US Coins

Smithsonian honors artists with medals for contributions

Recipients of the James Smithson Bicentennial medal have their names and date of presentation engraved on the reverse in the space below the rendering of the Smithsonian Castle.

Images courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

Four accomplished musicians and performing artists were recognized Dec. 8 by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History with the museum’s James Smithson Bicentennial Medal.

Recipients are Gloria and Emilio Estefan, renowned for their Miami Sound Machine; Dave Grohl, founding member of Nirvana and currently front man for Foo Fighters; and Susan Tedeschi, singer-songwriter and co-leader of Tedeschi Trucks Band.

The awards recognize the artists’ contributions to the American experience through music and the culture-changing impact they have made to American sound.

The awards are part of the spotlight the museum is placing on music, theater, film, television and sports, as its first long-term exhibition about entertainment history, “Entertainment Nation”/”Nación del espectáculo,” opened Dec. 9 in the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Hall of American Culture.

The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal was established in 1965 in honor of the 200th anniversary of Smithson’s birth. It is presented under the secretary of the Smithsonian’s authority to recognize persons who have made distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Institution.

Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist whose visionary bequest established the Smithsonian Institution network of museums.

Examples of the medals in bronze without a recipient’s name engraved on the reverse can sometimes be found on the secondary market.

The Smithson medal was designed by Jewish-Hungarian sculptor Paul Vincze of London, England, and initially struck by Medallic Art Company, located in 1965 in Manhattan in New York City.

Vincze was chosen by the Smithson Medal Committee for his design out of several other designers, according to Smithsonian officials.

The initial James Smithson medal was struck in gold; however a modified Smithson Bicentennial Medal made out of bronze was given to participants in the Bicentennial Celebration in 1965, and later on and to this day, to achievers in areas of interest to the Smithsonian, according to Smithsonian officials.

The medal’s obverse employs a relief of Smithson created by Engraver General of France, Pierre Joseph Tiolier (1763 to 1819). Circling this relief is the inscription JAMES SMITHSON 1765–1829.

Vincze’s signature — P. VINCZE — appears in the obverse field to the right of the nape of Smithson’s neck.

The reverse of the medal has an image of the Smithsonian Institution Castle.

On medals presented, under the Castle is an inscription reading: AWARDED TO followed by the name of the winner and the date the award was given.

The medal is 2.5 inches, or 63.5 millimeters, in diameter.

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