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The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser

Category:  Series Sets
Owner:  coinsbygary
Last Modified:  5/11/2021
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Slot: 1912 Cast Medal/Sherlock Studios
Design Description:
Item Description: 131mm 1912-DATED BRONZE JOHN CARDINAL FARLEY E: 1 - L. GARDIN FECIT Fraser Studio Archives
Grade: NGC MS 62
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
This 1912 dated medallion is cast in bronze to commemorate the ascendency of John Cardinal Farley to the cardinalate of New York in 1911. As a full-sized 131mm cast medal, it appears to have more of a sculpted look than that of a struck medal.

Designed by Laura Gardin during her tenure at the Art Students League, this medal earned her a membership in the prestigious National Sculpture Society. Laura also won a number of awards while studying at the Art Students League including the highly coveted Saint-Gaudens Figure Prize.

I am thrilled to own this medal once owned by James and Laura Gardin Fraser with a provenence that traces it back to the Fraser studio. The number "1" is also punched on the edge of this medal. Though I can't prove it, this may have been the first John Cardinal Farley medal cast.
Slot: 1913 Medal/MAco 1913-002
Origin/Country: United States
Design Description: MEDALLIC ART CO. MEDALS
Grade: NGC MS 63
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The Buffalo Nickel since its release in 1913 is still a collector favorite. Today the legacy of the Buffalo Nickel and its sculptor live on in the 2001 American Buffalo Silver Dollar and $50, .9999 fine, Gold Buffalo. As such, when collectors hear the name of James Earle Fraser they almost invariably think of the Buffalo Nickel.

Likewise, but to a smaller degree are some of the medallic works of Laura Gardin Fraser and in particular her rendition of “Fame” featured on the obverse of the National Institute of Social Sciences gold medal. The National Institute of Social Sciences gold medal, first awarded in 1913 continues to be awarded today on an annual basis. The obverse image of Laura Gardin Fraser’s portrayal of Fame appears prominently at the head of every page on the National Institute of Social Sciences website. As such the image of this beautiful medal is permanently associated with the National Institute of Social Sciences and it is a legacy to the artistic abilities of Laura Gardin Fraser. [1]

The National Institute of Social Sciences was founded in 1912 under the charter of the American Social Science Association incorporated by Act of Congress, January 28, 1899. From Article II of their constitution the object of The National Institute of Social Sciences is to, “promote the study of Social Science and to reward distinguished services rendered to humanity, either by election to the National Institute, or by the bestowal of medals or other insignia.”

Consequently, the annual awarding of their gold medal is one of their primary functions as an organization. This medal is of such importance that its design is set forth in Article XI of their constitution as follows: “Presentation medals shall bear the Figure of Fame resting on a Shield, holding wreaths of laurel. The shield to bear the name of the Institute. In the left hand, the figure to hold a palm branch. The reverse to show a torch with a name plate and Dignus Honore, the motto of the Institute.” The Latin phrase Dignus Honore is translated, “Worthy of Honor.” [2]

It is said that within the context of armed conflict you will find both the best and the worst of humanity on display. To recognize the humanitarian contributions of those persons involved with the war effort during World War 1, the National Liberty Committee of American Social Science Association adopted the following resolution dated January 18, 1918: “In view of the fact that, except in the army and navy, no provision has been made by any competent authority for the recognition by a medal or other suitable insignia for notable humanitarian or patriotic services for the national welfare: Therefore, the executive committee of the American Social Science Association, one of the oldest of nationally incorporated bodies, recommends that a medal to be designated "Liberty Service" medal be authorized. The committee further recommends that the National Institute of Social Sciences be empowered, in accordance with the object of its organization, to award and bestow said medal upon such person or persons as have rendered or may render notable services which merit such special mark of distinction and recognition.” [3]

The effect of the National Liberty Committee resolution was that Liberty and Patriotic Service medals were awarded to a number of individuals, both civilian and governmental for their service in a time of war from 1918-1920. The medal in my collection is a bronze Patriotic Service Medal awarded to the Director of the Bureau of Field Nursing Service of the American Red Cross, Clara D. Noyes. The following is the text of her medal citation and response.

July 1, 1919
To Miss Clara D. Noyes,
As Director of the Bureau of Field Nursing Service of the American Red Cross at national headquarters, you rendered to your country and its wounded a service of high and inestimable value. During the entire period of the war you had charge of the distribution and placing of all the Red Cross nurses assigned to the army, navy and public health. Under your direction, 19,877 nurses have passed through your bureau.

American Red Cross, Washington, D. C.
My dear Dr. Johnson:
It is with keen appreciation of the honor conferred upon me that I acknowledge the receipt of the citation and the Patriotic Service Medal, presented to me by the National Institute of Social Sciences, in recognition of the services I have performed during the war as Director of the Bureau of Field Nursing Service of the American Red Cross. In the selection and assignment of approximately 20,000 nurses to military and civilian duty, I was always keenly alive to the privilege that had been accorded me. Any work or anxiety connected with this responsibility has been more than offset by the devotion, the courage, and the fine character of service rendered by the nurses while engaged in the care of our sick and wounded soldiers and sailors, and the civilian population of our allies. In the name of the nurses I represent, and my own, I again thank you for the honor conferred upon me.
Believe me, Very Sincerely yours, Clara D. Noyes, Acting Director, Department of Nursing. [4]

According to Medallic Art Company historian D. Wayne Johnson, Laura Gardin Fraser utilized one of eleven monograms when signing her medallic creations. Of interest to me is that she signed this medal “Laura Gardin Fecit,” which is reminiscent of C. GOBRECHT F. on the Gobrecht Dollar. Thus, as long as the National Institute of Social Sciences awards their gold medal, those persons associated with the institute are reminded that “Laura Gardin made it.” [5]

As I become more familiar with the work of Laura Gardin Fraser and by extension the work of her husband, James Earle Fraser I am able to see certain similarities in their medallic art. For instance, except for the flame, the torch on the reverse of this 1913 medal is exactly the same as the torch on the obverse of the 1914 American Museum of Public Safety Edward H. Harriman Memorial Medal modeled by James Earle Fraser. Furthermore, I also see similarities in the fonts both Frasers used on their medals.

