbia, Order of Milosh the Great, Breast Star, by Karl Fischmeister of Vienna, in silver with gilt and enamelled center and crown. This short-lived order was founded in December 1898 by King Alexander I Obrenovich in honor of his great-great uncle Milosh Obrenovich. Milosh had fought alongside Kara (Black) George in the rebellion against the Turks in 1804. In 1813, the Turks regained control of the rebellious province and Kara George was forced to flee to Austria. Two years later, in 1815, Milosh lead a new and successful insurrection. When Kara George returned from exile in 1817, he claimed leadership of the Serbian people, but shortly afterward, he was assassinated, probably at the instigation of Milosh. Milosh’s great-great nephew Alexander succeeded to the throne in 1889, following the abdication of his father Milan IV. As Alexander I was only 13 at the time, the country was governed by regency. In April 1893, not yet 17, he proclaimed himself of age, dismissing the council of three Regents, and ultimately replacing the country’s liberal constitution with a conservative version. On June 10, 1903, a group of military officers entered the royal palace and murdered the king and queen, thus bringing an end to the Obrenovich family.
The end of the war did not end the Society’s efforts to continue building its decorations and medals collection. But within a few years, those efforts would be diminished through the loss of their greatest proponent. John Sanford Saltus died at the Hotel Metropole in London on June 24, 1922, apparently having poisoned himself by accidentally ingesting potassium cyanide he was using to clean ancient silver coins in his hotel room. While colleagues like Bauman Belden had been important for the growth of the decorations collection, Saltus had been the driving force behind the process.
Saltus was the only son of the family that owned Saltus Steel and so was quite well off. His estate was estimated to be worth around $2,000,000 at his death. It was his generosity as well as his enthusiasm for the subject matter that fueled the building of the medal and decorations collections. He also had the opportunity to connect with dealers and collectors in many different locations—following the death of his wife, he had spent the last fifteen years of his life traveling extensively. His correspondence with Belden is frequently on the stationary of places such as Le Grande Hotel in Nice, the Hotel Continental in Paris, the New Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, or the Hotel Telegrafo in Havana. What motivated Saltus to work so hard on the subject is a matter for conjecture; an article in the New York Times Book Review and Magazine on July 23, 1922, suggested that Saltus was a “romantic” who was moved to collect orders and decorations “…with all their memories of battles and of courts, of deeds of valor, and of mighty kings.”
Russia, Order of St Alexander Nevsky, Paste Set Breast Star with Imperial Crown, St. Petersburg, second half of the nineteenth century. The Order of St. Alexander Nevsky was founded by Catherine I on her accession in 1725. It was awarded in one class to high-ranking officials in either a military or civil capacity, and it could be awarded with diamonds in exceptional circumstances. The Order was named in honor of Alexander Nevsky (1220-63), a Russian saint and hero. He routed the Swedes near the present site of St. Petersburg in 1240, subsequently defeating the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Lake Pepius two years later. The Order ceased to exist following the end of the monarchy, but in 1942, when Russia was facing the German invasion, the Soviet government created a new order of Alexander Nevsky for military bravery.
Yet Saltus also demonstrated an ongoing interest in the everyday insignia and decorations of the American soldiers, sailors and marines who were on the front line of the United States’ transformation into a modern world power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was a patron of the arts who sponsored the creation and installation of heroic statues of Jeanne D’Arc on Riverside Drive in New York City and in cities in France, and he helped restore the great library at Louvain, among many other projects that could be interpreted as being the product of a “romantic spirit.” He also had an interest in modern art. Regardless of what mixture of ideas and images inspired him, without his involvement, the collecting of medals and decorations was not as high a priority at the ANS after his death.
Even so, other members, officers, and staff at the ANS continued the process of building the decorations collection. In the 1920s and 1930s, Harrold Gillingham, Curator Howland Wood, and Colonel (later General) Dewitt Clinton Falls continued to expand the collection, acquiring foreign orders when possible and pursuing new U.S. medals as they became aware of them. The members of the Decorations Committee, for example, discussed the desirability of acquiring pieces such as a decoration that the Daughters of the Confederacy issued in 1925 for men of “Rebellion Descent” who served in WWI, and Spanish decorations from around the time of the Spanish American War. Additions to the collection, however, were much less common than they had been in earlier years: in the “Report of the Committee on Decorations, Insignia, and War Medals” published in 1934, Gillingham noted that “the accessions to your Society’s cases during the year 1933 have not been as numerous or as varied as your committee would have liked; but owning to the peaceful condition of the world, fewer such awards have been inaugurated, and friends of the Society have not been as generous in their gifts as might be expected, owing to the financial conditions just past through.” Clearly, Saltus’s enthusiasm and deep pockets were missed.
The Group of Four British Campaign Medals and the extremely rare and impressive Burmese Order of the Tsalwe awarded to Colonel Albert Fytche, 70th Bengal Native Infantry and later Chief Commissioner of British Burma, comprising
1. Ghuznee, 1839, silver medal, unnamed as issued
2. Gwalior Campaign, 1843, Maharajpoor Star, engraved naming (Lieutenant)
3. Punjab Campaign, 1848-9, silver medal with two clasps for Chilianwala and Goojerat, officially impressed naming (Lieutenant)
4. India General Service, medal with single clasp for Pegu, 1852-53, engraved naming (Brevet-Major)
5. Burmese Order of the Tsalwe, First Class, in gold, as personally presented to Colonel Fytche by the King of Burma in 1867
There was a certain amount of growth to be sure: Gillingham, who had taken over as Chairman of the Committee on Decorations and War Medals in 1920, had a special interest in Napoleonic-era European orders and donated or obtained a variety of pieces for the ANS. In addition to serving as ANS Treasurer from 1924 to 1939, and as second Vice President in the late 1940s, he wrote four monographs on the subject of decorations between 1928 and 1940. And the Society still responded to current events in collecting and utilizing additions to the decorations collections, as it did in 1940, when the ANS presented an exhibit of decorations and insignia of the French and Polish forces that faced the German Blitzkrieg. And at the end of WWII and into the early 1950s, more additions were brought in by Major General Edgar Erskine Hume, who helped obtain both current materials—such as Soviet decorations he obtained while in Austria during the occupation—as well as older decorations that could be found in the various places where he was stationed.
General Hume commented in a letter to ANS Curator Sydney Noe, dated March 6, 1950, “I have tried to be constantly on the lookout for material for your collection and it sometimes turns up in unexpected places, as in the case of this Korean collection that I sent you…. I was informed only today that the Korean parliament is about to create something corresponding to a national order for award to both Koreans and foreigners. If this bill goes through, I will try to obtain specimens for you.”
A silver Polar medal with “Antarctic 1902-04” clasp, awarded to Isaac Weller, the crewmember responsible for the Expedition’s dogs on Captain Scott’s first voyage to the Antarctic aboard H.M.S. Discovery.
Despite the efforts of individuals such as Hume, who frequently commented on the difficulty he experienced in gaining possession of certain artifacts on behalf of the Society, such as a “complete set of existing Korean decorations” he purchased during an official visit to that country, the collecting priorities of the organization were again shifting. By the mid 1950s, the collection was receiving less attention, although in 1967, a major addition came in the form of the J. Coolidge Hills collection, which was transferred to the ANS from the Wadsworth Athenaeum. From the 1970s on, the orders and decorations—especially the non-American portions of the collection—were exhibited less frequently. While the fine collection of American decorations, which included early examples of the Congressional Medal of Honor and rare Confederate awards, were still occasional subjects for study, the European and Asian orders and decorations were largely ignored by researchers. Consequently, the Society ultimately made the difficult decision to deaccession the non-American portions of the collection and to make them available for the benefit of other museums, collectors, and scholars.
Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy (1805-14), Order of the Iron Crown, Grand Dignitary’s Neck Badge, in gold and enamels. The Order of the Iron Crown was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805. The original crown, set with gold and precious stones, was allegedly forged from a nail of the Holy Cross. It was first used for the coronation of Agilulph, King of the Lombards, in AD 591. The Order was awarded in two classes, Grand Dignitary and Knight. The Order was abolished in 1814, following the end of the Napoleonic Kingdom. It was revived in a different form by the Emperor Francis I on the annexation of Lombardy in February 1816, and was subsequently absorbed in to the mainstream of Austrian Orders. It continued to be awarded until the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918.