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:
Fashionable travel — on a medal
Leader in fashionable travel in the 1930s was the French Compagnie
Generale Transatlantique (CGT), known in the United States as the
French Line. CGT released 68-millimeter bronze medals hailing two of
its legendary ships, the SS Champlain in 1932, in a work by Raymond
Delamarre, and the SS Normandie in 1935, the work of Jean
The first bears the standing figure of 17th
century French explorer Samuel Champlain gazing toward the modern city
of Quebec with Latin legend translating to “He Joined the Old World
with the New.” On the reverse, his small two-masted sailing ship is
posed dramatically next to the towering 20th century ocean liner
bearing his name.
An uplifting design dominates Vernon’s
1935 medal of SS Normandie, the largest, fastest and heaviest
passenger ship in the world when it was launched in 1935. The obverse
presents a standing female figure holding aloft a bridle and reins,
ready to subdue a huge rearing sea horse filling the background amid
boldly stylized waves.
The reverse presents the great
ship cleaving the waves toward the left, the sharp point of her prow
piercing the outer edge as if preparing to leave the medal. Her
initial weight of 79,280 tons is part of the legend, the lower
inscription notes her home port and destination, LE HAVRE.
Normandie the ship was a monument to luxury and
to triumphant Art Deco design, seizing the headlines for speed and a
passenger roster of the world’s most glittering celebrities.
Economically, however, the great ship barely earned its expenses and
never paid off government loans that had covered its
The emphasis on First Class passengers
alienated Second and Third Class travelers. Its Art Deco décor proved
a disadvantage, intimidating many passengers used to the cozy
atmosphere of competing British Cunard Line vessels such as the
Mauretania, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The French vessel was
interned at her New York City berth in September 1939 at the outbreak
of war. Normandie was seized for the U.S. Navy and renamed the USS La
Fayette, before burning and capsizing at its New York pier under
circumstances never fully explained.
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: