Tag Archives: medal

Telegraphic Numismatica

Detail of Morse from the reverse of an 1896 $2 silver certificate, ANS 1980.67.17
Detail of Morse from the reverse of an 1896 $2 silver certificate, ANS 1980.67.17

On January 6, 1838, American polymath Samuel F. B. Morse and his partners Leonard Gale and Alfred Lewis Vail hosted a successful private trial of their new electric telegraph system. Morse was a celebrated painter who became fixated on the idea of creating an expeditious means of long-distance communication when his wife fell ill and died while he was away (the news, delivered by mail, arrived only after the fact). Morse’s signature contribution was adding extra circuits or relays to the existing electromagnetic systems, which ensured that the telegraphic signal would carry over longer wires. The first message that was transmitted that day was an aphorism: “A patient waiter is no loser.” (The more famous phrase associated with the telegraph, “what hath God wrought,” was sent in 1844 as part of a public demonstration of the new commercial telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)

The electric telegraph expanded exponentially in the mid-nineteenth century, transforming commerce and communication throughout the United States and eventually around the world. The key to the globalization of the technology was overcoming the challenge of manufacturing underwater cables that were durable enough to survive and transmit signals across vast distances. The first successful effort to lay a trans-Atlantic cable was undertaken by the Atlantic Telegraph Company headed by Cyrus W. Field. On August 16, 1858, the first message was sent from England to the United states, which read: “Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men.” Shortly after, Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan exchanged congratulatory messages, but the cable failed after just a few short weeks.

ANS, 0000.999.4493
ANS, 0000.999.4493

Nevertheless, the venture had demonstrated the viability of undersea cables, even if there were some technical issues that still needed to be worked out. The New York Chamber of Commerce commissioned a medal from Tiffany & Co. to celebrate Field and the engineers that had made the project possible. The richly symbolic result depicted Columbia and Britannia holding a cable across the globe. In the small cartouche below the figure of Mercury stands with the fruits of American commerce, which includes a beaver.

A more entertaining version of Tiffany’s rather formal medal were a series of tokens struck for the occasion by George H. Lovett of New York City.

ANS, 0000.999.4501
ANS, 0000.999.4501

Here an electrified handshake takes place across the Atlantic between ‘Brother Jonathan,’ a contemporary personification and parody of a New Englander, and a British gentleman. The latter asks “How are you Jonathan,” to which he responds “Purty well old feller, heow’s yer self.” Another fascinating momento from this event was a token produced by Granville Stokes, a merchant in Philadelphia who purchased a portion of the failed cable.

ANS, 1952.110.26
ANS, 1952.110.26

Stokes had the cable cut into quarter-inch thick slices and a suitable die was made to serve as a housing and advertising card for his business. It was then attached so that a cross-section of the cable showed as the reverse. It was not until 1866 that trans-Atlantic telegraphic communication was re-established when a new 1700-mile long cable went into operation.

ANS, 0000.999.57219
ANS, 0000.999.57219

The means by which signals were sent and interpreted via the telegraph was by what came to be known as Morse code. In this system, numbers, letters, and symbols were assigned a combination of dots and dashes that allowed for quick communication by simply tapping on a receiver. Skilled technicians could transmit a remarkable amount of text, up to 30 or 40 words per minute. A silversmith named S. W. Chubbuck from Utica, New York, seemed to have a particular interest in the Morse code system. This silver token is one of two minted, though more were made in bronze, and it depicts the full “Morse Telegraph Alphabet” and advertises his business, which apparently had a connection to the telegraph industry. Chubbuck later issued paper scrip during the Civil War that also included a tutorial in Morse code.

ANS, 1945.42.278
ANS, 1945.42.278

Perhaps the most famous bits of telegraphic numismatica are the Canadian nickels minted during the Second World War. New twelve-sided five-cent pieces were struck in brass and chrome-plated steel in 1943 amidst metal shortages caused by the war. As you can see, the device on the reverse was a torch splitting through a large V, which both indicated the denomination (5 ¢) and nodded towards the Allied ‘V for Victory’ campaign.

