After a hiatus of a dozen years, this last Friday and Saturday (17–18 September) saw the resumption of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) series at the American Numismatic Society. Since the mid-1980s, COACs have been one of the leading venues for the presentation of academic research pertaining to numismatics of the Western Hemisphere. Previous conferences, and their published proceedings, have covered topics on colonial and federal coinages and medallic art in the United States.
Thanks to the sponsorship of the Resolute Americana Collection and the Stack Family, ANS Assistant Curator Dr. Jesse Kraft’s efforts to revive the series this year were successful. Along with conference co-organizers Scott Miller (ANS Fellow) and Patrick McMahon (MFA Boston), Dr. Kraft decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Victor David Brenner’s birth with two days of papers devoted to the artist’s life and works.
Born in 1871 in what is now Lithuania, Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with famed French medallic artist Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists working in New York City, the center of US medallic art. Brenner’s most well-known artwork is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, which remains in production today; with over 450 billion examples produced in the 112 years since it was introduced it is the most reproduced piece of art in human history. While it is known that Brenner created a significant body of work beyond the Lincoln cent, much of his other work has been overshadowed by this single piece.
Many of the papers in this year’s COAC sought to explore the full range of Brenner’s work, and these efforts were quite informative. By the end of the conference, the trajectory of Brenner’s career, before his life was cut short in 1924 by cancer, came into clearer view. Always pushing himself to obtain greater skills, Brenner explored a number of techniques and styles in medallic art production, more perhaps than many of his contemporaries, designing over 200 medallic works of art throughout his 35-year career. At the same time, towards the end of his career he seemed to have been making an attempt to move decisively away from medallic art towards larger bas-relief and sculpture in the round. His largest artwork, and one of his more successful, is the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Pittsburg, PA, also known as “A Song to Nature”. Significantly, his career path was, in many ways, opposite that of his contemporaries: he began as an engraver of small objects moving towards larger sculpture while others started with larger works before attempting medallic art. Curiously, however, after his success with the 1909 Lincoln cent, Brenner’s career never really took off in the way that those associated with the doyenne of US sculpture Augustus Saint Gaudens did; indeed, Brenner was never part of the Saint Gaudens circle. To the end, Brenner remained something of a struggling artist, designing and producing a number of different sculptural objects, including bookends and wall fountains, many of which were only recently identified and attributed to Brenner by some of the conference speakers. The proceedings of the conference are expected to be published by the ANS in the coming year. In the meantime, a video recording of the conference will soon be available on our YouTube channel. A list of the speakers and their papers can be found here.
One final note: this year’s COAC also marked a significant change in the way that the ANS will, in the future, host and present conferences. After a substantial investment in new equipment, and thanks to the efforts of Ben Hiibner and Alan Roche, this year’s COAC was a fully hybrid event, simultaneously live and virtual. Those unable to attend in person were able to participate both as speakers and audience members via Zoom. Such hybrid events will continue to allow us to reach a greater proportion of our membership as we resume our usual schedule of events, talks, and conferences.
In late June 2021, Heidi Wastweet led a stellar Long Table discussionabout her work as a medallic artist and sculptor. She drew her material primarily from a popular lecture she delivered in 2019 at the Shanghai Coin Design Forum, but adapted the program to the conversational nature of the Long Table. One of her slides led me on a pleasant jaunt of numismatic research, following a line of inquiry about a particular medal’s design.
After Wastweet’s presentation on the art and processes behind medal design and production, she facilitated a thought-provoking conversation for more than half of our numismatic lunch hour. She covered the unique parameters necessitated by the medallic form, reflecting on how artists navigate the tensions between intuition and intention when incorporating elements of design. The whole conversation was a lively one and, for me, one of the most resonant moments was when Dr. Ira Rezak reflected on how harmonious design is often a product of cultural context as much as anything else: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but the beholder has eyes and tastes derived from broader cultural expectations and aesthetic environments.
When reviewing other artists’ use of some of the design elements she discussed, Wastweet presented some interesting examples of various medals and medallic designs. Among these included a sketch of an unrealized medal by the American medalist Donald De Lue. This sketch features a male nude squatting low above the capital of an Ionic column. His left fingers clutch a thin pillar while he works with a stylus in his right hand. The prominent arc of the figure’s back and his general titanic proportions take up much of the medal’s foreground. Above, four horses gallop through the heavens towards a radiate sun. In the design’s exergue, three acorns on an oak branch settle under the lettering: PARVA NE PEREANT. Many of us in attendance at the Long Table immediately recognized the Latin phrase, acorns, and oak leaves from the motto and seal of the American Numismatic Society. The image came from a 2020 Doyle auction listed as the third item in lot 30, along with four other Donald De Lue sketches. The description included the motto and its translation, “Let Not the Little Things Perish”, without noting any association with the ANS.
I was curious to know if this sketch was a proposition for a new membership medal or if it might have been conceived as one of the several award medals given by the ANS, such as the obverse of the J. Sanford Saltus Award seen above. The latter came to mind because the Saltus Award bears thematic resemblance to the sketch. Both feature a nearly-seated nude holding a stylus and both incorporate the Society’s motto and the oak leaves of the ANS seal under a groundline. The ANS has bestowed this medal on artists since 1919 in recognition of “signal achievement” in medallic art and the ANS honored De Lue himself with the Award in 1967.
After inspecting the Doyle auction, I found the above De Lue sketch of the same design from a 2018 Jackson’s International Auction. This Modern & Vintage Masters auction lists Lot 57 as “Three Preparatory Drawings / Donald De Lue”. There are some subtle differences in this sketch from the previous one: the lack of the Ionic capital, the inclusion of an extra toe in the balancing left foot, and the awkward left hand which grips the pillar as if with a broken wrist of a too-long arm. These factors and the overall sketched quality of the drawing indicate it as an obvious earlier version of the design. The auction house described the sketch as an “Art Deco circular drawing inscribed PARVA NE PEREANT, […] 12 inches in diameter,” again, without any reference information indicating that this was a design for the ANS or naming its purpose. It was gifted “To Karen Tortorella / My Friend and Fellow-Artist / With Warmest regards / From Donald De Lue / Sculptor / 1978″. The year listed, 1978, gave me somewhere to start.