When I mentioned this to a friend who is much more knowledgeable than I am on all things “Fraser”, he suggested that if James couldn’t expeditiously finish a medal, Laura would complete the minor devices and/or the legend. Interestingly, my friend also said that James and Laura denied collaborating on anything except the Oregon Trail Memorial. Still, like their marriage, it seemed that James and Laura Fraser were also an artistic team complementing one another.

2. Proceedings of the ... annual meeting of the National Institute of Social Sciences., 9th:no.1 (1922) pg. 99-100
3. Journal of the National Institute of Social Sciences Volume IV April 1, 1918 pg. 173
4. Journal of the National Institute of Social Sciences Volume VI July 1, 1920 pg. 103
Slot: 1913 Medal/MAco 1913-005
Design Description:
Grade: NGC MS 66
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
As America entered the 20th Century, our nation began to turn its attention towards addressing a number of social issues. Among the issues we addressed as a nation was our high infant mortality rate. As a means to educate and encourage parents concerning the proper care and hygiene of their babies, contests were held at popular public venues. These contests then graded the contestants based on certain scientific standards of childhood development. The prizes for the babies with the highest composite scores included cash, medals, loving cups, and certificates. To promote and conduct the contests the “Better Babies Bureau” and the popular Woman’s magazine, “Woman’s Home Companion” sponsored “Better Babies” contests in a number of county and state fairs across the country.

The following is an excerpt from the September 1913 issue of “Woman’s Home Companion” concerning the bronze “Better Babies” award medal designed by then sculptor Laura Gardin. (This medal was issued shortly before Laura Gardin’s marriage to James Earle Fraser.)

And all this time another branch of the Better Babies Bureau had been working out plans for prizes, medals, and certificates of award which will be used this year at all state fairs holding Better Babies contests.

“ A Better Babies Medal, to be cast in gold, silver and Bronze!”

A very pleasing Idea, and one which ought, by good rights, to be entrusted to a woman. So one of the Companion’s art editors went hunting for just the right sculptress to design it. He found her in that quaint section of old New York known as Greenwich Village, perched under a skylight, far above the roar of the elevated railway traffic.

Her name is Laura Gardin, and she ranks among the most successful of America’s young sculptors. Her mother was a water-color artist of considerable note and her grandfather was Theodore Tilton, artist, poet, and journalist, equally well known in America and in France, where he spent his declining years.

Miss Gardin began to study sculpture at the Art League when at seventeen years of age. There she captured the St. Gaudens prizes for composition and for figure from life, with the corresponding scholarships. After three years’ work at the League she studied with J. E. Fraser, who, by the way, designed the new nickel for the United States Government.

She has exhibited regularly at the spring and fall exhibitions of the Art League. Some of her best known works are: a heroic figure of Booth as “Hamlet”; “Timidity,” a charmingly graceful female figure; “The Wrestlers,” shown at the recent Gorham exhibit of bronzes, and the official medal of Cardinal Farley, done in 1912 to celebrate his elevation to the cardinalate. It was this medal which won for Miss Gardin the very desirable distinction of membership in the National Sculpture Society.

When she undertook the commission of designing the Better Babies medal, Miss Gardin decided to employ no one model but to study babies collectively—babies of the rich and babies of the poor, babies on parade and babies rolling on the sand and in gutters, and particularly babies splashing in their bath. The result is the wonderfully human pair of babies which make the Better Babies medal greatly admired by artists. They are real flesh and blood babies, not idealized cherubs.

Miss Gardin watched jealously every step in the casting of the medals.

“No harsh lines,” she warned the workers, “Better Babies have soft, vague lines. Their dimples come and go. Their curves are changeable, elusive and, whether they be blond or brunette, they have what I call a blond softness which is expressed in the single word innocence.” [1]

Concerning the artistic appeal of the Better Babies medal, Elaine J. Leotti in The American Woman Medalist, A Critical Survey comments, “Fraser’s Better Babies medal done in 1913 for the Woman’s Home Companion is her only piece which can truly be called feminine. It is a well-balanced medal, nicely executed if a bit on the sentimental side. The babies’ bare flesh is soft, almost palpable; their curls and dimpled elbows invite touch, thus appealing exactly to the audience the medal was meant to impress.” [2]

Another thing that I find interesting is that Laura Gardin didn’t individually model the two babies appearing on this medal. Instead, she studied the characteristics of all babies resulting in the lifelike babies embodied on the face of this medal. Consequently, I wonder if she learned this technique from James Earle Fraser who employed it in the design of the Buffalo Nickel. Instead of modeling a single Native American for the obverse of his nickel, James Earle Fraser created a composite bust of three Native Americans from separate tribes. [3]