ANS, 1944.33.1
ANS, 1944.33.1

Some will note that the rims of the coin look a bit strange. This is because Thomas Shingles, the engraver of the Royal Canadian Mint, included a message along the rim in Morse code. Beginning at 6 o’clock (under the N) and reading clockwise it says:

We Win When We Work Willingly

Here’s a closer look at the top edge where the word “WORK” is spelled out: W (·——)  O (— — — ) R (· — ·) K (— · —)

1944.33.1.det

And with that short lesson in Morse code we end our short survey of the numismatics of the telegraph!

Matthew Wittmann

Frohes Neues Jahr | Happy New Year

The dawning of a new year has long been an occasion for celebration, but at least in numismatic terms, it seems to be the Germans who party the hardest. During the late nineteenth century, striking small medals and giving them away as one might send cards to friends and family was a common practice. But this new year’s numismatic practice extended all the way back into the eighteenth century as well.

ANS, 0000.999.3066
ANS, 0000.999.3066

This commemorative medal was struck to mark the beginning of 1718. The obverse apes Roman imagery in depicting Charles VI as a conquering hero and celebrates the Holy Roman Empire’s defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Austro-Turkish War. The expression for best wishes in the new year in the exergue is rather tangential here, but the rise of specialist firms like Ludwig Christoph Lauer in the nineteenth century democratized the practice of medal-making.

ANS, 1940.100.723
ANS, 1940.100.723

This pretty medalet depicting angels with the inscription VIEL GLUCK ZUM NEUEN JAHR (good luck for the new year) is a nice example of the sort that were being struck and given away around this time. This particular one marks the beginning of 1890.

The most common form that these new year’s trinkets took in Austria and German was in medals that resembled business cards. The example below is a particularly rich one.

ans, 2011.2.1

ANS, 2011.2.1

The medal is the work of Franz Kounitzky, and you can see on the top of the car that the “sender” of this card (as indicated by the “ABS”) was Paul Schulz. It features an incredible ensemble of good luck charms for the new year of 1906: an automobile with a pig driving, a female figure holding a large cornucopia and a chimney sweep holding ladder with horseshoes sit in the back; there is a four-leafed clover on the luggage on top of the car; behind it is a devil with cut off tail raising its fist in anger (presumably the pig has just run him over?). Whatever the case, Frohes Neues Jahr!

Matthew Wittmann

Gold Medal of Martin Luther, 1521

One of the treasures in the American Numismatic Society’s collection is a unique gold medal depicting the German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546). It came to the ANS by way of Alastair Martin, an art collector, ace tennis player, and longtime benefactor of many metropolitan cultural institutions.

Klosterneuburg Monastery, 1774
Klosterneuburg Monastery, 1774

The medal was formerly part of the collection at the Klosterneuburg Monastery,   an Augustinian abbey in Austria that has a museum of Gothic and Baroque sculpture and paintings. Its provenance beyond that is uncertain, as is much about the circumstances of its production. The medal dates to 1521, a momentous year in the nascent Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther being excommunicated for refusing to recant his writings. Luther’s 1517 publication of Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum (The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) had provided the initial catalyst for the Reformation by attacking clerical abuses and the practice of selling of indulgences in particular.

In April 1521, Luther was ordered to appear at the Diet of Worms, a formal deliberative assembly of the Holy Roman Empire convened to address the ongoing religious upheaval. Luther refused to disavow his writings and beliefs, which led to the Edict of Worms condemning him as a heretic and forbidding “anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther.” Despite this declaration, Luther had wide support in Germany and this wonderful medal captures something of the esteem with which he was regarded.