Now that I had a rough date for the design—or, at least, a terminus post quem—I went to Scott Miller’s Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society. Here, Miller notes that the “need for a new member’s medal became apparent by the 1960s as existing stocks of the [Gutzon] Borglum Medal were exhausted” (Miller 2015.27, above). He further explains that, a “competition was held, with Frank Eliscu declared the winner.” The winning Eliscu design would become the third membership medal of the Society (Miller 2015.53, below; Miller, p. 138), after the Borglum and earlier George Hampden Lovett designs. Miller, unsurprisingly, was also in attendance at the Long Table.
There was no doubt that the De Lue sketches were from a submission proposed for this contest. I turned to the ANS Archives to learn more. The files of ANS curator Jeremiah D. Brady in the ANS Archives include the related material for the competition commissioned by the ANS Council, including notes and correspondence of the artists, judges, and other related parties. Corresponding with Director Leslie Elam, De Lue accepted an invitation in a letter dated Feb. 22, 1977, writing:
Dear Mr. Elam,
Thank you for the invitation to compete for the Societies [sic] Members Medal. As per my telephone conversation with you, I will enter the competition. When you have the information I would be interested in knowing who the other competitors are.
Donald De Lue
In addition to De Lue and Eliscu, artists Karen Worth, Gifford Proctor, and Thomas Lo Medico competed. Among T. James Luce, Julius Lauth, Thomas Wilfred, Robert Weinman, Marc Salton, and Jeremiah Brady, Dr. Ira Rezak also served on the jury for the medal competition.
These ANS Archive files also confirmed that the design from the De Lue sketch was, in fact, a medalist making a medal, a particularly fitting image for the topic of Wastweet’s Long Table. In a 1977 COINage article, “Contest for a Medal: Five Top Sculptors and Their Designs for a Major Numismatic Showpiece”, David L. Ganz explained the background for the competition and enumerated the designs these five artists submitted. Included was a final rendering of the De Lue design in the top left, as well as four additional De Lue proposals. In total, he offered two space-age designs as obverses and three ancient medalists as reverses. The article even describes his artistic vision for the reverse that initially piqued my interest. De Lue envisioned the ancient medalist moved to creation after attending a horse race, pausing to sculpt at a Greek temple undergoing construction. Seeing these alternative reverse designs reminded me of another Due Lue design from the 2018 Jackson International auction gifted to Karen Tortorella, a sketch of a medal for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.
While the curvature of the central seated figure’s spine and the shading of the musculature of the abdomen closely resemble the sketch for the ANS medal, the modeling of the seated figure clearly derives from one of the other submissions for the ANS medal competition. Note the submission on the upper right of the COINage scan. The figure was kept more or less the same, given a fuller beard, and his stylus and medal reimagined as a contemplative pose. The winged spirit of medallic inspiration crowning the medalist with a laurel became a spangled muse inspiring the pensive sculptor-philosopher. Unlike the ANS design; however, an altered version of this design did come to fruition. With a few adjustments between sketch and final form, such as the removal of the winged horse in the muse’s left hand and the leaf from the exergue, an example of this Brookgreen Garden medal is housed in the Society’s collection, ANS 1980.157.1.
Seeing this medal in the ANS collection brought the story around full-circle. A nature haven for sculptures and sculptors alike, Brookgreen Gardens was founded by early twentieth century benefactors of the ANS, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Not only that, but Heidi Wastweet herself has trained medalists as a teaching artist at Brookgreen Gardens for years—and also produced a medal for the institution in 2017, one which she showcased during her Long Table (2017 Brookgreen Medal).
During this jaunt, I learned more about some of the processes that went into producing these medals, as well as how different institutions like the ANS and Brookgreen Gardens have gone about commissioning works through the years. Heidi Wastweet’s Long Table discussion, along with those recently hosted by Eugene Daub and Mashiko, was a fantastic glimpse into artistic perspectives on numismatic topics and I’m looking forward to more to come. For me, the best sorts of programs are ones like these, where further inquiry emerges and the conversation continues.
This is the second segment of a three-part series to update ANS members and interested guests on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York, New York.
After the immense amount of preparation that took place during “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I,” the time had come to put the plan into action. On May 22, with laptop, overly-detailed excel spreadsheet, and solid strategy in mind, I boarded a plane destined for Reno, Nevada. My fine Hyundai Santa Fe rental then took me half-an-hour south to Carson City (just 6.5 miles east of Mound House), to the hotel I would call home for the next 13 nights.
That first evening, I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Vugteveen, self-proclaimed “creative problem solver” and former Northwest Territorial Mint employee, and his family. Rob graciously offered his services to the project. Over dinner, we discussed the goals I had set for the following two weeks: (1) to prepare nearly 20,000 die shells for absorption by the ANS upon their arrival in New York City, and (2) to better pack the 5,000 of the more delicate pieces in order to survive the 2,700-mile journey. However, the magnitude of the collection (both in the vastness of the archive itself as well as the diameter of the individual pieces), proved challenging to these lofty goals.
The necessity of this trip to Nevada was evident early on. While compiling spreadsheets and estimating spatial requirements back in NYC, I had been under the impression that the boxes housing these die shells were all the same size: 24” x 24” x 18”. This was largely due to the lack of calibration target in the images or ability to compare box sizes to surrounding points of reference. In reality, five (5) different-sized boxes were used, and none of them were the aforementioned measurements. Fortunately, the adjusted space requirements were minimal, but this game of theoretical Tetris proved a point: that the ANS was not ready to simply ship this material to its new home without (at the very least) a basic visual inspection to fully prepare ourselves for what we were about to undertake.
If you recall from “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I,” I had gone through many, many images in order to make preliminary decisions of the die shells, entering my thoughts into an Excel spreadsheet by highlighting the cells either red or green. With this document, Rob and I began to go through the collection (Fig. 1).
Pallet-by-pallet, we compared them to the MACO Spreadsheet and used red and green Sharpies to mark the individual item labels with their respective color. From there, we were essentially able to ditch the spreadsheet and work directly from the boxes. We now began on an item-by-item level—opening each box and separating the “reds” and the “greens” from one another—placing each category into a new box and sealing it when it reached its max weight (ca. 50 pounds), which left most boxes grossly (but necessarily) under-packed.
