US Coins

With U.S. Mint lacking stature, private mints advance medallic art

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 

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Private mints soar

The United States Mint had ceased to be a leading force in medallic art in the 19th century. Its productions were uniformly staid and traditional, further limited by the uninspiring dull yellow-bronze patina adopted around 1913 and still in use today. Virtually all advances in design and medal manufacture in the United States were made by private firms, notably Medallic Art Co., Whitehead and Hoag, and the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass.

These firms struck several American Art Deco medals that made the 1930s memorable. Appearing in 76-millimeter bronze silverplate, Norman Bel Geddes’ medal marks the 25th Anniversary of General Motors Corporation, personification of U.S. industrial might. Struck by Medallic Art Co., it combines incuse and relief elements with broad expanses of smooth field. 

The ultra-modern obverse is highlighted by a tall vertical wing over a speeding eight-wheeled experimental automobile in what appeared to be a wind tunnel. This vehicle was designed by Bel Geddes in 1928. The reverse is divided vertically by a stylized automotive engine piston suggesting vigorous motion. Tiny incuse dates 1933 – 1908 are placed near the rim; recessed segments bear the concentric legend COMMEMORATING THE TWENTYFIFTH – ANNIVERSARY OF GENERAL MOTORS. This medal designed by a nonmedalist remains immensely popular today.

Boasting similar stark simplicity is the unsigned 76-millimeter bronze silverplate medal for the 10th Anniversary of National Broadcasting Company struck by the Robbins firm. The obverse presents a cross formed by two reiterations of NBC, with arms of stylized lightning, the incuse dates 19 – 26 and 19 – 36 appearing in the fields.

The reverse is surrounded by the incuse-relief legends National Broadcasting Company Inc. and a Radio Corporation of America Service, which together form the outer rim, around TENTH ANNIVERSARY and TO THOSE WHO HAVE SHARED WITH US IN THE ADVANCEMENT OF BROADCASTING.

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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