The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 6, February 6, 2011, Article 10


Dick Johnson forwarded this press release with news of his acquisition of a remarkable trove of data on American coin and medal artists. -Editor

Johnson Acquires Schenkman's Databank
Of American Diesinkers and Engravers

An extensive personal databank of American diesinkers and engravers, compiled over a 45-year period by David Schenkman, has been acquired by Dick Johnson to be merged into his Databank of American Coin and Medal Artists.

Schenkman's 247-page list comprised 769 entries with strong emphasis of token makers, both the engravers and the firms which struck these. Token authority Schenkman had compiled this as an aid in cataloging his own collection, his work as editor of the TAMS Journal, his writings in the field, and for his lectures on token collecting conducting Summer Seminars at the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs for over a decade.

"I had artists of medals and medallic art in my databank," said Johnson, "Dave's was strong on the diesinkers and engravers of tokens, so it was a perfect fit to add what he had carefully compiled over the years. I am fortunate to have this information to expand my databank."

"Dave began compiling his databank 45 years ago. I began 30 years ago, with each unaware of the other's efforts," Johnson said. "Dave told me of his list three years ago and we have been negotiating to acquire it ever since."

The Schenkman list is all in one alphabet. Johnson has separate lists of artists, producers and what he calls "sales agents." These are the middlemen individuals and firms who do not have production facilities but solicit orders and contract elsewhere for the actual production.

This practice was widespread in the 19th century where these agents would often have their names on the struck items indicating they were the maker. Each of nearly 600 names on the Schenkman list had to be analyzed as the proper category any name should be assigned.

It is obvious there were not 600 presses in America capable of striking tokens and medals during the 200-year period covered by the Schenkman databank. The decision to properly assign a maker's name was often arbitrary, but it was based on what the maker says about his business, the list of his work, and sometimes their geographic locations.

Sales agents frequently found customers in their own city, but had tokens and medals struck in major cities with greater industrial activity. New York, Philadelphia, and Boston were the first centers of diesinking and striking activity in America, but private diesinking firms also sprung up in other cities as these craftsmen moved across America.

Schenkman had listed 103 individual engravers. For the most part, these names were already on Johnson's list who had cast a wide net to capture as many artists diesinkers, engravers, medallists, and sculptors who had created die-struck items.

The technology changed right at the beginning of the 20th century from hand engraving by these craftsmen to preparing a model oversize by sculptors and having these models reduced and dies cut by special pantographs, predominantly the Janvier. The first Janvier was imported to America, in 1906, by Henri and Felix Weil, founders of Medallic Art Company.

All the major firms which produced medals are included on both compiler's lists. This includes Medallic Art Company (the compiler was this firm's director of research 1966-1977), Whitehead & Hoag, Metal Arts and Bastian Brothers, both of Rochester, Balfour , Caldwell, Davison's Sons, August Frank, Franklin Mint, Dieges & Clust, Greenduck, Medalcraft, Osbourne, Roger Williams Mint, and others.

Often the makers of 19th century tokens and medals were one or two-man shops. The proprietor(s) were often the engraver of the dies, and the person who ran the press. In contrast to these small operations, the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia had used pantographs for cutting dies as early as 1836 the Contamin, replaced by the Hill in 1857, and ultimately the Janvier in 1906.

Token makers tended to be more numerous and spread out more geographically. Tokens were often produced in local towns by "stamp and stencil" companies. These firms supplied a wide variety of services and products from rubber stamps to tags and checks, in addition to such numismatic items as merchants' tokens. Much of their work was of simple design that could be struck in soft metal compositions with small presses.

One private firm, however, stands out as a maker of both tokens and medals throughout the 19th and half the 20th century, Scovill Manufacturing in Waterbury. Their first token was struck in 1829, with extensive manufacture of hard times tokens and perhaps more than half of all the Civil War tokens. Scovill supplied blanks to the U.S. Mint for nearly sixty years, stuck coins for foreign governments, and struck sales tax tokens and transportation tokens for American cities and states right up to the beginning of World War II.

Merging the two databanks of all this information will take several months, according to Johnson. The formats are different and checking each is time consuming. "All this work seems worthwhile," says Johnson, "however for the reference value of the databank."

Before he died, numismatist Cornelius Vermeule, in preparing a preface to a published version of Dick Johnson's Databank, call the compiler, the "American Forrer." This in comparison to the six-volume work on world medallists compiled by Leonard Forrer.

At last count Dick Johnson's Databank had 3,587 artists listed plus 635 Producers. With the merging of the two files these numbers will certainly increase. It is the compiler's intent to place this on the internet for all to have access.

TAMS Journal readers have recently been exposed to a sample of Dick Johnson's Databank. A list of all tokens and medals bearing a portrait of Abraham Lincoln were published in a series of lists in seven parts printed in the June 2008 through June 2009 issues of TAMS Journal. This was to aid Paul Cunningham who is preparing a revision of the classic King reference on Lincoln medals.

Johnson is offering to do similar searches for authors who are preparing articles or manuscript catalogs of token and medal interest with the intent of publishing this information.

Further details of the databank acquisition are private and not released.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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