US Coins

MacNeil medal pays homage to Hopi traditions

Many of the designers of some of the most attractive U.S. coins of the 20th century also created wonderful designs for medals, including for the Society of Medalists, which was formed in 1928 with the goal of increasing appreciation of medallic art in America by commissioning two bronze art medals annually, producing some silver examples as well. 

Hermon MacNeil, well-known to collectors as the designer of the Standing Liberty quarter dollar of 1916 to 1930, designed the third Society of Medalists medal.

His Hopi Prayer for Rain medal has a complex obverse design depicting five Hopi rain dancers, two holding snakes in their mouths, while on the reverse, dancers run while holding the snakes to be returned to their dens. 

MacNeil was a well-known sculptor beyond his numismatic efforts, and he wrote on the significance of his visit to the Hopi Reservation decades earlier.

The artist selected the Hopi theme “because of the extraordinary vital enthusiasm and power that the Indians throw into this ceremony. Having witnessed it and been thrilled by the intensity of their emotion and on further study by the complicated and perfectly natural development of this drama, I cannot help feel that in it we find a basic note underlying all religions.” 

As David T. Alexander wrote in American Art Medals, 1909–1995, “MacNeil theorized that the wriggling serpent forms suggested the shape of lightning ‘snaking’ earthward from the clouds, as seen in the sand art that inspired the obverse background.” 

The oval medal would be the first noncircular SOM medal and the bronze medals exhibit several different applied patinas. Additionally, 25 silver medals were produced and one of these sold for $600 in Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Baltimore auction on Feb. 27.

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