The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser
1951 Medal/MAco 1951-016





Coin Details

Origin/Country: UNITED STATES
Design Description: MEDALLIC ART CO. MEDALS
Full Grade: NGC MS 61
Owner: gherrmann44

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Explorer NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

The National Geographic Hubbard Medallion is named after the first president of the National Geographic Society, Gardiner Greene Hubbard. It is the National Geographic Society’s highest award and is conferred on persons who distinguish themselves by a lifetime of achievement in research, discovery, and exploration. This prestigious award was first presented to Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary in 1906. [1] [2]

The Hubbard Medallion redesigned by Laura Gardin Fraser in 1951 is struck in 14 karat gold, weighs 474 grams, and is 93 mm in diameter. [3] The Hubbard medallion is also one of at least three medals designed by Laura Gardin Fraser for the National Geographic Society.

According to Medallic Art Company historian and senior consultant D. Wayne Johnson, the redesigned Hubbard Medallion has a MACO die number of 1951-016. [4] This ingenious method of cataloging dies devised by D. Wayne Johnson himself signifies that the dies for the new Hubbard Medallion were the 16th die pair catalogued for 1951. (Incidentally, Medallic Art Company retains all the dies they have ever used in an environmentally controlled die library). [5] That said, the first recipient of the redesigned Hubbard Medallion and the 15th overall was Arctic explorer Donald B. MacMillan on January 9, 1953. Ironically, Commander MacMillan was an aide to the first Hubbard Medallion awardee, Robert E. Peary.

The unengraved medallion pictured in my collection is struck in gilded bronze with the edge inscription “MEDALLIC ART CO.N.Y. BRONZE.” Consequently, this medallion may have been a trial strike or possibly one of a handful of copies given to the recipient of the gold medallion to distribute among his or hers family and friends.

The obverse of the Hubbard Medallion features the Western Hemisphere seal of the National Geographic Society and the year of the National Geographic Society’s founding in 1888 with an oak leaf cluster on each side of the date. On the reverse appear land, sea, and sky, races of man, animals, birds, and sea creatures. [6]

Of particular interest to me is a non-cited quote by Laura Gardin Fraser concerning her design of the Hubbard Medallion: “My idea in using animals was to have them represent, along with the races of man, the continents of the globe. I chose such creatures as would readily be recognized as having inhabited their respective regions from man’s earliest remembrance.”

“The hemispheres are those shown on the cover of the magazine the Northern, Southern and Eastern Hemispheres since the obverse shows our own Western Hemisphere as the seal of the National Geographic Society. A decorative element is two groupings of oak leaves on the obverse. They were also taken from the cover of the magazine.”

When I examine a work of numismatic art I often wonder what the sculptor of that medal or coin intended to communicate through it. Based on Laura Gardin Fraser’s quote we know what she wanted to communicate. That said, no artist can entirely tell how their art will be received. Neither can they fully know how or who will be affected by it. In some cases, the legacy and effect of a sculptor’s work continues after their death. Such is the case with Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966) and the Hubbard Medallion as evidenced by the following story of a great-great-great niece whose uncle received the first ever posthumously awarded Hubbard Medallion.

Matthew A. Henson was an Arctic explorer and right hand man of Robert E. Peary. Unfortunately for him very few African Americans were recognized for their contributions in research, discovery, and exploration in the early 1900's. In fact evidence seems to suggest that Matthew Henson was the first human to stand on the geographic North Pole and not Peary. Finally, on November 28, 2000, some ninety-four years after Robert E. Peary and forty-seven years after Commander Macmillan were awarded their Hubbard Medallions, Matthew A. Henson received his long overdue recognition when he was posthumously awarded his Hubbard Medallion. [7]

Leila Savoy Andrade, the great-great-great niece of Matthew A. Henson had been a security guard at the headquarters of The National Geographic Society for three years. Few people where she worked knew she was a descendant of Matthew A. Henson. When she showed up at the award ceremony in civilian cloths the president of the Society, John Fahey asked her, “What are you doing here?” She replied, “That’s my uncle.” Leila was one of nine family members to attend the ceremony and she was quoted as saying the following about her uncle, “Everyone in the family always said great things about him when I was growing up.” Somehow I believe that if Laura Gardin Fraser were alive today, she would be thrilled about this story and the role she played in it. [8]

6. The National Geographic Magazine, April 1953 pg. 564
8. The National Geographic Society Magazine, June 2000, “The Ties That Bind” A medal ceremony becomes a family affair

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