The History of MACO, 1902–1920

History of MACO, 1902-1920

Dr. Jesse Kraft

The origins of the Medallic Art Company began in 1902, when Henri Weil first gained employment with the Deitsch Brothers, makers of ladies’ leather handbags in New York City. His job was to cast decorative silver ornaments and trim. That same year, on a trip to Paris, Henri learned of the Janvier reduction machine and suggested that his employers purchase one. While there, he received training on the machine at the Janvier factory. In August, the machine is installed at the Deitsch Brothers factory, and the firm began to advertise their newly-acquired tool. By 1903, although he succeeded in making several finely-detailed patterns and cuts at a fraction of the price, the changing fashion of handbags required less-and-less ornamentation, and the firm deemed the machine useless.

In 1905, having learned that the Deitsch Brothers possessed a Janvier reduction machine, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens commissioned Henri Weil to reduce the dies for the Benjamin Franklin Bicentennial Medal (fig. 1). Delays in the artwork caused production to extend beyond the 1906 deadline, and the medal was not delivered until 1907. This experience, however, was an eye-opener for Weil, who then saw the potential of the Janvier reduction machine as a method to reduce art for other sculptors. In 1906, he convinced the Deitsch Brothers to allow him to use the machine for other artists. The first medal was the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Medal—sculpted by Bela Lyon Pratt, reduced by the Deitsch Brothers, and struck by Tiffany & co. That same year, the firm reduced the design of Adolph Alexander Weinman for the American Institute of Architects Three Heads Medal.

Figure 1. United States. Bronze medal for the Benjamin Franklin Bicentennial, 1906 (ANS 1961.137.5), 101mm. This was the very first medal that Henri Weil reduced on the Janvier reduction machine while working for the Deitsch Brothers.

In the Spring of 1907, Henri Weil travelled to Philadelphia to train the engravers at the United States Mint how to operate their freshly-imported Janvier reduction machine. During this time, after he returned from a lunchbreak, he discovered that someone had sabotaged the machine by improperly readjusting all of the settings. He later learned that this was US Mint Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber, who saw the Janvier reduction machine as a threat. Barber was correct in his assumptions. The Janvier reduction machine effectively replaced the need for classically-trained engravers like Barber. Instead of having to hand-produce each die at a 1-to-1 level, the reduction machine allowed for sculptors to produce large-scale models that could be reduced to the size of a coin or medal, and allowed for far greater detail, accuracy, and duplication than most engravers could ever replicate.

While Henri Weil continued to produce a few more medals through 1908, it wasn’t until the following year that demand for his talents blossomed into its fullest potential. Sculptor Jules Edouard Roiné had a particularly-active year, and had Weil cut four sets of dies for the Hudson-Fulton Centennial, two different medals of Hendrik Hudson and two medals of Robert Fulton. Roiné also created four different sets of dies for the Lincoln Centennial—all for different clients, including the American Numismatic Society (fig. 2). The Lincoln Centennial Medal for the Grand Army of the Republic, however, was the most significant due to the inclusion a stylized design of the initials M.A.CO. on the obverse—the first evidence of the Medallic Art Company. That same year, Weil also produced the galvano and made reductions for the new Lincoln cent for sculptor Victor David Brenner to propose to the US Mint. Upon approval, he then made the hubs that the Mint used to strike all of the cents. Throughout this process, Henri Weil befriended Lincoln medal collector Robert Hewitt, Jr.

Figure 2. United States. Bronze medal for the Lincoln Centennial by Jules Edouard Roiné, 1909. This was the first medal to include the MACO name, on the obverse below the 1865 date.

