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 the last of a series of
articles from this feature that will appear online at CoinWorld.com.
Read other posts in the series:
New York World’s Fair
The New York World’s Fair of 1939 to 1940 produced fewer
high quality medals than most of its predecessors. The fair’s emblem
was the Trylon and Perisphere, a tall pointed obelisk and a round
globe connected by a sweeping elevated roadway. One of the most
handsome depictions of this modernistic symbol appears on the official
New York World’s Fair token dated 1939.
This silver oval
measures 34- by 39-millimeters, with reeded edge, designed by Henry C.
Kreis. As much a token as a medal, this handsome piece was struck by
Medallic Art Co. and sold for $1 each at the Manufacturers Trust Co.
exhibit. The obverse depicts the Trylon and Perisphere, while the
reverse bears the facsimile signature of Executive Committee President
The face and official greeter of New York
during the delirious excitement and ticker-tape parades of the Roaring
Twenties, Whalen enjoyed his last hurrah as World War II inexorably
bore down upon and swept away the faltering fair.
Kreis had introduced Art Deco to U.S. commemorative coinage with his
1935 Connecticut Tercentenary and 1936 Bridgeport half dollars. A more
forceful example of his work is the 76.3-millimeter medal for the same
Connecticut Tercentenary, struck by Medallic Art Co. Its stark obverse
bears five male and three female figures standing or sitting bolt
upright holding Charter, musket and Bible, their angularity broken by
a sinuous ribbon at right inscribed 1635-1935 CONNECTICUT 300
The reverse presents three grape vines on poles,
with the vertical inscription RELIGION, LAW, EDUCATION between the
supporting poles, all within a legend hailing THREE CENTURIES OF
SELF-GOVERNMENT BASED ON CONSTITUTIONAL LAW.
would falter and then disappear in the firestorms of World War II,
just as its predecessor Art Nouveau had vanished in the previous war.
One of the last trailing glories of the movement in American medallic
art was the 1940 plaquette struck by Whitehead and Hoag for the
aviation management pioneer and United Airlines president, W.A.
This 100- by 76-millimeter plaquette rests on
two half-ball feet and bears a serene view of a modern two-engine
monoplane soaring toward a radiant sun over cumulus clouds, its rays
detached from the orb and seeming to float in limitless space. At base
is the winged United Airlines emblem.
sans-serif inscription between these elements is an excerpt from
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s prophetic poem of 1842, “Locksley Hall”: “For I
dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the vision of
the world, and all the wonder that would be. Saw the heavens fill with
commerce, argosies of magic sails, pilots of the purple twilight,
dropping down with costly bales.”
Elsewhere in his poem,
Tennyson foresaw the aerial warfare and bombing that transformed the
face of war in 1939 to 1945. Art Deco vanished, its place taken by an
increasingly anarchic array of modernist forms that would rule the
medal field and especially the pivotal Paris Mint in the decades to come.
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