We had gone through 12 pallets (192 boxes) before suddenly realizing that, at this rate, we would run out of time without even starting on our second task. One achievement from the process, however, was that by the time we were through those 192 boxes, there were only 182 boxes left on the pallets, as we were able to condense those initial boxes by about 5%. Even greater efficiency was found in the fact that we were able to stack the boxes 5-high (as opposed to 4-high, as they previously were) due to information garnered from the shipping companies. This simple change saved an astounding 25% of space.
Though it was now clear that we could not work on an item-by-item basis, the savings we found by working on a box-by-box level proved significant. Perhaps if we worked with that in mind, we would be able to save time, but also continue to condense the material enough to be worthwhile. Instead of having pallets that contained all “greens” and others with all “reds,” we knew that some boxes would be what we called “orange”—those with both red and green pieces (art teachers need not comment).
With efficiency still in mind, the plan shifted to include a gradient of “oranges.” Essentially, we set up all the “reds” on one side of the room and all of the “greens” on the other then filled in the gap. Just after the “pure reds,” we began to place boxes that had all “reds” and only one “green.” Once we found all of those, we began to pallet boxes with all “reds” and two “greens,” followed by those with three “greens,” and so on. Eventually, the last remaining boxes were those which were all “green” but only had a single “red” piece. By the time we were through, we had an order of “red,” mostly-red “orange,” mostly-green “orange,” and “green” (Fig. 2).
Getting through this arduous task was a relief as, not only was this dusty and backbreaking labor, but in the end, it had also provided me with the order for which everything will be brought back to New York: as many “reds” as possible destined for our storage facility in Brooklyn and the “greens” to our headquarters in Manhattan. As I mentioned my relief of knowing this order, Rob joked, “Jesse can sleep easy tonight,” as if the grueling work we just completed wasn’t enough to knock a man out in its own right.
But I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all work and no play. Fortunately, halfway through this business trip, I was able to take a day off to explore…and what better way to spend the day in Carson City than at the Historic Carson City Mint and Nevada State Museum! Friend and ANS Member, Rob Rodriguez treated me to a tour of the facility and exhibits, followed by an afternoon in Virginia City. Rodriguez’s knowledge and love for the area is apparent. At the Mint, we were able to see “Coin Press No. 1” in action (Fig. 3).
This press was built in 1869 by Morgan & Orr and was the original press used at the Mint to strike many of the Carson City rarities; pieces that numismatists from all over now cherish. Still in operation today, the press strikes half-dollar-sized medals for visitors—currently in the process of creating the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion. Virginia City is known as the epicenter of the Comstock Lode, where Samuel Clemens failed as a miner, began work with the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, and changed his name to Mark Twain. It was because of the Comstock Lode that the Carson City Mint existed. Seeing the geographic connections between the Lode, Carson, and even Reno and San Francisco was a very nice numismatic sidebar to the entire Nevada work-trip.
Other highlights included dinner at the fabulous Mangia Tutto Restaurante in Carson City with friends and ANS Members Howard and Kregg Herz, and a 0.6-mile hike up to the Kings Canyon Falls, one of the natural springs that regulates the height of nearby Lake Tahoe. Lastly, I acquired some authentic western attire from historic Virginia City (our office’s “Western Wear Wednesday” will never have looked so good) (Fig. 4). Refreshed, I was back to work.
The next day’s focus was on task number two: repacking what truly needed to be repacked. Due to time constraints in 2018, only about 15,000 of 20,000-odd die shells were photographed, individually wrapped, and safely packed into boxes. At that time, the crew was unable to complete the final 5,000 objects of the collection, so (out of necessity) they were hastily stacked into boxes directly on the pallet. Packed for a quick 6-mile jaunt from Dayton to Mound House, they would not likely survive the 2,500-mile journey they are about to make. Sadly, even now, we found pieces that were clearly broken in their prior transit, not before.
Most of these objects are epoxy die shells (Figs. 5 & 6). Epoxy die shells were introduced in 1975 as a cheaper and quicker alternative to copper galvano die shells. Unlike the hardy copper die shells made by MACO, the epoxy die shells are quite fragile and if one were dropped on the floor, it could easily shatter on impact. Not only were these most-fragile die shells in direct contact with each other, but each box weighed far beyond their intended capacity.
While I have gone through the MACO material numerous times on paper, digitally, and with the finished medals, the physical die shells are an entirely different beast. Navigating the added weight and cumbersome size and shape of each piece added an unexpected amount of time to the process and, in the end, the clock ran out. I am happy to report that Rob Vugteveen and I achieved 95% of what we had hoped to before the time came for me to leave. Thankfully, Rob lives nearby and is able to wrap everything up before the trucks arrive. All in all, the second phase of getting the MACO die shells from Mound House to Manhattan was a success.
Please stay tuned for “From Mound House to Manhattan Part III,” which will focus on the actual move of the die shells across the country! It will be an exciting few days!
Over the course of forty years of serious collecting, our friend and colleague Jay Martin Galst amassed an important collection of ancient and medieval coins, many from the Holy Land, as well as modern coins, medals, and tokens, particularly those related to his profession of ophthalmology. Over a year now since Jay died from complications of COVID-19 during the worst of the initial pandemic surge in New York City, his presence is still sorely missed here at the ANS, where he was a frequent visitor. Jay always intended that the bulk of his collection eventually be sold both to benefit his family (Fig. 1), and, as a consummate collector himself, to ensure that others might have the opportunity to collect and enjoy the items that he once owned and enjoyed. Currently, Jay’s collection is being auctioned by Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. with some of the auctions having already taken place, but with more still to come.
Dr. Joann Paley Galst, Jay’s wife, has in the meantime generously arranged for a number of items from his collection to be donated to various museums, including the ANS, which is the recipient of a group of twenty highly significant ancient and medieval coins helping to fill in various gaps in our own collection. In the forthcoming issue of the ANS Magazine (2021 vol. 3), Collections Manager Elena Stolyarik offers a more comprehensive overview of this donation. Here I want to highlight a couple of the coins that are of particular interest to me.
At the beginning of my numismatic career, I developed a keen interest in the phenomenon of ancient imitations, particularly Athenian imitations, publishing a number of articles on the topic, which can be found on my academia.edu page. Produced at the same time as bona fide Athenian coins, these coins were often of (reasonably) good metal and weight and were not meant to deceive in the way counterfeit coins are. Many imitations, in fact, were marked with the names of those producing the coins, like those of the Persian satrap Sabakes of Egypt (Fig. 2), or with ancillary symbols or letters, often written in one of the Semitic alphabets such as Paleo-Hebrew, Aramaic, Northwest Semitic, or Sabaean indicating they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region and making it clear to contemporary users that the coin in question was not a genuine Athenian product.
From the end of the Archaic period onward, Athenian coinage circulated in large numbers in Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, and even farther to the east, no doubt used in trade to pay for desired eastern products, like the frankincense and myrrh that were used in temple rituals. (This Aegean-Levantine trade was, in fact, the subject of my PhD dissertation.) The elevated importance of Athenian coinage in the Near East gave rise to the production of imitations, presumably at times and in places where demand for the coinage was high, but the supply low, and served also to inspire coins that while not close copies of Athenian coinage were clearly influenced by it. From the Galst collection, we have received one such unpublished marked Athenian imitation (Fig. 3).
Stylistically, there is little to differentiate this coin from the later fifth century Athenian tetradrachms that served as its model, and to the unobservant this coin no doubt would have easily passed for an Athenian coin since its weight (16.97 g) is within the ballpark of expectations. There is, however, a small Northwest Semitic aleph on the obverse right along Athena’s jawline. This aleph is probably an abbreviation for the authority responsible for the production of the coin, possibly the Philistian city of Ascalon. Other Athenian imitations or Athenian inspired coins with a similarly inscribed aleph have been attributed by Haim Gitler and Oren Tal in their book on Philistian coinage to this coastal city. If this attribution is correct, this coin is probably one of the very first issues of Ascalon. Of note, there is already in the ANS collection an Athenian imitation of a similarly good late fifth century style (Fig. 4), but one marked on the obverse with the Semitic letter shin in roughly the same position as the aleph on the Galst coin, which Ya’akov Meshorer in ANS SNG 6 suggested stands for the Samaritan city of Shomron.
The second coin I wish to highlight from the Galst donation is a bona fide Athenian tetradrachm (Fig. 5), but one from the latter half of the fourth century BCE.
The coin itself is not so remarkable, but the graffiti on it is. Much like users today, ancient coin users from time to time wrote on their money for a variety of purposes. In the Near East this practice was especially widespread with the numerous examples of graffiti recorded on coins found in the region filling a volume published by Josette Elayi and Andre Lemaire. Generally, the graffiti are personal names, probably of those who at one time laid claim to the coin. Such is the case with this coin, which was published by Lemaire in Israel Numismatic Journal 15 (2003–2006), pp. 24–27. Lemaire determined that the graffiti on the obverse of the coin written in Paleo-Hebrew is the name Yawysih’al, a name not attested before this coin appeared, who Lemaire argues was the final owner of the coin before its burial. Notably, too, the reverse of the coin also bears the graffito shin, but the significance of this abbreviation is unknown.
In the world of humorous coffee shop signs, there is one that has always rung particularly true for this numismatic devotee: “I Don’t Drink Coffee To Wake Up, I Wake Up To Drink Coffee.”
For many, coffee and tea drinks are mere caffeine delivery systems with varying levels of real or artificial sucrose. For others, they are magical brews sent down from on high, and possess an elevated status on par with the finest Grand Crus of Burgundy and the rarest of Scottish single malts. The truth of course lies somewhere in the middle, but after coming across a coffee-themed Civil War merchant token ultimately destined for the American Numismatic Society’s eBay store, it begged the question as to what other coffee or tea-related objects reside in the Society’s vast collection. Let us embark, then, on a kind of “world tour” as it were, to sample a few of the coins, tokens, and medals linked to the consumption of coffee or tea (sometimes both on the same object). These are presented with limited commentary, to illustrate the kind of broad searches that can be performed within the American Numismatic Society’s MANTIS database.
Given that both coffee and tea were not introduced to Europe until the end of the 15th century and early 16th century respectively—interestingly, both sources of caffeine made landfall in Europe just decades apart—it is not surprising that a cursory search of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Departments do not yield any numismatic specimens with which this blog post is concerned. Suffice it to say, we are starting our journey in the Islamic Department, fitting when considering that the first historical accounts of coffee have its origins situated in present-day Yemen. That said, there are several fascinating (if not apocryphal) stories about coffee’s birthplace belonging to Ethiopia instead, which the reader is highly encouraged to explore on their own. Tea, of course, is just as popular as coffee (perhaps more so) in many Middle Eastern countries, so it is equally fitting that the first object on our numismatic tour is actually a bronze Iranian tea house token circa 1945–1956, an interesting piece that the author is keen to learn more about.
East Asian Department
Our next stop is the East Asian Department, more specifically China, the undisputed birthplace of tea, or Camellia sinensis. Here we also have a tea house token, this time in a copper alloy, oval-shaped, and uniface, with the reverse having an incuse impression of the characters on the obverse. It was issued by the Chung Ch’eng Tea House. Also featured is a wonderful tea brick produced by the Chao Li Qiao Brick Tea Manufacturing Company, circa 1875–1925. Although they are one of the few types of edible currencies known to circulate, the tea bricks that are still produced today have lost their role as a commonly accepted medium of exchange. According to the passage on brick tea in Robert D. Leonard’s Curious Currency, tea bricks came in various sizes, and mostly served the areas of eastern Tibet, Mongolia, and Siberia throughout the 19th century, and even into the early 20th century. Additionally, some tea bricks were of better or lesser quality depending on where they were intended to circulate, and whether the bricks contained Russian Cyrillic inscriptions or Chinese ones.
South Asian Department
If the reader is noticing a trend with respect to tea dominating the tokens found in the Islamic, East Asian, and now South Asian Departments, this is a function of the importance that tea plays in this region of the world, although one should not underestimate the popularity of coffee in countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in some Pacific Island nations (e.g., Hawaii) and Australia. The following bronze token was produced by the Lungla (Sylhet) Tea Co. Ld. Lungla Division, circa 1879–1900, and likely played a similar role as the previous tokens, either as advertising pieces, or tokens that could be exchanged for goods.
Crossing the threshold into the Modern Department, we see a shift to coffee-themed tokens, although there is no shortage of tea-related objects in MANTIS as well. First is a copper alloy token dated 1671 featuring the bust of an Ottoman Turk and “Solyman” on the obverse, almost certainly alluding to Suleiman I ‘The Magnificent’ (1494–1566), the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, despite this token being issued by “Wards Coffee House” more than 100 years after the death of Suleiman I. Next is a copper alloy token dated slightly earlier (1669) issued by Charles Kiftell to advertise their “Coffee House In Cheap Side” by displaying a hand pouring a fresh cup of coffee into an eagerly-awaiting cup. What better call-to-action could a proprietor pick to advertise a drink that was (purportedly) declared fit for Christians to drink by Pope Clement VIII (1536–1605) a mere 69 years earlier in 1600—although the reader is encouraged to take this story with a grain of salt, or perhaps a pinch of sugar in the case of coffee. Lastly we have an undated but definitely modern-era aluminum token for an aptly named “Coffee Bar” in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada—a purely utilitarian token versus one meant for advertising, as this piece was issued by the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office.
United States Department
Representing the United States, highlighted here are two different tokens—although they are almost medal-like in their artistry—produced for the Union Coffee Co. Limited of New York in the 2nd half of the 19th century. One token, in white metal with proof-like surfaces, displays the head of a woman on the obverse, while the other token, in hard red rubber, boasts the bust of U.S. President John Adams. The “Alaroma” and “Bunola” on the obverse of both tokens refer to the two most popular brands of coffee that the Union Coffee Company produced. The company was a prolific issuer of tokens, and the hard rubber or vulcanite types featuring different U.S. Presidents were often released in multiple color varieties.
The final object representative of the United States is also representative of Canada, as it is a paper advertisement for a Buffalo, New York “Coffee House” pasted onto the obverse of an 1859 Canadian large cent—not wholly unsurprising given Buffalo’s proximity to the Canadian border. Also interesting is the volume of information the business chose to include; it’s evident they wanted to make the most of the large cent’s real estate by advertising the prices of no less than 10 items on this repurposed coin-token.
Latin America Department
Latin America is of course very well-known for their coffee production, so it should come as no great shock that several paper notes from Latin American countries contain printed engravings detailing various facets of coffee farming and production. On the reverse of this 1965 paper 5-Colon note of Costa Rica, a figure is seen drying unroasted “green” coffee beans in the sun, one of many steps required to get coffee from a farm to a consumer’s cup, a process wherein the final product often ends up many thousands of miles away from where it began.
Rounding out our “world tour” is another object from Latin America, but more specifically from the Medals Department. It is a simple but elegant medal featuring a coffee leaf, coffee flower, and coffee “cherry” (the fruit that encapsulates the two “beans” found in each cherry) along with the inscription “Uruguay-Brazil 1903” on the obverse, and three flowers and a cherry on the reverse.
At the end of the Civil War, the United States had the second largest navy in the world after the Royal Navy of Great Britain, a result of the Union’s attempt to blockade Southern ports. By 1880, however, the US Navy had dropped to 12th place as Congress became increasingly preoccupied with westward expansion and was unwilling to fund a navy for which it saw little need or purpose. A change of perception brought about in part by German, British, and Spanish encroachments in the Americas, a violation of our self-proclaimed Monroe Doctrine, encouraged new spending to begin to modernize the fleet, to introduce a new steel and steam navy to replace the old wooden one.
Funding for three new steel cruisers was authorized in 1883 reflecting US naval doctrine at the time: in the event of war, the primary purpose of the navy would be to protect US seaborne trade while disrupting the trade of the enemy. Cruisers were therefore the ideal type of warship: comparatively lightly armored and gunned, but able to cruise alone at long distances in search of enemy cargo ships. By the end of the 1880s, the first generation of steel cruisers were in the water (USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago), all of which carried a complement of auxiliary sails to extend range, followed by a second and then third generation of sail-less cruisers, USS New York and Brooklyn, and together these ships represented the US Navy’s reemergence from its decades-long slumber (Fig. 1), which soon ignited an arms race with Germany to build the second most powerful navy after the undisputed leader, the Royal Navy.
Although Congress was now funding new ships nearly every year, including the first-generation battleships, the Indiana-class, launched in the mid-1890s, there was still considerable push-back on the expenditure, resulting in ships that were not always up to European par. By the turn of the century, however, that was to change as the US Navy became the darling of the public eye having starred in several magnificent naval parades in New York harbor.
The first took place on April 27, 1893 in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. In order to show off its new ships and nascent fleet maneuvering abilities, Congress authorized funds for a naval review similar to those sometimes hosted by the Royal Navy to be held at both Hamptons Roads and in New York harbor, and sent out invitations to the world’s navies. While the response was mixed, those that truly counted, the British, the Germans, the French, and the Spanish, responded by sending their latest cruisers to parade up the Hudson River to the newly built Grant’s Tomb alongside the new cruisers of the US Navy (Fig. 2).
No such international parade of ships had ever taken place in the US before and this certainly caught the eye of many illustrators and artists. Fred Cozzens, for example, a Staten Island-based artist, produced chromolithographic views of the naval review that were part of a larger set that appear in 1893 featuring nearly two dozen new US ships, including many still under construction (Figs. 3–4).
Cozzens’ set of 24 high quality prints were issued in a volume entitled Our Navy: Its Growth and Achievements, with commentary by a Lt. J. D. Jerrold Kelly, clearly meant to drum up support for naval expansion. In a similar vein, the US Navy sponsored the construction of the faux battleship USS Illinois, a full-sized replica made of staff, not steel, of one of the Indiana-class ships then under construction that was set alongside a pier at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Fig. 5). It proved to be a popular exhibit.
Not long after the closing of the Exposition, growing tensions between the US and Spain over Cuban independence finally erupted in the spring of 1898 when the USS Maine, an armored cruiser reclassified as a 2nd class battleship soon after launching, blew up in Havana harbor with great loss of life, where it had gone to show the flag for American business interests in Cuba (Figs. 6–7).
At the time the cause of the explosion was determined to be a Spanish mine, just cause for Congress to declare war, although it may well have been an internal explosion as later naval historians have suggested. By the end of the summer, the New Navy had scored two remarkable and crushing victories over the Spanish navy, one under Commodore George Dewey leading the Asiatic Squadron in Manila harbor in the Philippines (May 1, 1898), and the other under Commodore William T. Sampson leading the North Atlantic Squadron near Santiago in Cuba (July 3, 1898). Both naval battles set the United States on its course to become an 20th century imperial power. At the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the US; both warring parties agreed to let the Cubans have their independence.