Believing that the new company belonged to them, the Deitsch Brothers began to advertise “medals and statues reduced and enlarged” along with the Medallic Art Co. name. Not wholly sure who actually owned the company (since the Janvier reduction machine still belonged to the Deitsch Brothers), Hewitt suggested that Weil purchase the Medallic Art Co. and all of the machinery from the Deitsch Brothers, and even offered to be a silent partner to ensure proper funding for the venture. The Deitsch Brothers, however, refused to sell and, instead, offered Weil 49% of the company. Weil, at Hewitt’s insistence, refused and the Deitsch Brothers sold all of the dies that Weil had produced to that point to Davison’s of Philadelphia, a rival medal company. By that time, Davison’s already owned a Janvier reduction machine and did not wish purchase another from the Deitsch Brothers, who then sold the machine to Weil. For his part, Weil assumed that the Medallic Art Co. name was included with the sale, but the Deitsch Brothers informed him otherwise and demanded another $1,000 for the name.

In 1910, Henri Weil and his brother Felix incorporate the Medallic Art Co. as a New York State corporation, each owning 50% of the firm. The first set of dies that MACO produced under this ownership was the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Plaquette for the American Numismatic Society (fig. 3). Although Felix Weil continued to work with partner Jules Roiné under the name Roiné & Weil—unbeknownst to Roiné—the Weil brothers made an agreement to split all of their profits with each other, regardless of which firm actually earned the money. While Roiné and Weil were much more profitable at this time, the Medallic Art Co. would have likely gone bankrupt within the first year if not for this clandestine agreement. This arrangement continued until 1915, when Roiné became ill and decided to return to his native Paris, essentially ending Roiné and Weil, and allowed Felix to join Henri fulltime at MACO. That same year, MACO purchased a second Janvier reduction machine.

Figure 3. United States. Bronze plaquette honoring Algernon Sydney Sullivan by Jules Edouard Roiné, commissioned by the American Numismatic Society, struck by Joseph K. Davison’s Sons, 1910 (ANS 1940.100.450), 89x61mm. This was the first medal produced by the Weil brothers as sole owners of the Medallic Art Company.

Until this time, MACO never struck any medals. They did not have the space, equipment, or capital to do so. It was not until 1918, during the production of the Foch Golf Medal, that they first realized the need to purchase a press to strike medals, as well as to adopt all other steps of medallic production in order to be a financially-viable operation. The Weil brothers had entertained offers from the Greenduck company in Chicago, but talks fell through when they refused to relocate to Chicago. Similar negotiations didn’t materialize with Davison’s in Philadelphia.

In 1919, however, a saving grace came to them. An acquaintance of theirs, attorney Warren Rollin Voorhis, mentioned that a distance relative of his, Clyde Curle Trees, might have an interest in acting as an associate of MACO—to act as manager and provide needed capital. Trees travelled to New York City to meet with the Weil brothers. He also wanted references who could vouch to the quality of them and their work. The American Numismatic Society and sculptor James Earle Fraser provided adequate references. The Weil and Trees reincorporated MACO with Henri as President, Felix as Vice President, and Trees as Secretary-Treasurer (fig. ). The Weil brothers owned 51% of the company and Trees and his associates owned 49%. In 1920, Trees was able to find a larger location for the firm—137 East 29th Street, with two floors and a basement. Additionally, he hired their first full-time employee, John Hartl, and acquired a surplus WWI press from Worcester, Massachusetts. With these additions, MACO became an bona fide medallic mint.

Figure . Henri Weil, Clyde Trees, and Felix Weil in the 1930s.

Throughout the 1920s, the relationship between the Weil brothers and Trees was tenuous, at best. The Weils wanted to maintain MACO as a strictly art-medal company and produce dies only for their sculptor-friends, as they had done in the past. Trees, on the other hand, wanted to maximize production and promote their services to anyone who wanted a medal to be struck. The two sides attempted to buy the other out on several occasions, but neither ever agreed. Finally, in 1929, Trees raised additional funds and the Weil brothers agreed to sell their shares to him. With this deal, however, Trees requested that at least one Weil brother attend to the mint at all times. The Weil brothers agreed to this, as it effectively allowed them a six-month vacation each. By this time, MACO was a fully-functional operation had served hundreds of clients, and laid the groundwork for the company to become the preeminent medallic mint in the United States. While MACO would not have existed without the Weil brothers, it would not have prospered without Clyde Trees.