US Coins

Gold medals big and small set to shimmer in Vegas sale

Gold medals are sure to capture the eye of collectors at Stack’s Bowers Galleries on March 24 as part of its March auction in Las Vegas, led by a 1983 American Numismatic Society 125th anniversary gold medal.

Stack’s Bowers calls sculptor Marcel Jovine’s medal “a numismatic masterpiece.”

This massive gold example measuring 91.5 by 109.9 millimeters and weighing 27.71 ounces was struck to the order of Harry W. Bass Jr., who was then serving as president of ANS.

The obverse depicts a moneyer using the technique of hammer striking to produce a coin with representative pieces from the ANS collection — made by taking casts from actual examples from the ANS collection — behind him.

The design was the result of a competition where the winner received a prize of $3,500 with a small honorarium awarded to unsuccessful entrants. The committee that selected the medal design originally suggested a different design by Jovine. As Scott Miller writes in his recent book on ANS medals, regarding the winning design, “There was some concern among the committee that the minter in this design look as if he were hitting himself on the head with a hammer,” adding, “However it was decided to accept this and to assign it to artistic license.”

Miller had served on the Ad Hoc Committee for the 125th anniversary medal alongside Bass and others.

Two gold examples were struck, one for the ANS and one for Bass, and the offered example is a replacement, produced after Bass’s original example was lost.

The Oct. 6, 1982, issue of Coin World published the various artist design entries with a free bronze example of the medal offered to the first five readers who attached the correct artist with each entry. Medal expert N. Neil Harris was the sole successful entrant in the Coin World contest.

The catalog shares an anecdote from Leslie Elam of the ANS who recalled, “Bass argued forcefully and convincingly for the concept submitted by artist Marcel Jovine depicting machines related to the coining process on the reverse, together with the inscription, while on the obverse of the rather large rectangular medal the kneeling figure of ‘the minter’ is superimposed on an array of coin images from various periods and regions.” It is offered in its original case and the auctioneer grades it “Gem Mint State (as made).”

Big Bicentennial medal

Another hefty gold medal that is more commonly encountered is the large-format 1976 National Bicentennial medal, measuring 76.2 millimeters, of which just 424 were distributed. Frank Gasparro designed the obverse with a patriotic rendition of the Statue of Liberty, and Edgar Zell Steever IV provided the reverse. Gold examples were produced in three sizes, of which the offered example is the largest at 464.7 grams. It is numbered 303 on its edge and offered in its original cherry box with velvet lining, accompanied with its original documentation. The sale also includes a medium format medal measuring 34 millimeters and weighing 40.35 grams, in a Proof finish.

Nobel Committee medals

Gold medals recognizing people’s participation as members of the Nobel Prize Nominating Committee are much more affordable than the actual Nobel Prize gold medals awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The auction includes a 1971 Nobel Nominating Committee for Chemistry & Physics medal graded Specimen 62 by Professional Coin Grading Service, and another medal from 1979, honoring service on the same committee, is graded Specimen 63 by PCGS. Both are from the estate of Lars Ernster and measure 27 millimeters in diameter, and weigh about 20 grams each.

The obverse of each features a portrait of Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, left, and the reverse depicts the crowned and winged Swedish coat of arms in center with radiant North Star above.

Stack’s Bowers shares, regarding the former owner, “Born in Hungary as Ernster László in 1920, Lars Ernster immigrated to Sweden in 1946, playing an important role in the scientific community and joining the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1974. He delivered the presentation speech for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1978, and was a member of the board of the Nobel Foundation from 1977 to 1988, passing away in 1998.”

Finally, a gold medal struck at the U.S. Mint around 1882 and designed by William Barber depicts two assassinated presidents, Abraham Lincoln on one side and James Garfield on the other. In total, 425 examples were produced, which sold for $4 each after Garfield’s assassination.

Stack’s Bowers observes on the 18.5-millimeter medal, graded Mint State 63 Deep Prooflike by Numismatic Guaranty Corp, “Vivid golden-yellow surfaces are boldly cameo with superior eye appeal for the assigned numeric grade.” It is listed as Julian PR-41 in R.W. Julian’s important book Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century, 1792-1892.

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