In August 1898, the squadron under Sampson aboard his flagship USS New York with his second in command Commodore Winifred Scott Schley aboard USS Brooklyn returned to New York harbor, home to the Brooklyn Naval Yard and the Tompkinsville Naval Station (Staten Island). Still in their wartime grey paint, the ships paraded up the Hudson again as far as Grant’s Tomb to the cheers of great crowds in boats and along the waterfront (August 26, 1898) (Fig. 8).
An even bigger turnout, however, came little over a year later (September 29–30, 1899), when Dewey returned to New York from the Philippines aboard his flagship, the cruiser USS Olympia (today a museum ship at the Independence Seaport in Philadelphia), where he led both squadrons, now in peacetime white paint, in a momentous naval parade again to Grant’s Tomb (Figs. 9–11), an event that was also recorded in moving pictures by Thomas Edison.
Dewey had already become the hero of the war, completely eclipsing Sampson and Schley, who were involved in a bitter, public dispute over which of the two had actually won the Battle of Santiago (Figs. 12–13).
In Dewey’s honor, a temporary triumphal arch was also erected near Madison Square Park (Fig. 14).
Such naval parades in New York harbor became more commonplace in the decades to follow and have continued to the present day with New York Fleet Week coinciding with Memorial Day, although this year, sadly, the events, like so much else, will be virtual.
As many of you know, the American Numismatic Society purchased the archives of the Medallic Art Company (MACO) at a bankruptcy auction in 2018. The sheer size of this purchase, however, did not allow for the tale to end so quickly. Within weeks of the landmark purchase, components of the collection were shipped to various corners of the country. The medals and paper archives from MACO moved to the ANS headquarters in New York City; the dies and hubs were transferred to Medalcraft Mint, Inc., in Wisconsin, who is generously storing them for the ANS at the moment; and the galvanos, die shells, and plasters took a short drive to Mound House, Nevada, less than five miles from Dayton—where MACO last operated.
By early 2020, with a good portion of the medals catalogued, the ANS began to think about the parts of the collection that remained out of reach. While we were headlong into making plans, however, the COVID-19 pandemic altered reality for most people and put a halt to everything that we hoped would happen. Along with the rest of the world, the ANS heeded to CDC guidelines, masked up, and waited for life to find some semblance of normalcy.
The time has come, however, for the next chapter in the MACO saga to begin! With the third and most recent wave behind us, vaccines becoming more-readily available, and infection rates dropping by the day, the ANS is in the planning stages to transfer all of the galvanos, die shells, and plasters from Mound House to Manhattan (Fig. 1).
Unlike the galvanos that many numismatists are already familiar with, these were not meant to be sold to interested buyers, but are all production galvanos, made for the sole purpose of creating dies to strike medals. Nearly the entire run of MACO products is represented in production-galvano format. To put quantity of this portion of the collection into perspective, just the material in Mound House equates to about 17,000 objects that are stored in roughly 1,400 boxes, which are situated on about 90 pallets and will likely take four (4) tractor trailers to completely move across the country. Given the size, these early stages have been no easy undertaking and involved three major tasks: organizing what we know exist to efficiently absorb the collection as it arrives, finding a location to store the material, and locating a long-haul trucking company.
The first step in the process was to organize the pieces that we have records for. To do this, I had nothing else but to rely on more than 20,000 photographs that were taken as the collection was packed up in 2018. At the time, knowing that this would likely be the last that any of this material would be seen for at least a few years, the ANS hired Lou Manna Photography, of Reno, Nevada, to image as many as he could (Fig. 2).
Fully aware of the magnitude of the task at hand, Manna brought along a dozen college students to aid in streamlining the photography process, box the material, and load them onto pallets. Within the frame of each image, Manna included an individualized 5-digit barcode number to aid in keeping track of them. That same 5-digit barcode was then applied to the outside of the box in which they were stored, and a photograph of the outside of the box was also taken (Fig. 3).
This was the only documentation that existed concerning the contents of each box—no paper records were kept during this process. While, unfortunately, time ran out and photographs for only about 10,000 galvanos were taken, they have proven indispensable in this early stage. All of the images were placed on a hard drive, handed over to the ANS, and sat quietly in New York City for the next three years.
The images were not taken in vain! With this triangulation, I was able to cross reference the photographs of each galvano with a box and a pallet. I made a gargantuan Excel spreadsheet and populated a single column with a list of boxes. The corresponding rows were then filled out with the 5-digit number unique to each piece. This painstaking process took several days to accomplish, but what was I going to do with the information? All I had was a list.
While I am not the final decision-maker on what pieces the ANS will ultimately keep forever and which we will not, we had already set some basic guidelines as to what we wanted. I knew that there are some obvious “keepers” and some obvious “non-keepers,” and knew that the list could be helpful in moving forward. For the following three weeks, I went through each of the 20,000 images, made a preliminary curatorial decision as to the fate of that piece, and highlighted the 5-digit number on my list either in green, for keep, or in red, for dispose of (Fig. 4).
Basically, my opinion of the piece with the parameters in mind. Moving forward, this list will now be used for two purposes: (a.) to become the basis for how we present the collection committee with the objects the ANS would like to disperse, and (b.) to become the basis for the order in which each box is physically loaded into the truck for the 2,700-mile journey.
Some amazing pieces were uncovered during this process, too. Some important pieces included the galvanos for a series of medals that represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel as designed by Salvador Dalí; those for the 1940 medal of Clyde Trees—the manager of MACO who transformed the small company into an industrial medallic art factory—as sculpted by John Ray Sinnock; and nearly forty different galvanos that portray members of the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crow, Kikapoo, Oglala Sioux, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita nations sculpted by Edward Sawyer between 1904 and 1912 (Fig. 5).
This last group is among the most important groups of Native American ethnographic renderings in any medium, perhaps second only to the paintings by George Catlin in the 1830s. While many of the MACO galvanos are of extreme importance or artistic mastery, these truly are priceless American artifacts.