Unfortunately, the “Better Babies” contests of the 1900’s and 10’s later evolved into the popular “Fitter Families” eugenics contests of the 1920’s and 30’s when the primary purpose of the contest shifted from health and hygiene towards human breeding. Consequently, county and state fairs served as a popular platform in which to legitimize eugenics in America. Today the subtly charming Better Babies medal serves as a historic numismatic reminder to the evils of eugenicist thinking. [4]

1 “Woman’s Home Companion” Vol 40, September 1913 pg. 22
2 “The American Woman Medalist, A Critical Survey” by Elaine J. Leotti pg. 212
3 “The Numismatist” November 1999; “James Earle Fraser: Legacy of the West” by William E. Pike
4 Transforming Better Babies into Fitter Families: Archival Resources and the History of the American Eugenics Movement, 1908–1930 by Steven Selden, University of Maryland
Slot: 1915 Medal/MAco 1915-017
Origin/Country: United States
Design Description: MEDALLIC ART CO. MEDALS
Item Description: 63mm 1915-DATED BRONZE ROSEMARY HALL MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. Fraser Studio Archives
Grade: NGC MS 62
Research: View Coin
Slot: 1919 Medal/MAco 1918-002 Copyright 1919
Design Description:
Item Description: 71mm 1919-DATED BRONZE BIDE - A - WEE LAURA G. FRASER
Grade: NGC UNC Details
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Bide-A-Wee is Scottish for "Stay A While" and is the name of an animal rescue and adoption center in Manhattan founded by Mrs. Flora D'Auby Jenkins Kibbe in 1903. Bide-A-Wee still exists today and has a policy of not euthanizing the animals in their care except for pain and suffering. As a result in 115 years of operation they have been able to place over a million dogs and cats into loving homes.

A collector favorite, the Bide-A-Wee medal was awarded to persons in grateful recognition of their "service in the cause of friendless animals." The pictured medal is a bronze un-awarded uniface example designed by then sculptor Laura Gardin around 1913 just before her marriage to James Earle Fraser. It is interesting to note that although the Medallic Art Company catalogs the die pair as MAco 1918-002 the design may pre-date 1918 because it is signed Laura Gardin Sculptor rather than Laura Gardin Fraser. The obverse of the medal features three of Laura Gardin's favorite dogs seated together. Surrounding the dogs is the inscription, "LOYALTY, DEVOTION, FORGIVENESS, HUMOR." The edge inscription reads "L.G. Fraser (copyright symbol) 1919.

The picture attached as the reverse is of Arctic explorer Rear-Admiral Richard E. Byrd being presented the Bide-A-Wee medal in 1930 for devotion to his terrier ironically named, "Igloo". Interestingly, Laura Gardin Fraser is also credited with designing the National Geographic Special Medal of Honor for Rear-Admiral Richard E. Byrd in 1930. One side of that medallion prominently features the bust of Admiral Byrd.
Slot: 1920 Medal/Gorham M296
Design Description:
Grade: NGC MS 63
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Both Laura Gardin and James Earle Fraser loved America and the United States Armed Forces. During World War 1 Laura served her country in one of only a few ways available to women. An independent minded woman, she served as a captain in the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps transporting wounded soldiers. [1]

I believe this experience uniquely qualified Laura Gardin Fraser to design the 1920 Army/Navy Chaplains Medal. The obverse of this medal perfectly illustrates the compassion of “The Good Samaritan" typical of Army chaplains who ministered to wounded soldiers on the front lines. I used the following excerpt from the Federal Council Bulletin Vol. 3 No. 5 May 1920 to support my claim.

The Chaplains' Medal

“The medal to be given by the Protestant churches united in war work to all their chaplains of the American Army and Navy who served in the war is the work of Mrs. Laura Gardin Fraser, of New York, one of the best known of American medalists.

The task which was given to Mrs. Fraser was to produce a design which would express the spirit of the men who served as chaplains and which should represent both branches of the service. That the sculptor has achieved a notable success and produced a medal of rare distinction and beauty is the judgment of competent artists and critics.

In the design for the chaplains' medal, Mrs. Fraser has chosen to represent an army chaplain in the act of supreme service, ministering at the risk of his own life to a wounded man. To those familiar with experiences at the front, the danger of the situation will be at once apparent. In the center of the design the gas mask is seen, ready for immediate adjustment. Indeed, the suggestion is that the chaplain has, perhaps, momentarily removed it, the better to succor the wounded man. Each detail of the chaplain's equipment has been carefully scrutinized and pronounced correct by more than one who served at the front. Strength and sympathy are expressed in the finely modeled figure of the chaplain. The figure of the wounded man represents one of those who served the big guns and were frequently stripped to the waist when in action. This choice of a subject appealed to the sculptor for its artistic possibilities. The very strength of the splendidly modeled back seems by contrast to accentuate the helplessness of the wounded gunner.

The fine record of the men who served as chaplains in the Navy, many of them constantly passing back and forth through the submarine danger zone, ministering to the crews of the naval vessels and the soldiers on the transports, is recalled by the representation of the battleship on the reverse of the medal. The design of this side, with the cross as the central feature, is dignified and strong.

If the thought occurs that not all the chaplains were privileged to serve as the chaplain represented on the obverse of the medal, the answer is that the design expresses the kind of service for which every man who entered the chaplaincy in both the Army and Navy was ready and eager.

The striking of these medals is the realization of a suggestion made soon after the armistice in the Executive Committee of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches. The Committee approved the proposal and made it one of the tasks committed to the General Committee on Army and Navy Chaplains when the War-Time Commission dissolved.

It is hoped the medals will have a permanent value for those who receive them. They are the gift of the churches which worked in closest fellowship during the war in carrying out their common tasks through the War-Time Commission. The medals are intended to convey in tangible form a message of grateful appreciation from the churches to their chaplain sons who were ready to give up life itself, if necessary, in the service of their fellows in the Army and Navy. The churches are proud indeed of the splendid record the chaplains made.

A word of gratitude should be said for the interest taken by the sculptor in her task. Mrs. Fraser brought to it an understanding sympathy without which so satisfying a result could never have been obtained. The medals are to be struck in bronze by the Gorham Company of New York.”

The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America originally budgeted $25,000 towards the production of these medals [2]

1 The Numismatist; July 2013, pg. 35
2 Federal Council Bulletin Vol. 3 No. 4 April 1920
Slot: 1921 Coin
Origin/Country: United States
Item Description: 50C 1921 ALABAMA
Grade: PCGS MS 64
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The 1921 Alabama Centennial half-dollar represents two significant firsts in United States coinage. One, the obverse of the coin portrays the conjoined busts of Alabama’s first governor, William Wyatt Bibb and then current governor, Thomas E. Kilby. This made Alabama Governor Thomas E. Kilby the first living person to be featured on a United States coin. Next, the coin was sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser and as such she became the first women ever to design a US minted coin or for that matter any other world coin. [1]

These and many other factors, including the date, origin, and politics surrounding the issuance of this coin tended to overshadow the artistic talent of this coin’s designer. Now, after nearly a hundred years, those other factors don’t seem to be nearly as important as they once were. Instead, what impresses me most about this coin is the artistic skill used by the coin’s designer, Laura Gardin Fraser to create a truly remarkable coin.

The obverse of this 1921 Alabama Centennial Half-Dollar as stated before features the conjoined busts of William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas E. Kilby. The bust of Thomas E. Kilby was likely modeled after a relief portrait of him done by Mrs. Fraser. [2] The relief of both busts are finely detailed and give the coin’s obverse depth and contrast. This is especially evident on the left cheek of Governor Kilby. Every curve and valley seems to give his bust depth and a life-like look. This look may be summed up by the difference between using a live model versus a two-dimensional photograph or painting to create the galvano used to make the hub.

In the lower obverse field is an array of 22 stars representing Alabama as the 22nd state admitted to the Union. The rim toning, likely the result of being mounted in a paper album, is nature’s contribution to the appearance of this coin. The rim toning attractively accents the obverse and focuses the viewers eyes on the white central-devices artistically rendered by Laura Gardin Fraser. Two contact marks on Kilby’s forehead at the hairline are the only distracting marks on an otherwise pleasing obverse. Incidentally, the Alabama Centennial Committee considered the eagle as the coins obverse and the conjoined busts as the reverse.

The main device on this coin’s reverse is a rendition of the state seal adopted on December 29, 1868. This rendition of the state seal features an eagle perched on a Union Shield clutching a bundle of four arrows in its talons. Held by the eagles beak is a banner on which is written Alabama’s motto, “Here We Rest”. Interestingly, it took two years after the official centennial celebration in 1919 before the coin was finally released late in 1921.

Throughout the early history of our coinage many of the eagles appearing on US coins seemed more symbolic than true. What I mean by that is that the eagles portrayed on our early coins were more heraldic in nature. Interestingly, the images of eagles on US coins became more life-like in the early 20th century during what President Teddy Roosevelt called a “renaissance” in American coinage. [3] In his book “Numismatic Art in America,” Cornelius Vermeule describes the Alabama centennial eagle as such, “…And the defiant eagle of the reverse is handled in a spirit worthy of Saint-Gaudens or the best patterns for silver of the national centennial era”. Certainly the eagle on the reverse of the Alabama Centennial Half-Dollar is representative of that renaissance.

Mature bald eagles have over 7000 feathers. [4] This presents any sculptor with the problem of making their eagle look like a fully feathered bird. Laura Gardin Fraser brilliantly achieves this on the Alabama Centennial Half-Dollar by layering the feathers on the eagles wings and breast rather than displaying them in rows. This gives the viewer a sense of motion that starts in the ruff of feathers at the base of the eagles neck. The eagle's neck feathers on this coin are ruffled and contribute to its life-like look. Bald eagles have the ability to puff up and rotate their feathers to either insulate or cool their bodies. They may also puff them up when they feel threatened. [4] Finally, the primary feathers are long and subtly waved as if the wind is blowing over them. This also contributes to the sense of motion and gives the image depth that makes the eagle appear life-like. I was able to capture this motion in the lighting of my picture. To contrast the coin I am also picturing a two-dimensional drawing of the Alabama State Seal of 1868.

1 The Numismatist July 2013, p. 35
2 Meadowlark Gallery
3 US Mint
4 American Bald Eagle Information
Slot: 1922 Coin
Origin/Country: United States
Item Description: 50C 1922 GRANT
Grade: PCGS MS 64
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The Grant Memorial Gold Dollar and Half Dollar were struck to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ulysses S. Grant. The obverse of both coins feature a right profile bust of General Grant as adapted by Laura Gardin Fraser from a photograph by Civil War Photographer Matthew Brady. [1] The reverses, also adapted from a photograph, portray the clapboard home birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio surrounded by several very large maple trees. Interestingly, these coins are very similar to a medal struck for the occasion by Whitehead & Hoag (manufacturer of political buttons, badges, banners, and medals). However, the obverse of the medal features a three-quarter right facing view of Grant’s bust while the reverse displays a full view of the house without the trees. [2]

Like most early commemoratives, the Grant Memorial commemoratives had their share of detractors. On top of the usual complaints, (die varieties and misappropriation of funds) the editor of “The Numismatist” Frank G. Duffield had this to say about the artistic merits of the Grant commemorative coins, “The head of Grant on the coins is in profile and shows him as he probably appeared in the later years of his life, with closely cropped beard, not withstanding he is wearing a military coat. This head is not as suitable or life-like for a coin portrait as the head on the small medallet issued for the occasion, illustrated last month, if it was the intention to show him as he appeared during the days of the Civil War, when he was under 45. On the reverse of the coins is shown his cabin birthplace, on each side of which are trees of such a height that the cabin appears dwarfed. The surroundings of the cabin at the time of his birth may have been such as are pictured on the coins, but for the sake of better effect a little realism might have been sacrificed without detracting from historic interest.” [3] Nevertheless, Frank G Duffield sums up the Grant Memorial commemoratives as such, “In design and execution they are the equal of any of our recent commemorative issues, all of which have proved exceedingly popular with collectors”.

Famous numismatic art critic Cornelius Vermeule had this to say about the design features of the 1922 Grant Memorial; “Her trees, her little wooden house, and her rail fence are modeled and carved with a gem cutters precision. The texture of the leaves is one of the most subtle yet lively experiences on any surface of an American coin. Grant is his gruff self, and in sum it can be said that a superlative beginning was made to the iconography of the Civil War in US commemorative coinage. The only possible criticism of the design, that the large lettering is too large, fades when the curvatures of actual flans are studied. What seems potentially large and flat in photographs falls into harmonious beauty in actuality”. [4]

The problems with this coin as described by Mr. Duffield are not only artistic but also technical. From a technical standpoint there is obverse weakness in the strike that is apparent in Grant’s hair above his ear that interestingly is not as apparent on the gold coin. Furthermore, there may have been problems with the dies used to strike the half-dollar since most of the coins display die finish lines. [1] These raised lines are typically the result of repairing and/or cleaning the dies to extend their life. The magnified obverse picture I took clearly shows those lines. Still there are those who contend that the polish lines were deliberately made to give the coin a rougher look. This “look” by the way, perfectly correlates to Grant’s gruff personality. [5] Incidentally, I find the many different finishes on early commemorative halves to be intriguing.

Artistically, there are design constraints placed on coins that are not necessarily applicable to medals. Coins are mass produced while medals generally aren’t. Thus, reducing the stress on the dies during striking is crucial to extending the usefulness of the dies and keeping production costs lower. Next, the relief on coins is much lower than medals due in part to coin stacking and vending machine considerations. Finally, and maybe most significant are the political constraints that determine which designs are to be used. Sculptors are very creative in their art, and design restrictions oftentimes limit their creativity. For instance, Mr. Duffield complained about using a profile bust as a model. However, most, if not all of the coins featuring a bust in that day were all done in profile. Today if you were to compare the nearly full faced bust on the Grant presidential dollar to the 1922 Grant memorial half dollar, you would most likely agree that the profile on the presidential dollar is artistically superior to that of the half dollar.

In spite of all this going against her, I believe that Laura Gardin Fraser made the most of the hand she had been dealt and the proof is in the details. From my macro picture detailing the lower obverse of my coin you will notice how Mrs. Fraser adds texture to the collar of General Grants coat by engraving crisscrossing lines into the collar. This gives the illusion of depth and realism to the bust as does the level of detail given to General Grant’s necktie. When viewed in the hand without magnification it is amazing how much difference the little details make in the overall look of the coin.

Finally, of interest to me is the diverse monograms Laura Gardin Fraser employed in her many works of numismatic art. Because of its size and strike on the half dollar just underneath Grant’s bust, many people confuse her LGF monogram with the letter G for her maiden name. That the monogram LGF is clearer on the dollar coin shows that the half dollar is not the letter G but the monogram LGF.

1 Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8
2 The Numismatist, April 1922, pg. 188
3 The Numismatist, May 1922, pg. 228-229
4 Numismatic Art in America by Cornelius Vermeule, pg. 153-154
5 Ira & Larry Goldberg auctioneers
Slot: 1922 Coin
Origin/Country: United States
Item Description: G$1 1922 STAR GRANT
Grade: NGC MS 62
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
In one respect, the introduction of die varieties to commemorative coins in 1921 represented the beginning of the end for classic commemorative coins. Intending to artificially increase sales of the 1620-1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollar, 1921 was added on the obverse of coins struck that year. This commemorative had a good run in 1920 but in 1921 sales of this coin quickly waned and were sold almost exclusively to collectors. Sales were so poor that only about 1/5 of the coins minted in 1921 representing some 20,000 coins survived the melting pot. Technically speaking, overall sales did increase but the addition of die varieties to commemorative coins became a point of contention among collectors by forcing them to buy extra coins of the same design to complete their sets.

Now as the commemorative coin program slid further down the slippery slope of die varieties, so also did the justifications for adding them. The justification for the 2(star)4 variety on the 1921 Missouri Centennial Half Dollar was to help defray production costs. While on the surface this seemed like a good idea, reality was quite different. Yes, all the 2(star)4 coins sold out but beyond that there was very little interest in this coin as evidenced by a low final mintage. Low mintages can only mean low or no profit.

Next in rapid succession came the 2X2, 1921 Alabama Centennial Half Dollar. In the middle of this quagmire are both Frasers, James as a member of the Commission of Fine Arts and Laura as the sculptor who prepared the models for the Alabama commemorative. In fact it was on James recommendation that the 2X2 be included on the Alabama Centennial Half Dollar as a means to increase sales.

Naturally, all the parties involved in the 1921 Alabama Centennial Half Dollar had an interest in creating a popular commemorative with strong sales; congress, the US Mint, the Commission of Fine Arts, the local commemorative committee, and finally the artist. As a member of the Commission of Fine Arts, James Fraser had a greater stake in the success of this coin since it was his wife who submitted the models. (Laura’s first coin and the first woman ever for any coin.) With a previous precedent already established, suggesting the 2X2 die variety wouldn’t have seemed out of order. Interestingly, the popularity of this coin among collectors was less than enthusiastic.

This brings me to the 1922 Grant Dollar and Half Dollar die varieties and the end of a five coin consecutive run of commemorative die varieties. The U.S. Grant Centenary Memorial Commission originally requested 200,000 commemorative gold dollars. Instead, the final authorization was for 250,000 half dollars and 10,000 gold dollars. With the original intention of an all gold dollar commemorative, there is speculation that the star was added to the half by mistake. Regardless, the final mintages for the Grant with star half dollar is 4,256 and 5,016 for the Grant with star gold dollar. Today, of the five aforementioned die varieties, only the Grant with star half dollar commands a hefty premium over its plain counterpart.

The collecting community including myself (the owner of an MS-62 Grant gold dollar with star) owes dealer B. Max Mehl a huge debt of gratitude. For it was B. Max Mehl who bought thousands of the Grant gold dollars at just over face value when scarcely anyone shelled out the $3.00 and $3.50 respectively for the plain and with star Grant gold dollar.

All the facts listed in this description were gleaned from, “Commemorative Coins of the United States, A Complete Encyclopedia” by Q. David Bowers.
Slot: 1922 Medal/MAco 1919-007
Design Description:
Grade: NGC MS 67
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Many of Laura Gardin Fraser’s early commissions came from animal enthusiast organizations such as the “Irish Setter Club of America,” “Bide-A-Wee [Scottish for Stay A While],” and “The Morgan Horse Club.” It was Mrs. Fraser’s precise renderings of specific animal breeds like the Irish Setter featured on the 1922 “Irish Setter Club of America” medal that earned her those commissions. Underlying Mrs. Fraser’s skill at sculpting animals was her love and appreciation of animals. This she developed as a youth growing up around the family’s horses, dogs, and other pets at the Gardin’s summer home in Caldwell, New Jersey. As a consequence, horses and dogs were among Mrs. Fraser’s favorite subjects to sculpt. [1][2][3]

Laura Gardin was born to John Emil and Alice Tilton Gardin on September 14, 1889, in Chicago, Illinois. The Gardin’s moved to New York City in 1904 where Laura attended Horace Mann School and subsequently The Art Students League. Laura Gardin’s mother, Alice Tilton Gardin had always encouraged Laura in the arts and it became apparent to her that Laura showed a talent for modeling figures and working with clay. Laura herself had this to say about her mother: "Mother, whom we affectionately called Neo, was both a talented painter and musician. She taught us girls and encouraged us to study the arts." Leila Gardin Sawyer recalls Laura's talent in sculpture as a youngster. Among her first figures were "Rough Rider" and a portrait of actress "Maude Adams." [4]

The Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA) medal first modeled by Laura Gardin Fraser in 1922 is still awarded by the club to the dogs of club members which have received an American Kennel Club title. What’s more, this medal is prominently displayed in the header of the ISCA website. Thus, almost 100 years later, it serves as a legacy to Mrs. Fraser’s artistic ability as a sculptor for her rendering of the Irish Setter featured on the obverse of the ISCA medal. [5]

The obverse of the ISCA medal depicts an Irish Setter proudly standing below an Irish harp. Before and behind the setter are three shamrocks bordering the edge of the medal. The legend, “Irish Setter Club of America” appears overhead along the medals top rim. Mrs. Fraser’s name and title are superimposed over the harp, “Laura Gardin, Sculptor”.

The inscription Affection, Courage, Beauty, and Intelligence are separated by shamrocks encircling the reverse border. Another inscription, “To encourage breeding and develop and perfect nature’s contribution to a noble race awarded to” appears over a leash wrapped in the shape of a bone. Below the leash is a rectangular cartouche. The leash and the cartouche provide space for specific inscriptions.

In his book “Numismatic Art in America” author Cornelius Vermule describes this medal as a “very Renaissance, very Pisanello like medal” featuring a portrait of a “most humanistic” setter! For my part, I compared the dog on the medal to a photograph of an Irish Setter. The first thing I noticed is that the smooth glistening coat on the photograph is realistically matched to the smooth relief of the medal. Next, the frayed portion of the dog’s coat on his ears, breast, belly, legs, and tail on the photograph correspond to the tangled, frayed, and rough texture of the dog’s coat on the medal. Finally, the long snout is perfectly matched from the photo to the medal. This medal then is proof that Laura Gardin Fraser was not only skilled in sculpting animals but also in sculpting breeds. [6]

1 CoinWorld, 11/04/11, Honoring Bide-A-Wee by David T. Alexander, news/us-coins/2011/11/honoring-bide-a-wee.html#
2 The Numismatist, July 2013, pg. 35
3 The Meadowlark Gallery,
4 End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel, pg. 32
5 The Irish Setter Club of America,
6 Numismatic Art in America by Cornelius Vermule
Slot: 1923 Medal/MAco 1923-016
Origin/Country: United States
Design Description: MEDALLIC ART CO. MEDALS
Grade: NGC MS 63
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The 1923 Horse Association of America Polo Pony Medal was commissioned by William Averell Harriman and designed by Laura Gardin Fraser. It was awarded annually to the best playing polo pony in each member club of the Horse Association of America from 1923-1929. This particular medal was awarded to “Cutie” owned by the US government for the 6th Calvary Polo Association. [1] [2]

When a sculptor models a theme for their final medallic design they will often start by sketching their ideas on paper or copy their subject from a photograph. They might also use a live model as Laura Gardin Fraser did for the “1929 National Sculpture Society Special Medal of Honor.” Incidentally, in designing the National Sculpture Society medallion Mrs. Fraser utilized both the aforementioned techniques to create her finished work. [3]

For the 1923 Horse Association of America Polo Pony medal Laura Gardin Fraser seems to have employed yet another design method. In designing the Horse Association of America Polo Pony medal Mrs. Fraser studied the interaction between a polo player and their mount in action. To do so she mounted her horse, borrowed a polo mallet, and hit a polo ball around on an open field at the Fraser’s summer home in Westport, Connecticut.

This did not go on unnoticed. Soon Laura Gardin Fraser’s friend Lila Howard joined in the fun and before long so did the men of the community. Locally organized polo matches followed and the Fairfield County Hunt Club was established in 1923. So it might be said that Mrs. Fraser founded the Fairfield County Hunt Club as an unintended benefit of her research. Subsequently in 1926, the Fairfield County Hunt Club became a member club of the United States Polo Association. The Fairfield County Hunt Club is still in existence today. [4] [5]

The commissioning of the 1923 Horse Association of America Polo Pony Medal became a springboard for at least two other of Laura Gardin Fraser’s sculpted bronze polo ponies. The first bronze was commissioned by the US Polo Association and was awarded to persons who loaned their mounts for the 1928 Cup of the Americas series. The other was of Averell Harriman’s polo pony named, “Miss Buck.” Another of Mrs. Fraser’s works entitled, “Long, Long Trail” is a bronze bas-relief of polo player Theodore Roosevelt. [6]

1 “Polo In the United States: A History” by Horace A. Laffaye, pg. 109
2 Dick Johnson’s Medal Artists Databank,
5 “Polo In the United States: A History” by Horace A. Laffaye, pg. 109
6 “Polo In the United States: A History” by Horace A. Laffaye, pg. 303
Slot: 1923 Medal/MAco 1923-017
Design Description:
Grade: NGC MS 64
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
As a young girl, Laura Gardin had always enjoyed her family’s summer home in New Jersey where she especially enjoyed riding her horse. It was here that she developed her lifelong love of animals. As a result, it is not unreasonable to speculate that her passion for animals significantly contributed to her skill at sculpting animals and especially horses. [1]

In 1923 Laura Gardin Fraser had two significant commissions for medals involving horses. The first was the “Horse Association of America Polo Pony Medal." Her other work was “The Morgan Horse Club” medal. There are two uniface versions of "The Morgan Horse Club" medal. The obverse uniface medal features a single left facing Morgan horse against a mountainous backdrop and the phrase, “The Morgan Horse Club” around the upper rim. The reverse uniface medal features a touching scene of a Morgan mare with her foal underneath the legend “Vermont." The state of Vermont is significant in that it was here that the Morgan horse pedigree originated. Beside the two uniface issues, there is a single medal that features the devices of both uniface medals. Later “The Morgan Horse Club” changed their name to “American Morgan Horse Association” and in 1972 they re-struck the medal but removed the word club from the obverse legend to reflect the name change.

The 76mm bronze medal pictured above as the obverse incorporates both uniface designs, the left facing Morgan horse as the obverse and the mare and foal as the reverse. The medal I have pictured above as the reverse is a silvered bronze obverse uniface medal without the word club in the legend. The reverse of that medal has the initials “AMHA” engraved in it for the “American Morgan Horse Association.” Saddle Seat represents a type of riding style that accentuates the horses trot and the date is 1974.

The founding sire of the Morgan horse pedigree was born in 1789 with the given name “Figure”. Figure’s owner was Justin Morgan who was a teacher, composer, businessman, and horseman. Figure was an especially prized horse because of his natural ability to pass on his distinguishing characteristics through several generations. Figure died in 1821, the result of an untreated kick from another horse. The Morgan horse is particularly known for its use by the military as a calvary and artillery horse. The Morgan horse is also well suited to pull a carriage. Morgan horses as a breed are especially attached to their owners. The American Morgan Horse Association has as a motto on their webpage header, “The Horse That Chooses You”. [2] [3]

Laura Gardin Fraser's early works with horse themed medals helped to prepare her for what some call her greatest work. In 1936 Mrs. Fraser won a $100,000 commission to sculpt a double equestrian sculpture of Civil War Generals Lee and Jackson. This project would take 12 years to complete culminating with the statues’ dedication at Wyman Park in Baltimore on May 1, 1948.

In an interview with Dean Krakel, Laura Gardin Fraser recalls, “Hard work, horses, research, and imagination went into the statues, and twelve years of my life. A sculptor’s life is measured in large chunks of time. A statue like the Lee and Jackson becomes a part of you. It’s like raising a child. Of course Jimmy and I carried on other projects at the same time. If a project wasn’t literally big and big in importance, then it wasn’t really worth the while. Of the one hundred thousand dollars I received for Lee and Jackson, I might have netted fifteen thousand dollars. The architecture alone cost fifty thousand dollars. Then there was the casting and shipping cost. Of course, there is no satisfaction quite like that of a beautifully complete and acceptable creation. Jimmy liked my Lee and Jackson—that was enough.”

An art critic for the Bridgeport Connecticut Evening News paid Laura Gardin Fraser quite a compliment when based on the strength of her horses, he compared her to famous French animal artist, Rosa Bonheur, calling Mrs. Fraser the “Rosa Bonheur of Sculpture”. [4]

1 End of the Trail, the Odyssey of a Statue” by Dean Krakel pg. 32
2 Origin of the Morgan Horse;
3 The Morgan Horse-Profiles in History: Introduction;
4 “End of the Trail, the Odyssey of a Statue” by Dean Krakel pg. 37-38
Slot: 1923 Medal/MAco 1923-017
Origin/Country: United States
Design Description: MEDALLIC ART CO. MEDALS
Grade: NGC MS 64
Research: View Coin
Slot: 1924 Medal/MAco 1924-036
Origin/Country: United States
Design Description: MEDALLIC ART CO. MEDALS
Item Description: 38mm 1924-DATED SILVER CHICAGO LIVE STOCK EXPO MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. Owosso Sugar Co.
Grade: NGC MS 62
Research: View Coin
Slot: 1925 Coin
Origin/Country: United States
Item Description: 50C 1925 FORT VANCOUVER
Grade: PCGS MS 63
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The 1925 Fort Vancouver Centennial Half-Dollar commemorates the 1825 founding of Fort Vancouver by the Hudson’s Bay Company and it’s first administrator, Dr. John McLoughlin (1784-1857). The obverse features a left facing bust of Dr. McLoughlin based on a sketch by Vancouver, Washington native John T. Urquhart.[1] The reverse features a frontiersman clothed in buckskins standing in front of the Fort Vancouver stockade with the Columbia River and Mt. Hood in the background. Portland, Oregon native Sidney Bell is credited with the coin’s original design and Laura Gardin Fraser with modifying the motifs and preparing the final models.[2]

Interestingly, Laura Gardin Fraser nearly missed out on the Fort Vancouver Centennial Half-Dollar. After rejecting Sydney Bell’s models, the Federal Commission of Fine Arts sought medalist Chester Beach who himself designed the 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half-Dollar to modify and complete the models. However, Chester Beach was unavailable and Laura Gardin Fraser was commissioned with the task on June 15, 1925. Subsequently, She finished the new models by July 1 and the first 50,028 coins (28 for assay purposes) were ready for delivery on August 1.[3]

Because of their love and admiration for the old west, both James and Laura Fraser were adept at modeling subjects relating to western themes. Accordingly, it is probably for the best that the commission fell to Laura as I will detail in the following paragraphs. To understand Laura’s rendition of Dr. McLoughlin on the Fort Vancouver Centennial Half-Dollar it is important to understand the man.

In the October 1925 issue of the Numismatist, Portland resident George A. Pipes wrote the following about Dr. McLoughlin. “Dr. McLoughlin was truly a great man. He ruled this great territory as an absolute monarch, a benevolent despot, Harounal Raschid reincarnated. He was able to convince the savage tribes of Indians that he and his company intended them no harm. If an Indian did wrong to a white man, he was punished, and the same punishment was administered to a white who wronged an Indian. He forbade the evil practice which had existed theretofore of trading "firewater" to the Indians. He dealt with such justness toward these savage tribes that for hundreds of miles around they acknowledged him their Big Chief and lived in peace and quiet among the whites.”[4]

Laura Fraser’s rendition of Dr. McLoughlin’s bust features him as an older man, and as such someone who is dignified and demands respect. Dr. McLoughlin’s high cheek bone and deep eyes show him to be determined. His thick eyebrows remind me of someone who is wise or in deep thought. Furthermore, Dr. McLoughlin is dressed in clothing that seems to suggest that he was a shrewd businessman. Consequently, when you read Dr. McLoughlin’s biography, the image of his bust on the Fort Vancouver Centennial Half-Dollar is exactly what you might expect to see. These then are all the little things an artist can subtly add to their subject in order to portray a certain image without significantly altering the subject.

I do not know for sure what changes Laura Gardin Fraser made to the reverse motifs of this coin. However, according to the US Rare Coin Investments website she added the frontiersman to the original design.

The most prominent device on the reverse of the Fort Vancouver Centennial Half-Dollar is the frontiersman. Ergo, he is symbolic of the type of person who traded furs in the mountainous regions of the Pacific northwest during the early to middle 1800’s. That his head has an appearance of towering higher than Mt. Hood shows that he is more than equal to the harshness of the environment in which he lives. He is tall and stocky, indicating that he is strong and physically fit. He is wearing a coonskin cap with a full beard and a stern face proving that he is resilient and ready to face any adverse weather conditions he may encounter. His buckskin clothing has the appearance of authenticity as the edges are tattered. His leg muscles are well defined and powerful such as what he would need to traverse rugged terrain. Finally, the frontiersman is standing with his rifle in a position of readiness to defend the fort behind him. This man then is a representative type of the 1,000 white men who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company under Dr. John McLoughlin.

Finally, I’m not sure how this coin may have turned out if Chester Beach finished the models. However, I do know that Laura Gardin Fraser executed the design features of the Fort Vancouver Centennial Half-Dollar well.

1 Legendary Locals of Vancouver, Washington, pg.56
2 Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8
3 US Rare Coin Investments, halfdollar.htm
4 The Numismatist, October 1925, pg. 543-544
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