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A Visit to Medallic Art

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Medallic Art Co. has a long and distinguished history with some hiccups in its later years, but it has been reborn following its acquisition by the Northwest Territorial Mint. Medallic Art maintains its own identity, but the production facilities for the two companies have been merged making it the largest private mint in the U.S. I was fortunate to receive permission for a behind the scenes tour while conducting research with Jeff Shevlin on so-called dollars and our forthcoming book projects.


A modest trip from home in California to Dayton, Nevada involved crossing the Sierra Nevada range on a beautiful day with a drive along the shore of Lake Tahoe. Dayton itself is in the Nevada desert below the famed silver fields of Virginia City.




The facility is located to the right of center in the picture above. A closer view below (Virginia City is in the mountain you can see peaking out in the right hand corner of the image):





Project Manager Rob Vugteveen was our host for the visit. We wanted to learn more about the production of medals to support our research and wanted to examine original dies for some of the so-called dollars in our research.


Medallic Art has an excellent overview of their production process on their web site. My pictures are not as spectacular as theirs, so visit their site for the full series of their minting process. A few from me:


The press row:




Art medals are struck one at a time and every effort is made to ensure quality. Planchets are placed one at a time by hand and removed by hand (it requires two hands to actually activate the press making accidents virtually impossible). If its not right, it goes to the melting bin.




Different blanks waiting to be cleaned and polished before striking.




Splash dies waiting for use or waiting to be moved to storage. Splash dies are used to make high relief medals that are struck without a collar. The edges of the medal are trimmed and finished after being struck. The pressure required to bring up the relief would break a collar.




Lower relief "coin" dies are used with a collar as lower pressures are required to acheive a fully struck image. These dies have a matte finish to create a matte surface on the finished medal. Most dies are highly polished to achieve that mirror-like image we associate with proof coins.




Medallic Art's archives have managed to survive nearly intact for over a hundred years. Rob shows Jeff a zinc coated galvano in this image. The racks of galvanos, plaster models, and dies are staggering when one stops to think about the work of all the great artists represented.

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Janvier’s Pantograph (See D. Wayne Johnson's blog entry for more information) started the forerunner of Medallic Art in the art medal business. Two original Janvier pantographs are still used on occasion at Medallic Art. I didn't photograph them, but I did snap a shot of how original art is copied digitally before producing a die:




A clay model is being scanned by laser and its progress is shown on the screen. The digital data can then be used to engrave a die:




For high relief art medals, the sculptor's hand is still required to achieve the effect we so admire, but the digital process can create better renditions of the textual elements. Lower relief medals can be designed completely in the computer with no hand sculpted models ever being produced (much like is now done in the US Mint).


Put it all together and you have modern works of art such as this gold house medal with the Daniel French head first sculpted for the 1917 Catskill Aqueduct medal.




After our tour, it was time for us to inspect the dies of interest:



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All in all, we had a great day and will be returning for more research when the archives have finished moving a new room with more space for research.




To read more about Medallic Art and its history, follow D. Wayne Johnson's medal blog.

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Looks like you had a great adventure. Thanks for the interesting article and pictures. I'll follow the other links and do some more reading later in the day. Thanks again.

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