US Coins

Hand hammered medal made by Mardi Gras doubloon founder

Readers Ask column from Oct. 12, 2015, issue of Coin World:

A rather unusual hand-hammered silver medal was shown to me recently by a colleague for identification. Since I was scheduled to attend the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money Aug. 11 to 15 in Rosemont, Ill., I chose to bring the medal with me and show it to medal expert Dick Grinolds from Minnesota, who had a good idea what the item was when I presented it to him for examination.

The silver medal or token measures 25.4 millimeters at its widest diameter. Grinolds believes the composition to be at least sterling silver, which is .925 fine.

The obverse design features a portrait identified as CATOE THE PRESUMPTUOUS — COTTONPATCH, MISS. The reverse features a central turtle, with ANA BOSTON 1973 inscribed around within a beaded circle. Inscribed around the border is IF ALLERGIC TO MONEY DON’T COME.

Grinolds notes the clue to identifying the silver piece is the set of initials, H.A.S., on the truncation of the bust of Catoe on the obverse.

The initials are those of H. Alvin Sharpe, the well-known New Orleans artist considered the father of the Mardi Gras doubloons tossed annually from parade floats to eager people in the crowds.

In their 1966 reference, Carnival Panorama: New Orleans Mardi Gras Medals and Krewes 1884-1965, authors Jay Guren and Richard Ugan describe how Sharpe generally prepared his dies.

“Using hardened steel gravers, he cuts free-hand directly into the surface of a mild steel die, an intaglio or reverse image of the finished medal, before hardening the die and striking the medal on a hydraulic press in his Perdido Street studio,” according to the authors.

The same die-engraving process was used for the 1973 ANA medal. Instead of a hydraulic press, the 1973 pieces were struck by hand, the planchets positioned between an obverse and reverse die and the top die struck with a mallet, thus impressing the designs into the metal.

How many were struck and still survive is unknown. Grinolds estimates the value of the silver 1973 ANA silver piece at between $40 and $75 “or better.”

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