ANS, 1955.30.1
ANS, 1955.30.1

This obverse is supposed to have been the work of Hans Glimm, a goldsmith from Nuremberg. This attribution derives from the fact that a few known lead casts have the monogram HR under the bust, although it obviously does not appear on this gold specimen. Whomever designed the obverse, it is clear that the depiction of Luther in profile was based upon an engraving by the painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472–1553) Luther as an Augustinian Friar, with Cap, 1521 Engraving, 8 3/16 × 5 13/16 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930 (30.12.4) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/434162
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)
Luther as an Augustinian Friar, with Cap, 1521 | Engraving, 8 3/16 × 5 13/16 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930 (30.12.4)

The spread of Luther’s ideas and the general success of the Reformation was closely tied to the evolution of the printing press, which enabled both images of Luther and his writings to circulate widely. Cranach worked in the state of Saxony, a center of the tumult, and painted or engraved portraits of many of the Reformation’s leaders. He was also an enthusiastic supporter and close friend of Martin Luther, who as the engraving and medal suggest, cut a rather stout figure. Cranach’s early print was suggestive of the portrait medallions that were popular in Renaissance art, so it hardly seems surprising that it served as a model for the production of an actual medal. Incidentally, Cranach often signed his works with a black winged serpent holding a ruby ring in its jaws, which you can see at bottom right if you click to enlarge the image. The legend that wreathes Luther’s bust reads:

HERESIbVS. SI. DIGNVS. ERIT. LVTHERVS. IN. VLLIS – ET. CRISTVS. DIGNVS. CRIMINIS. HVIVS. ERIT

This can be roughly translated as : “If Luther will be deserving of any heresies, Christ also will be deserving of this crime.” 

The reverse makes the connection between Luther and Jesus Christ explicit. It is thought to be the work of Peter Flötner, a sculptor, metalsmith, and printmaker who was a prominent figure in Nuremberg’s flourishing in the arts.

ANS, 1955.30.1
ANS, 1955.30.1

The bust of Christ is surmounted by a holy dove and flanked by verses in German from the Gospels of John. On the left is John 1:29 : “Christ, I am the lamb that taketh away the sin of the world.” On the right is John 4:16 : “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” The verses underscores Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. Contra established Catholic teaching, Luther believed that salvation was a gift received from God, not something that could be achieved by good works and holiness or, in the case of indulgences, bought.

This wonderful gold medal  is both an exemplary work of Renaissance medallic art and a powerful piece of pro-Reformation propaganda that explicitly suggests that if Luther was guilty of heresy, Christ would be as well.

Matthew Wittmann

Sources: Henry Grunthal, “A Contemporary Gold Medal of Martin Luther,” ANS Museum Notes (1956): 201-203.

A German Columbian Exposition Medal, 1893

The unaccountable lack of decent internet access at the annual World’s Fair of Money has prevented us from posting more this week, but as we wrap things up here, I did want to highlight one particularly spectacular piece of Chicagoiana. This is a copper electrotype of a very large (114 mm) medal that was designed by Fritz Koenig and struck by the Nürnberg firm Ludwig Christoph Lauer. The die is supposed to have broken after just a few medals were stuck and it is not listed in Nathan Eglit’s catalogue of Columbiana.

ANS, 0000.999.57146
ANS, 0000.999.57146

The obverse depicts a reclining female figure we suppose represents America (Columbia?) holding a U.S. shield. A heraldic eagle flies above, and behind is the famed Administration Building, which exemplified the neoclassical style of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. By far the more impressive side of the medal is the reverse, which depicts a bird’s-eye view of the grounds. The Rand McNally publishing company of Chicago printed a popular view of the same, although differences with Koenig’s design suggest that he copied from a different source.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Whatever the case, it is a truly fine example of craftsmanship. Of course the intricate high-relief design is likely what led to the breakdown in production, but if you click to enlarge the image below, you will be able to see its outstanding detail.

0000.999.57146.y

And with that, we’ll just say thank you to everyone who stopped by the American Numismatic Society’s table in Chicago!

