World Coins

Art Deco style thrives as Society of Medalists puts out medals

Emile Zettler’s 57-millimeter Art Deco medal with its aerial view of the Lake Michigan expo site records the success of the Depression-era Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago.

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Editor’s note: In his July monthly Coin World cover feature, noted medal expert David T. Alexander traces the path of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco design movements through the beautiful designs of European and American art medals. This is one of a series of articles from this feature that will appear online at 

Read other posts in the series: 

Society of Medalists excels

An entire nest of Art Deco design may be found in the medal issues of the Society of Medalists, founded in 1928 by arts patron, philanthropist and educator George Dupont Pratt (born 1869, died 1935). Society of Medalists was a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering excellence in American medallic sculpture by commissioning and issuing to its membership two fine-art medals each year from 1930 to the early 1990s.

The Society of Medalists issued a number of outstanding Art Deco-inspired designs, especially among its early issues. These include Hermon A. MacNeil’s 1931 Hopi Prayer for Rain, with its stylized, sand-painting style sky, clouds and lightning above the vigorous snake-handling Indian dancers. Frederick MacMonnies wove Art Deco into his 1931 Lindbergh – Lone Eagle, and essentially personifying the art form is Anthony de Francisci’s 1935 Fiat Vita.

Continuing its influence are R. Tait Mckenzie’s 1936 Rejoice Oh Young Man in Thy Youth; Walker Hancock’s superbly muscular There will be Other Towers; Carl L. Schmitz’s wartime silver medal, reissued in bronze after World War II, Four Freedoms; and Sidney Waugh’s 1946 Nameless in Worthy Deeds.

These Society of Medalists medals are generally around 73 millimeters in diameter and boast a kaleidoscope of patinas. An in-depth reference to this pivotal series can be found in my book American Art Medals, the Circle of Friends of the Medallion and the Society of Medalists, Studies in Medallic Art 1, the American Numismatic Society, 2010.

World’s fairs and expos during the 1930s continued to offer opportunities for medalists. Much trivial work appeared, along with some outstanding designs. Emile Zettler created the 57-millimeter official medal of Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exposition. Standing on a boldly vertical wall on the obverse is a male figure symbolizing Industry and Research. The reverse offers a detailed ground plan of the expo site on Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront, in a closely spaced sans-serif legend.

More from David T. Alexander's feature on Art Nouveau and Art Deco is on the way. Check back with Coin World for the rest of the series, or better yet: 


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