The second main task for the move from Mound House to Manhattan was to find adequate storage near the ANS headquarters so we can start to process the material. If you have ever visited the ANS, you will know that it would be impossible to fit a warehouse worth of material into our already-tight quarters. Truth be told, this was the phase of the move that I thought might give the biggest headaches, as space in New York City (storage or otherwise) is not cheap and we needed the material relatively close by in order to actively process it. Fortunately, a particular website that specializes in commercial properties, had hundreds of potential storage spaces listed. Aside from being close by, the ANS had at least two other requirements: a relatively-small space (ca. 2,000 square feet) combined with a relatively-low rate (ca. $20 per square foot per year). The site allows for potential renters to enter these parameters into search queries in order to narrow the results. This left just two (2) locations available! From the images alone, one location immediately proved inadequate from a security point of view which left just one potential location that met all of our needs (Fig. 6).
After meeting with the landlord and viewing the space, the ANS decided that the undisclosed location was perfect for our needs. Although finding the location proved easy, the process certainly proved more difficult and drawn-out once the real estate brokers and lawyers became involved. In the end, we got a great deal!
Of course, all of this would be for nothing if the ANS could not physically move the items. Therefore, in addition to organizing tens of thousands of images and hunting down adequate storage, I have also been in regular communication with a series of commercial freight trucking companies and have narrowed it down to four potential companies. Through this last process, however, I found out that trucking companies do not necessarily need ample time to take an order. In fact, they don’t even offer quotes that are good for more than 30 days—largely due to the fluctuating cost of fuel. Furthermore, in most cases they can provide service with as little as 24 hours’ notice, unless the product is extremely hazardous or extremely fragile—neither of which pertain to the galvanos, die shells, or plasters.
This is the first of a three-part series. The next installment will highlight the trip to Mound House to actually implement what I had planned while sorting the images and creating the Excel spreadsheet. Please stay tuned for “From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II,” to be published here on Pocket Change ca. mid-June 2021.
While people today may not recognize her name, the career of Katharine Lane Weems (née Katharine Ward Lane) paralleled those of many well-known sculptors of the 20th century (Fig.1).
Born into a well-to-do Boston family in February 1899, she enjoyed a fine education. Her exposure to art no doubt originated through her father—Gardiner Martin Lane, president of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She was named after her aunt, the watercolorist Katharine Ward Lane (d. 1893). In the course of training, she worked under Charles Grafly, George Demetrios, and studied at the summer studios of Anna Hyatt Huntington in Connecticut. As a sculptor, she tended to focus on animal forms. Her work won her a bronze medal at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1926, and the prestigious Widener Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts the following year. In 1947, she married architect Fontaine Carrington “Canny” Weems. In 1985, she published her memoirs, Odds Were Against Me. If you travel to Boston, it would be difficult not to see Weems’ work, either in public or exhibited in the MFA Boston—where she donated her entire estate after her death in 1989, and endowed the position of Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture.
An incredible video exists of Katharine’s sculpting in action (Fig. 2). Made for the MFA Boston by the Harvard Film Service in 1930, From Clay to Bronze traced the entire process used to turn her model of a greyhound into a three-dimensional bronze statue. In addition to Weems, the video also shows master mold maker, Leonello “Leo” Toschi, of Caproni and Brother of Boston; and bronze caster, Anton Kunst, of Kunst Art Foundries in New York City. Similar in nature to The Medal Maker with Laura Gardin Fraser, this silent film has since been remastered with piano accompaniments of Erik Satie and the like, as played by Pascal Rogé.
The majority of Weems’ works are three-dimensional sculptures in bronze. Even still, she proved herself in the art of bas-relief as well. Her most well-known relief works are undoubtedly her animal friezes that decorate the exterior walls of several buildings of Harvard University from ca. 1931 (Fig. 3). Later in her career, Weems also produced three medals for the Medallic Art Company (MACO).
The first was the Reginald Fincke, Jr. Memorial Medal of 1946 (Fig. 4). Commissioned by the Groton School—a private Episcopal college-preparatory boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts—to honor 1st Lieutenant Reginald Fincke, Jr. A 1928 Sixth Form (graduate) of the school, Fincke was killed in action at the Battle of Okinawa on May 15, 1945. The example in the collection of the MFA Boston was donated by the Weems estate. To this day, the Groton School awards this medal to “a member of the Sixth Form who has shown in athletics qualities of perseverance, courage, and unselfish sportsmanship.”
The second MACO medal that Weems designed was the Goodwin Medal for Effective Teaching (Fig. 5). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commissioned the medal in 1952 to award the graduate student who clearly demonstrated “conspicuously effective teaching.” It was established in memory of Harry Manley Goodwin, the first dean of the graduate school at MIT, through a gift from his wife and son, Mary B. Goodwin and Richard H. Goodwin. Like the Fincke Medal, the Goodwin Medal is still given up through the present day.
Weems’ third and final medal is an achievement in and of itself; a reflection of her long and distinguished career (Fig. 6). In November 1959, her designs became the 60th medal struck for the famous Society of Medalists series. Co-founded in 1929 by Clyde C. Trees (the owner of MACO) and George Dupont Pratt (medal collector and philanthropist), the Society of Medalists invited artists to submit designs for a chance to have them become the next in the respected series. Struck at the rate of two per year, legends of sculpture and the medallic arts had designed medals for the Society of Medalists: Laura Gardin Fraser, Paul Manship, and R. Tait McKenzie, just to name a few. While her Society of Medalists design was just one of many exquisite pieces produced by Katharine Lane Weems, the significance and prestige of the series helps maintain her importance as a 20th-century sculptor of the United States.
Today’s post is authored by Jaharia Knowles, ANS intern. Knowles is a high school senior from New York City. A passionate student activist, she became a member of Black Students Demanding Change, a student-led group devoted to creating racially equitable reform in NYC private schools, while researching the American Negro Commemorative Society last summer. In addition, she is a visual artist and musician. Jaharia is excited to explore the intersections of history, identity, politics, and art in her future academic studies, and is dedicated to make her community a more accepting and equitable place.
The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, sent shockwaves across the country and marked the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Almost immediately, riots erupted in several of the nation’s largest cities, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, a public display of the Black community’s grief and anger not only towards King’s assassin, but also towards the nation’s deeply rooted racism. The loss of such a prominent figure of the Movement only exacerbated Black Americans’ discontent with segregation, redlining, and other forms of institutional racism that had existed in the country for decades. Less than a week after King’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited housing discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or national origin, in part due to pressure from protestors. While the national riots and the subsequent passing of the Fair Housing Act are well-known effects of King’s death, one other effect that has received very little attention was the creation of the American Negro Commemorative Society (ANCS).
