The Research Desk column from the Nov. 14, 2016, weekly issue of
As the world marks the centennial of World War I, many Americans
are finding how little they actually know of the events leading up to
the U.S. entry into that global conflict and of the American role in
the war from April 1917 to November 1918.
One outstanding contributor in the numismatic field was New York
coin dealer and auctioneer Thomas L. Elder. A man of many firmly held
opinions freely expressed, Elder issued a steady stream of medals
relating to numismatics, national politics and current events from
1908 until 1939.
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World War I began with the murder by Serb terrorists of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his spouse,
Countess Sophie Chotek, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914.
Europe’s tangle of interlocking alliances came into play as Austria
sought revenge, receiving backing from her ally, imperial Germany.
Serbia was backed by Russia and its allies France and Britain, and
Europe went up in flames.
President Woodrow Wilson made little secret of his attachment to
England and growing hostility toward Germany, although he was
re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”
Facing total Allied blockade, Germany resorted to unrestricted
submarine warfare in the waters around the British Isles, sinking the
RMS Lusitania in 1915 with 139 Americans aboard. Germany
suspended unrestricted use of its U-boats for nearly two years, but
resumed it in early 1917, which led to the U.S. declaration of war.
The American war declaration achieved no unanimity, as Elder’s
31.85-millimeter medal documents with its Wilson quote, “A little
group of willful men have rendered the Government of the United States
helpless and contemptible.” The reverse then names five senators and
10 congressmen and refers to 40 more who voted “no.”
The Charles Hanson firm of Chicago struck these medals in silver,
German silver, copper, brass, white metal, aluminum and red fiber
though no mintages were published in Tom DeLorey’s definitive “Thomas
L. Elder, a Catalogue of his Medals and Tokens” (The
Numismatist, American Numismatic Association, June 1980).
Other Elder medals denounced opponents of the war including Henry
Ford and ex-Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan as “hyphenates
All of the medals are scarce today and unknown to most collectors.