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.