I would also like to thank the Numismatic Literary Guild for giving Pocket Change its annual award for “Best Blog.” It is a heartening award for this relatively new endeavor and we look forward to expanding and improving our content moving forward.

NLG award

Matthew Wittmann

Deutschland in Amerika: July 9, 1916

postcard 6

As the First World War raged in Europe, neutrality in the United States was fraught with growing tensions as supporters of both sides of the conflict began to draw lines in the sand. Almost three years were to pass from the beginning of the war in August 1914 until the United States finally entered the conflict on April 6, 1917. During this time, commerce between the United States and both the Entente (Russia, France, Britain) and Central Powers (Germany and the Austro-Hungary) continued. One of the more usual episodes in the ongoing trade with the belligerents took place in 1916. The Entente, spearheaded by the British Navy, had set up a blockade of Germany’s northern ports in the hopes of starving the country into submission. It was a tactic that proved effective, but not decisively so. While normal surface ships had little chance of running the blockade, the Germans realized that they could potentially employ their superior submarine technology to circumvent it.

deutchaland

The Deutschland was a nominally private German cargo submarine operated by the North German Lloyd line, which was built specifically to run the blockade. On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, the Deutschland sailed mostly empty, but with tons of pig iron as ballast. It arrived and docked safely in Baltimore, on July 9, 1916. The pig  iron was subsequently unloaded and turned into souvenirs, which were sold to support German-American charities.

ANS, 1917.53.1 (click to enlarge)
ANS, 1917.53.1 (click to enlarge)

The submarine was loaded with mostly raw materials for its return trip home and Captain Paul König and his crew were feted as heroes all along the eastern seaboard that summer. The German Historical Society in New York City hosted an event for the crew at which the medal below was given.

ANS, 0000.999.56834
ANS, 0000.999.56834

Deutschland made another trip to the United States in the fall of 1916, this time landing in New London, Connecticut. A third planned trip in early 1917 was cancelled due to rising tensions in the aftermath of Germany’s renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare. Deutschland was soon thereafter militarized with torpedoes and guns, reemerging as U-155. The submarine went on to have a successful military career, sinking forty-two Allied ships and earning enmity of many Americans who had previously celebrated its blockade-running.

Peter van Alfen

Mysteries from the Vault: Models Medalet

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

This bronze medalet appears to be a membership or attendance medal for some unknown society. It is not exactly clear to us what activity the gentlemen on the obverse are engaged in, but they appear to be building a model house and a model ship. The number 80 is faintly visible in the exergue. It measures 25.5 mm in diameter and the reverse has the legend: C. / O. O. / O’ HOUT / MEI 1916

Mystery Solved! Thanks to Henk Groenendijk who commented below and offered the following history of the medalet:

In the exergue there are the letters B.U. which stands for Begeer Utrecht. Begeer (1880-1919) were a well-known firm in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands who made many types of medals. The medal concerned is one of their stock medals, made in different sizes and metals for awards. This particular medal is an award for homecrafts (Huisvlijt in Dutch). The reverse of the medal has space for an engraved or, in this case, a stamped inscription.

O’HOUT is an abbreviation of Oosterhout, a city located in the province of North Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands. The date is May (MEI) 1916, which is in the period of the first World War. Although the Netherlands stayed neutral during this war, the army was mobilized. Near Oosterhout there were army barracks. These were visited by the Queen on May 17, 1916. This visit is described in a newspaper for the army (Soldatenkrant, orgaan voor leger en vloot) of May 28, 1916.

The Queen also visited an “huisvlijt tentoonstelling”, an exhibition of objects made by the soldiers in their free time. This exhibition was organized by the “Comité tot ontwikkeling en ontspanning der gemobiliseerde troepen” which can be translated as Committee for development and relaxation of mobilized troops. In the inscription this was abbreviated as: C.O.O. In the newspaper article it is not stated whether or not medals were given by the Queen. My assumption is they were given by the Comité.

