R.W. Julian’s book on U.S. Mint’s first century of medals remains a classic reference

Its four decades as the definitive catalog safely places Julian in esteemed company
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 12/30/16
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Most numismatic authors outlive their books. Roger Cohen wrote United States Half Cents: The Little Half Sisters in 1971, and was still alive (and very dismayed), in 1983 to see Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents become the go-to volume. A select few numismatic authors, however, produce books that outlive them. The shining example is Sylvester Sage Crosby’s Early Coins of America, still considered — 141 years after its publication — as the standard reference on Colonial coins!

R.W. Julian’s Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century, 1792-1892 provides a modern example of the evergreen numismatic reference. Happily, it has not yet outlived its author, but its four decades as the definitive catalog safely places Julian in Crosby’s company. 

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The secret to the book’s long­evity is quality research; Julian practically lived in the National Archives for weeks, literally finding reams of previously unknown information. 

He divides all the medals produced by the U.S. Mint in its first century into 14 classes, starting with those made for the members of the annual Assay Commission, ending with Religious and Fraternal Medals, and covering topics such as Indian Peace Medals and Life Saving Medals in between.

Julian illustrates and describes each medal, obverse and reverse; gives each a discrete catalog number; identifies its engraver; lists its size and composition (gold, silver, bronze); provides a brief history; and reveals if the original dies still repose at the Mint (making restrikes a possibility). All of this is invaluable to the researcher and collector, but the most fascinating parts of the book occur when Julian exposes the ample dirty laundry that always accumulated at the 19th century Mint.

Consider the fiasco surrounding MI-19, the Military gold medal honoring Brig. Gen. Eleazer Ripley’s heroics during the War of 1812. Congress authorized the medal on Nov. 3, 1814. The Mint took almost 24 years to strike it! Julian recounts the entire comedy of errors, starting with the Mint’s foot-dragging (not until 1821 did engraver Moritz Furst prepare the reverse). Ripley added to the problem by stubbornly refusing, for five long years, to provide his own portrait for the obverse. Then accusations that Ripley hadn’t participated in the battles mentioned on the reverse stalled progress for years until proven false. Finally, Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt had to pay for the gold used to strike Ripley’s medal out of his own pocket, so it wasn’t until 1838 — only a year before he died — that Ripley at last received his tribute, and Eckfeldt got reimbursed (through a special act of Congress)! That is just one case; a whole series of stories documents the personal profiteering of Eckfeldt’s successor, Franklin Peale, who pocketed proceeds from medals made by Mint employees, on Mint time, with Mint material, using Mint presses. 

Julian impartially catalogs the famous (Founding Fathers and Presidents) and the forgotten (Joseph Pancoast and the Rajah of Subi). 

Medals of the United States Mint requires 424 large format pages to illuminate the first century of the Mint’s medallic output, and is supplemented by Rich Hartzog’s Price Guides for the medals, which were published in 1982 and 1986. Though Hartzog’s prices are obviously outdated, Julian’s medallic masterpiece is timeless; buy it from numismatic booksellers without fear it will ever become obsolete.

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