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Medals in the Online Column


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You guys inspired me, especially with the Roty thing and Goetzdude's posts. So, the March 2010 "Internet Connections" in The Numismatist will be about medals.

 

Just a few asides that could never be in print ... Like books, medals are one of the areas of the hobby that satisfy their owners but never draw significant sales figures. While a few great medalists are pursued, even they pale compared to other niches. A few years ago, the inheritors of an estate contacted me to help with an insurance appraisal. Among the materials were several medals that to me seemed highly important. When I did my research, the results were disappointing.

 

Medals surpass coins both for artistry and historical importance. Some coin issues are known to be associated with certain events, the VIGO issues, for example. Basically, though, the collector finds the historicity in the issues of the caesars, counts, councils and congresses. With medals, the event or the person are very often explicit. We all like beautiful coins and this board is one of many with huge catalogs of pretty pictures. The fact is, though, that those examples are all exceptions. Most coins are unexciting. On the other hand, if there are any plain ordinary medals with an androgyne on one side and a wreath on the other, they stay well hidden, rather than being slabbed and auctioned.

 

What I find most compelling about medals is that they are "the currency of fame." They were invented in the Renaissance specifically to honor individuals for their achievements. We all earn our wages, but medals are special acknowledgements. (Though... are there not medals of disgrace?.... Didn't I see that somewhere?.... But, that, too, is something you don't get with coins. I can't imagine an US Dollar coins for Little Big Horn, or a French 100 Euro for Waterloo, Elba, and St. Helena.)

 

Anyway, thanks for your enthusiasm. Perhaps the March column will win a convert or two.

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Well said. Several years ago I bought five French medals at a Stack's auction online. They were a small lot and there was a brief description, no photo (per Stack's usual practice), and they went for $60.00 total. I was thrilled. I had no idea what to expect when I needed to sell them last year on FleaBay... Amazingly enough, they brought almost 10 times what I paid for them. What does this mean?

 

Perhaps when people had a chance to look at each medal in detail, along with detailed historical descriptions (which I loved typing up), they grew interested. Then again, FleaBay customers aren't the same as the people who bid at Stack's...

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Some interesting comments Mike. I take pause at the value comments though, disappointing or an opportunity to pursue interesting collecting arenas without requiring Wealth? Rather than disappointing, perhaps it signals a rich area of collecting opportunities that represent art, history, and rarity without requiring deep pockets to enjoy. While I appreciate the beauty of a well preserved, pristine chain cent, how many of us can actually afford to own one, let alone have the opportunity to hold one at an auction preview or lust over one in a display? What I like about medals (and many medieval and ancient collecting themes as well as tokens and other exonumia) is that I can enjoy the collections of others and collect my own specialty and afford to build my own collection of historical and artistic significance.

 

Rather than a disappointment, I see them as a great opportunity to enjoy collecting to its fullest. I'm not knocking traditional coin collecting. I love going to shows and examining the great rarities, I just can't afford them myself. I appreciate the taste of a great collector with the financial ability to assemble a collection of the vary best. I don't have that level of resources, so I concentrate where I can put my pocket book to good use. And, I do appreciate the collections of friends with more resources. They are no less important, just beyond my financial reach.

 

By all means, as you compose your column, highlight someone like the Goetzdude. He is a prime example of collector of limited means who has focused his resources and interests on building a world class collection, invested in the research and history, and in turn shares with the collecting community. His work is known and respected internationally among members of the collecting elite. He represents the best traits and tastes of medal collectors and is the epitome of a true numismatist, nay a great numismatist. The same can be said for others who participate in this and other boards.

 

As Frank notes, we tend to disparage Ebay collectors even though they often represent the interests of a great number of seasoned collectors that perhaps shun our fraternities because they don't feel welcome or appreciated? I encourage you to choose your words carefully and celebrate a fascinating arena of numismatics that offers opportunities for the rest of us to enjoy all the benefits of collecting regardless of our financial well being.

 

I look forward to your column (as I do every month--thanks to you I learned about CoinPeople).

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I think the above comment re: Stacks vs. fleeBay says volumes about Stacks and their unimaged lots than fleeBay where you can use your own sales rules. I see lots on Stacks auctions all the time with lousy or no images and don't even give them a second thought. Maybe I should.

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Some interesting comments Mike. I take pause at the value comments though ...

 

I agree that who does well is as much a matter of personality and opportunity as any (false) label of "value." I was just thinking of Aaron Feldman's own literature sale. In the case of the medals I appraised, many were inherited from the 19th century and some were added to the collection by that person. And I could only go by actual recorded sales. So, you have a medal whose price has not changed in 75 years, and others that at least changed some.

 

That said, I do agree 100% that for myself, I am happy to have the medals I do because they were so inexpensive then. Many of life's treasures are under-appreciated by the mass of people, which is why we remind ourselves to stop and smell the roses. In economics they teach us that a sunset is not an economic good because it is non-exclusive and non-rival: everyone can enjoy it and it never diminishes by consumption or use. Fine. My reply is that it is the middle of a cold, dry overcast midwest January 1: go get your sunset. So, when you have one come your way, it literally pays you to stop and enjoy it. So, too with medals, is all...

 

My interest was in aviation. Of course, I have a bronze copy from the US Mint of their medal for Lindbergh. But Medallic Arts and the Franklin Mint churned out a lot of aviation and astronautics material. When I was sent to the Basel Coin Fair, I brought back a couple of European works. I almost caught the bug, picking up a couple of Industrial and Commercial pieces, 75 anniversary of our company, Congratulations to Your Department, New Product Line, etc. etc. Like I said, they are the history of achievement.

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