George A. Beach, a 32-year-old advertising designer based in Pennsylvania founded the Society in collaboration with the Franklin Mint for the purpose of highlighting Black American historical figures. With the ANCS, Beach sought to educate Americans, especially Black Americans, on influential Black figures who were often left out of “traditional,” whitewashed narratives of American history. The subjects featured on the medals lived as early as the Revolutionary era, illustrating how ingrained Black people are in the nation’s history. In fact, many of those featured were pioneers in their field, such as W. C. Handy, self-proclaimed “Father of the Blues,” and George Washington Carver, who made significant contributions to the study of agriculture in the early twentieth century.
The commemoration of Black historical figures on medals, at least in the United States, was unprecedented. The ANCS addressed this in one of their advertisements, saying, “Many notable American Negroes were given some recognition in their time, but nearly all have been sadly neglected in numismatics. We hope to fill that void.” The ANCS’s efforts to highlight previously overlooked Black Americans was part of a greater push to include Black history in American history started earlier in the century by Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (also featured on one of the ANCS medals).
While some of the Black Americans featured on the ANCS’ medals have become household names, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, others are not as well-known. For instance, Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable, a tradesman and the first non-indigenous permanent resident of Chicago, had not been recognized for his role in the city’s history until recently. For decades, John Kinzie, a white Canadian who bought Du Sable’s property in 1804, had been wrongly given the title. While that began to change in the early twentieth century due to the determination of African-American led groups in Chicago, many Americans, even Chicagoans, were unfamiliar with Du Sable. The ANCS’s commemoration of the tradesman was part of a long mission to redress a historical wrong. Today, Du Sable is widely recognized as the “Father of Chicago,” but that would have been impossible without the contributions of Black activists, writers, and organizations, including the ANCS.
The commemoration of Henry Ossian Flipper served a similar purpose. Flipper was born enslaved on March 21st, 1856, in Thomasville, Georgia. However, after the Civil War, he was able to attend West Point Academy, becoming the first black graduate of the school. That same year, he became the second lieutenant of the 10th Cavalry, which made him the first Black officer to lead the all-Black regiment. However, despite his achievements, Flipper’s career was marred by false accusations of misconduct from his racist, white peers, and eventually came to end when Colonel William Rufus Shafter framed the lieutenant for embezzling government funds. Flipper spent the remainder of his life trying to clear his name. Although most people who knew the lieutenant doubted the legitimacy of Shafter’s accusation, he was unable to regain his commission.
The ANCS’ commemoration of Flipper in 1970 is most likely the first time Flipper had been celebrated for his accomplishments after his death. Six years later, Flipper’s descendants applied for a review of his court-martial and dismissal, resulting in the Department of the Army changing his dismissal to an honorable discharge. Shortly after, West Point displayed a bust of Flipper on its campus. In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned the soldier.
In a forthcoming feature in the ANS Magazine, I will offer an in-depth look at all 64 medals and explore other aspects of the Society, including the marketing of the medals, their reception, and the ANCS’s ultimate demise.
The collections of the American Numismatic Society include many medals pertaining to famous architecture, including some of buildings which have been destroyed since their medallic depiction. Among these are the medals dedicated to the Crystal Palaces of London and New York.
The original Crystal Palace was built in London’s Hyde Park in 1851. It was designed and erected by the famous English gardener and architect Joseph Paxton (1803–1865). As head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire, Paxton had already designed and built major greenhouses for his employer. His plan for the Crystal Palace was based on that experience as well as the cruciform shape of Gothic churches.
Construction of this technically innovative building, the largest in the world at the time, took only 17 weeks, because it was assembled from prefabricated modular cast iron columns and beams and standardized glass panes. At times there were 2,000 people working to build it, but it cost less than £180,000 to build—much less than any of the competing designs. It stood 135 feet tall, with a length of 1,848 feet and a ground floor area exceeding 770,000 square feet.
The building was originally created for the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, the first “World’s Fair”. Around 25 European and American nations took part in this international show, which exhibited the technical achievements of the industrial era. The Exhibition lasted for 140 days and was visited over 6.3 million people. One of the leading individuals organizing this great event was the prince consort Albert (1819–1861), husband of Queen Victoria (1819–1901).
After the end of the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace could not remain in Hyde Park. Instead, it was disassembled and moved to Sydenham Hill, then on the outskirts of London, where the components were rebuilt to a different and even larger design. The work was completed in 1854, including a surrounding park with gardens, trees, fountains, and life-size figures of dinosaurs, which attracted particular attention, as well as statuary, including a bust of Paxton, who died in 1865.
The new Crystal Palace hosted many events and exhibits for public education, as well as other displays for recreation and amusement, but it was plagued by financial problems. In 1911, just after it hosted a Festival of Empire, the largest exhibition in its history, it went into public ownership after bankruptcy.
The Crystal Palace met its unhappy fate on the evening of November 30, 1936, when a fire spread out of control. Despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters, by morning it had been completely destroyed.
London’s Great Exhibition became the model for subsequent World’s Fairs organized in various countries. In July 1853, New York emulated London’s example with its Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations. Like London, New York built a modern structure of cast iron and glass for its exhibition and named it a Crystal Palace. It was designed by the Danish-American businessman Georg Carstensen (1812–1857) and the German-American architect Karl Gildemeister (1820–1869). Constrained by the limited space available, the location that is now Bryant Park in Manhattan, they designed it in the form of a Greek cross with an enormous central dome. When it became clear that the building needed more space for exhibits of machinery, they modified the ground floor to an octagonal shape.
The Exhibition of 1853 in New York was the first World’s Fair held in the United States, and it served to promote the achievements of the young nation and its largest city. Thousands of exhibitors presented their consumer goods, artworks, and technological innovations to more than a million visitors.
After the Exhibition closed in 1854, New York’s Crystal Palace was used for other events, but unfortunately it met the same fate as its exemplar in London. The building was destroyed in a fire in less than half an hour in 1858.
Although the buildings did not last, both the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London and the Exhibition of Industry of 1853 in New York marked a change in the ways that people engaged with the world in an age of rapid social, political, and economic transformation. The medals depicting these innovative buildings show the pride in industrial achievements and the close relationship seen between the exhibitions and the buildings that housed them.