The first inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on
March 4, 1933, was an occasion of high drama. The first Democratic
president since Woodrow Wilson was coming into office as the United
States was poised on the brink of economic collapse.
Roosevelt would soon launch the blizzard of federal relief and
anti-Depression measures that would make his New Deal famous.
His confidant, Adm. Cary T. Grayson, was appointed chair of the
Inaugural Committee with former U.S. Mint Director Robert W. Wooley as
medal chairman. Determined that the inaugural medal be a work of art,
they commissioned 47-year-old sculptor Paul Manship (born 1885, died
1966) to create it. He had already created the 1914 New Netherland
Tercentenary medal for the Circle of Friends of the Medallion and the
Society of Medalists’ controversial second issue of 1932, the Hail to
Dionysus medal, which riled Prohibitionists. The committee also
determined that the medal would be struck at the Bureau of the Mint.
Manship’s obverse for the 1933 Roosevelt medal bore a small but
exceptionally high relief bust facing left in a concentric two-line
legend, franklin delano roosevelt, 31st president of the united
states, 1933-1937, john nance garner — vice president. The reverse
bore the USS Constitution under full sail, guiding angel below. The
legend was from Longfellow, thou too sail on o ship of state, sail on
o union strong and great.
Using dies cut by Medallic Art Co. of New York, the Mint struck
just under 1,500 in bronze for sale at $2.50 each. A total of 581 went
unsold because, as Wooley told FDR, “You closed the banks and I
wouldn’t take checks!”
These tan-gold Mint medals are 76 millimeters in diameter, 4.5
millimeters thick at 6:00, 10 millimeters thick at the top of the
head, bearing sharply squared, plain edges.
A little-known but vastly rarer variety also exists, struck by
Medallic Art Co. itself with the two sets of dies it made for the U.S.
Mint. The company wanted to strike the whole issue, but did not gain
Medallic Art Co. struck about 50 pieces, each 77 millimeters
diameter, 6 millimeters thick at 6:00, 11.5 millimeters at thickest
point. These medals boast boldly rounded rims with incuse medallic art
co. n.y. at 6:00. Their deep glossy brown torch finish and
substantially greater thickness instantly sets them apart from the
thinner tan-gold U.S. Mint issue.
These MACO medals are eagerly sought by today’s collectors,
selling at up to 50 times issue price. This variety of the FDR 1933
inaugural medal is the holy grail for inaugural medal collectors.
David T. Alexander, a longtime numismatic researcher, is a
researcher/cataloger for Stack’s Bowers Galleries.