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Coming to America: Art Deco medallic style makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean

Coin World series profiles the continuous change of European and American medallic art in 19th, 20th centuries
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By , Special to Coin World
Published : 06/24/14
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Editor’s note: In his July monthly Coin World cover feature, noted medal expert David T. Alexander traces the path of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco design movements through the beautiful designs of European and American art medals. This is one of a series of articles from this feature that will appear online at CoinWorld.com. 

Read other posts in the series: 

Crossing to America

Art Deco swiftly crossed the Atlantic to America. Among the first American medals showing its influence is the 82.3-millimeter bronze Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce medal by Julio Kilenyi, hailing Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd’s 1926-1929 aerial conquest of the North and South Poles. 

Struck by Whitehead & Hoag of Newark, N.J., it bears a bust of Byrd in flying gear facing left on a sea of clouds, above world globes and a tiny U.S. Army Air Corps emblem. The reverse presents a Ford Trimotor airplane with ski landing gear coming in between icy peaks, an American eagle perched atop the cabin. The plane’s wings extend beyond the edge, the right appearing to merge with the ice at the rim.

Latin American medals include a 50-millimeter bronze Art Deco medal authorized by the Congress of Venezuela, struck by Huguenin Fréres in Switzerland for the 1930 Centennial of the death of South American hero Simon Bolívar. His uniformed bust faces left, while the reverse presents a distinctive radiant Liberty holding laurel branches above a Bolívar quote, “The Title of Liberator is Superior to all Others Bestowed by the Human Race.”

One of the most robust medallic portraits of a French aviator is Georges Guiraud’s 1930 head and shoulders bust of Jean Mermoz, on a 68.4-millimeter bronze medal struck by the private medallic firm of Arthus Bertrand. Its reverse depicts an eagle soaring over the Atlantic Ocean stylized as a narrow band of waves between shields bearing maps of France and South America.

Mermoz established air links connecting France and North and West Africa, successfully extending his aerial trail-blazing from West Africa to Brazil by a transoceanic flight in 1930. He disappeared at sea after voicing his disappointment at the flying qualities of the Latécoére 28 aircraft he had to pilot.

An exciting binational medal marked the Sesquicentennial of the British Surrender at Yorktown to American and French forces, an event that effectively ended the American Revolution. Another Turin masterpiece, this 67.5-millimeter bronze medal’s obverse presents the conjoined uniformed busts of Continental Army Commander George Washington (after the famous Houdon bust), French Adm. François-Joseph Paul de Grasse-Tilly and Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur de Rochambeau. 

The complex reverse shows an aerial schematic view of the Yorktown peninsula charting the British positions, besiegers’ trenches, blockading French ships and the intense fields of fire between the attackers and defenders. Here are the Art Deco straight lines with a vengeance!

More from David T. Alexander's feature on Art Nouveau and Art Deco is on the way. Check back with Coin World for the rest of the series, or better yet: 

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