1984.15.15
1984.15.15

 

1984.15.15.rev

Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.

Mysteries from the Vault: Louis Gold Badge

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

******Mystery Solved! See update at the bottom of the post.********

This scalloped-edged badge or medal was found by an amateur archaeologist in fill removed from a building site in downtown Manhattan  sewage sludge removed from drains by contractors in Midtown and lower Manhattan. It measures 48 mm or just under 2 inches in diameter. Everything else we know about it is on the medal itself, which is inscribed with a name, “LOUIS GOLD” and a number, “1258.” There is no further identifying information on the reverse, though I have included an image anyways.

2007.42.22.obv
ANS, 2007.42.22

 

2007.42.22.rev.1140

Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.

 

UPDATE:

A reader has (we think rightly) speculated that this is a “tool check,” i.e., a tag that was attached to a particular tool in an industrial or construction setting that identified it as the property of the company. Individual or contract workers would thus “check out” and return tools as needed. See, for example, this eBay listing for a metal tool check from the Hudson Car Co., which includes the warning”Penalty for loss twenty five cents.”

It has also been observed that there was a man named Louis Gold who was a prominent NYC builder during the early 20th century. Gold was a Russian Jewish émigré and has a fascinating life story, which you can read more about in the profile reproduced from the Brooklyn Eagle below. The short story for our purposes is that Gold owned a large building company, one that more likely than not employed a tool check system for its workers. The inscription “LOUIS GOLD” and accompanying serial number would make perfect sense in this context.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 1, 1925 (click to enlarge)
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 1, 1925 (click to enlarge)

 

The Myth of Appomattox

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

The 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox was commemorated in New York City this weekend with some celebratory cannon shots from Castle Clinton in Battery Park.  Historian Gregory P. Downs also had an excellent column in the New York Times about some of the pernicious myths that cloud our understanding of this hallowed event. As Downs points out, the war hardly ended at Appomattox, as Southerners continued to violently and rather successfully resist efforts towards racial equality in the years that followed. Indeed, on assuming office in 1869, Ulysses S. Grant remarked that many of the rebel states remained in the “grasp of war.” From this perspective, the era of Reconstruction was not something that happened after the war, but a continuation of it. This ongoing struggle and the violence, though, has  largely been obscured by the myth of reconciliation at Appomattox, where Confederate soldiers were supposed to have accepted their defeat graciously, stacked their arms, and returned to peaceful civilian lives. One of the remarkable things about what Downs calls the “myth of Appomattox” is how quickly it took hold. See, for example, this medal issued by Quint and Sons of Philadelphia for Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign.

ANS, 0000.999.38670
ANS, 0000.999.38670

The medal burnished Grant’s image as a magnanimous victor, and someone focused on peace and reconciliation rather than continued conflict. Grant was clearly aware of the problems posed by recalcitrant Southerners and made some aggressive but ultimately ineffectual moves to see Reconstruction through. These efforts were in part undermined by the growing legend of Appomattox and peaceful rapprochement. Indeed, this was something that the reverse of the medal articulated explicitly with the redolent symbolism of stacked arms:

ANS, 0000.999.38670
ANS, 0000.999.38670

The plowing horse image and quote referred to Grant’s decision to allow Confederate troops who owned their own horses to take them with them after the surrender. The idea, related by Grant in his memoirs, was that this would make it easier for the soldiers-cum-farmers to “put in a crop to carry themselves and their families through the next winter.” This conciliatory gesture became part of the myth of Appomattox. The myth exerted a hold on both those who wanted to simply move on from the war and those that used it as a cover to continue to resist its consequences, neither of which boded well for the postwar effort to establish racial equality in the United States. And while how big of a role it played in the near-term failure of Reconstruction is of course debatable, I agree with Downs about the pernicious influence it has on our collective memory of the Civil War and its legacy.

Matthew Wittmann