US Coins

Medal marks vote to involve United States in WWI

The Research Desk column from the Nov. 14, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

As the world marks the cen­tennial of World War I, many Americans are finding how little they actually know of the events leading up to the U.S. entry into that global conflict and of the American role in the war from April 1917 to November 1918.

One outstanding contributor in the numismatic field was New York coin dealer and auctioneer Thomas L. Elder. A man of many firmly held opinions freely expressed, Elder issued a steady stream of medals relating to numismatics, national politics and current events from 1908 until 1939. 

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World War I began with the murder by Serb terrorists of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his spouse, Countess Sophie Chotek, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914. Europe’s tangle of interlocking alliances came into play as Austria sought revenge, receiving backing from her ally, imperial Germany. Serbia was backed by Russia and its allies France and Britain, and Europe went up in flames.

President Woodrow Wilson made little secret of his attachment to England and growing hostility toward Germany, although he was re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

Facing total Allied blockade, Germany resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare in the waters around the British Isles, sinking the RMS Lusitania in 1915 with 139 Americans aboard. Germany suspended unrestricted use of its U-boats for nearly two years, but resumed it in early 1917, which led to the U.S. declaration of war.

The American war declaration achieved no unanimity, as Elder’s 31.85-millimeter medal documents with its Wilson quote, “A little group of willful men have rendered the Government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” The reverse then names five senators and 10 congressmen and refers to 40 more who voted “no.” 

The Charles Hanson firm of Chicago struck these medals in silver, German silver, copper, brass, white metal, aluminum and red fiber though no mintages were published in Tom DeLorey’s definitive “Thomas L. Elder, a Catalogue of his Medals and Tokens” (The Numismatist, American Numismatic Association, June 1980).

Other Elder medals denounced opponents of the war including Henry Ford and ex-Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan as “hyphenates and Kaiserists.” 

All of the medals are scarce today and unknown to most collectors.

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