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From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II

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).

Figure 1. Jesse Kraft (r.) and Rob Vugteveen (l.) in Mound House, NV, beginning to prepare the MACO die shells for their journey across the country.

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).

Figure 2. Pallets separated into their prospective groups.

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).

Figure 3. Jesse Kraft with Woodrow Davis, Coiner of Press No. 1 at the Carson City Mint. Jesse is holding the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion, which was struck just moments before the photograph was taken.

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.

Figure 4. Jesse Kraft with some authentic Virginia City Western wear, which he proudly wore for his homecoming that coincidentally fell on the weekly “Western Wear Wednesday” at the ANS Headquarters.

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.

Figure 5. Epoxy die shells for the 1986 ANS medal to commemorate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

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.

Figure 6. A box of epoxy die shells waiting to be packed up and shipped to New York City.

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!

From Mound House to Manhattan, Part I

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).

Figure 1. This image only shows about one-third of the boxes with MACO material that are currently stored in Mound House, Nevada. The other two-thirds are on the other side of the wall to the left.

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).

Figure 2. Lou Manna Photography and a dozen local college students helped photograph as much as they could in a less-than-favorable timespan.

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).

Figure 3. One of the many images that show the pallets of boxes as they were loaded prior to their move to Mound House. There were 156 of these images to go through in order to begin to capture the contents of each box.

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).

Figure 4. A portion of the spreadsheet compiled to help organize the pieces prior to actual shipment. Those highlighted in green represent pieces that the ANS will potentially retain, while those highlighted in red are those the ANS may decide to not accession into the collection.

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).

Figure 5. The raw photo files for three important galvanos—each important for very different reasons. (Top) A galvano designed by famed artist Salvador Dalí which represents the Tribe of Gad—one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, (middle) The galvano for the 1940 medal of Clyde Trees by John Ray Sinnock, and (bottom) the galvano for the Navajo Chief, Tja-Yo-Ni by Edward Sawyer in 1904.

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).

Figure 6. An interior view of about one-half of the location where the galvanos, die shells, and plasters from Mound House will reside and wait to be processed at the ANS headquarters in Manhattan.

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.

The Medallic Art of Katharine Lane Weems

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).

Figure 1. Katharine Ward Lane (Weems), ca. 1915.

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.

Figure 2. The 1930 silent film, From Clay to Bronze.

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.

Figure 3. Pelican friezes on the exterior of the Biological Laboratories of Harvard University.

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).

Figure 4. The Reginald Fincke Memorial Medal (MACO.1946-025). The obverse features the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor—the official emblem of the United States Marine Corps.—flanked by two stars. Below is the inscription, “Lt • REGINALD • FINCKE • Jr. \ MEMORIAL • MEDAL. The reverse features the heraldic shield of the Groton School with the inscription, “GROTON • SCHOOL \ AWARDED • TO,” a mentioning that the medal is “GIVEN BY • THE \ FORM OF • 1928,” and that it is awarded for “SPORTSMANSHIP \ CHARACTER.” The medal comes in bronze and measures 3 5/16” × 3”.

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.”

Figure 5. The Goodwin Medal for Effective Teaching (MACO.1952-067). The obverse features a hand emerging from clouds while clutching three lightning bolts, clouds from above with rays of light shining through, and the inscription, “MASSACHVSETTS • INSTITVTE • OF • TECHNOLOGY.” The reverse displays an open book behind a lamp of knowledge and olive sprigs with the legend, “FOR • CONSPICVOVSLY • EFFECTIVE • TEACHING” and “GOODWIN MEDAL” in the exergue. The medal comes in bronze and measures 3”.

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.

Figure 6. The 60th Issue for the Society of Medalists, 1959 (MACO.1930-001-060). The obverse features a puma squatting in a tree with the inscription, “GOD \ MADE THE BEAST.” The reverse features three geese flying to the left with clouds in the background, with a continuation of the obverse inscription that reads, “AND \ EVERY WINGED FOWL.” (ANS 2011.54.3)

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.

The World’s Most Perfect Man

In 2018 the ANS acquired the inventory—medals, dies, galvanos, plaques, and paper and digital archives—of the Medallic Art Company (MACO), an historically important but defunct private mint. The Society’s relationship with MACO goes right back to the company’s founding at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, MACO used to regularly supply the ANS with its medals, as long as the Society obtained permission from the artists or organizations responsible for making them. So in the ANS Archives we have permission letters from numismatic artists like Adolph WeinmanJohn Sinnock, and Paul Manship.

But it wasn’t just artists. One letter that caught my eye, with its striking letterhead, was written by the legendary Charles Atlas. Generations of comic book readers, me included, will be familiar with that name. Who can forget the 97-pound weakling who, after getting sand kicked in his face by a boorish bully, bulks up with Atlas’s bodybuilding program and returns to the beach to deck the goon, prompting his girlfriend to decide that he’s “a real man after all”? 

Atlas always said that the 97-pound weakling was him and that the beach was at Coney Island. Born Angelo Sicilano in 1893 in Italy, he settled in Brooklyn with his parents 10 years later. In 1922 he took his new name and was soon selling his program of bodybuilding and fitness.

Charles Atlas (née Angelo Sicilano), ca. 1920

In his letter to the ANS, written four years later, Atlas sounded excited that his medal, identifying him as the “World’s Most Perfect Man,” might be displayed at the museum. “May I have more particulars? Are there any tickets necessary for entrance, price, etc.? I should like to see this display.” ANS secretary Sydney Noe told him he could stop by anytime.

Atlas’s medal, awarded “for physical perfection,” was an early component of a program that would be sold for decades to come. There is a place for the recipient’s name on the reverse. On those I have seen online, the lettering can be quite crude

Charles Atlas died at 79 at a hospital on Long Beach, Long Island, in 1972. The company is apparently still in operation.