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 Weinman, John 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 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.
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.