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The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser

Category:  Series Sets
Owner:  coinsbygary
Last Modified:  5/11/2021
Set Description
Every pioneer who paves a new trail marks a trail for others to follow. Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966) is the first women ever to design a US minted coin or for that matter any other world coin (The Numismatist July 2013, p. 35). As a result, this has opened the way for many other talented sculptresses/medalists to break into what had been exclusively the realm of men. That said, I don’t get the impression that Laura Gardin Fraser was particularly pugnacious about breaking down barriers. Rather, I believe it was her love of sculpture and artistic expression combined with her artistic prowess that marked the trail for others to follow. Thus, as a result of my admiration of Laura Gardin Fraser as a person, pioneer, and artist I created this set entitled, “The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser”.

Laura Gardin Fraser was a particularly gifted sculptor in her own right despite her marriage to famed Buffalo Nickel sculptor James Earle Fraser. As a result of her marriage to James there were those who had incorrectly concluded that Laura Gardin Fraser’s success was based on an undue influence from her husband. However, the truth is that James had always encouraged her to be individualistic. Laura is quoted as saying this about her husband, "He was a great teacher," Laura recalled. "Jimmy had the rare quality of being able to recognize what someone felt. He never liked to work in one specific manner. He encouraged individualism. Everyone loved him–especially me" (The Meadowlark Gallery). Therefore, I hope to catch a glimpse into the heart and passion of Laura Gardin Fraser through her coins and some of her 100 plus medals displayed within the body of this set (The Numismatist July 2013, p. 35).

Still, there were those who speculated on the direction Mrs. Fraser’s artistic career may have taken had she not married James. Elaine J. Leotti writing in an essay, “The American Woman Medalist, A Critical Survey” quotes Sculptor Janet deCoux, who worked as an assistant to James Fraser during the 1930’s. Miss deCoux describes Laura as “a very tense and serious person, very difficult to know.” In Miss deCoux’s opinion, Laura Fraser’s work was largely reflective of her husband’s sculpture, as she was never able to “develop as one would who had fought it out alone.” However, like Elaine J. Leotti I think that “It would be a foolish waste of time to attempt conjecture of Fraser’s artistic development had she never met James.” Unfortunately, accusations like those leveled by Miss deCoux plagued Mrs. Fraser her entire life.

There is a considerable amount of research available on James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser including the James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser studio papers at the Dickinson Research Center and Syracuse University Libraries. Given all the past research done on Laura Gardin Fraser, I am unlikely to unearth anything new that had been previously unknown. Thus, within the narrative of my owner comments I intend to offer my interpretation of Laura Gardin Fraser’s life passion and work based on the coins and medals themselves and on known facts about her. Where I have Laura’s own comments on a particular piece, I will quote her directly. For who can best describe the intention of the medallic art than the artist themselves.

I also intend to gather my facts from reliable sources such as “The Numismatist,” various websites like “The Meadowlark Gallery,” and books from my personal library such as “End of the Trail: The Odyssey of a Statue” (1973) by Dean Krakel. When I make an opinion based on a known fact I intend to name the source in the footnotes of my coin and medal descriptions.

From a numismatic standpoint, this set will prove to be quite a challenge. While the coins are all readily available, many of the medals are not. The medals can be divided into two categories. The first are those medals intended for sale to the general public, such as the “Society of Medalists” and the “Hall of Fame for Great Americans” series. The second are those medals given out as an award. This category includes such medals as the 1913 “Better Babies” medal and the 1920 “American Army and Navy Chaplains Medal”. As a category, the second will be much more difficult and expensive to acquire. Difficult, in that examples of these infrequently appear for sale and expensive as they tend to be much rarer. Therefore, this set will likely be years in the making and probably never complete. Still, much of what I enjoy about this set is the “hunt” for new pieces.

If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a thousand times more. Thus I am posting a link to a 1929 film made by The Medallic Art Company entitled, “The Medal Maker”. At one time this film was thought to be lost, but has since been found and restored by the Medallic Art Company. The film features the making of the 1929 “National Sculpture Society Special Medal of Honor” from its creation by Laura Gardin Fraser to its inaugural presentation to Daniel Chester French. The Medallic Art Company has edited the film to be narrated by the 11th chief engraver of the US Mint, Elizabeth Jones. The film can be viewed at The Medallic Art Company’s web site via the following link.

Finally, I find it most interesting that prior to 1921 no woman had ever designed a United States coin and then only 60 years later to have Elizabeth Jones become the first woman to be named chief engraver of the US Mint. Consequently, I can reasonably conclude that female sculptors have gained a much more prominent role in numismatics based mainly on their artistic skill. This then is as it should be.

The coins and medals in this set are ordered according to the year Laura Gardin Fraser completed the models from which the original dies were made. Thus each slot name will detail whether the piece is a coin or a medal and the year of the design along with the Medallic Art Company catalog number if the medal was struck by them.


I am humbled and gratified to have this set named by NGC as the “Most Creative Custom Set” for 2016. I am especially honored by the judges comments. To have them consider my set as, “among the most elegant and informative ever to grace the NGC Registry” is especially gratifying. It is also humbling in that there are thousands of custom sets, many of which I consider every bit the equal or better than mine. With that I wish to express my thanks to NGC for this award. The following is the complete text of the judges comments.

“This presentation is among the most elegant and informative ever to grace the NGC Registry. As its title indicates, the entire medallic oeuvre of Laura Gardin Fraser is included in chronological order, and a true appreciation of her talent will be gained by the viewer. All of the pieces are accompanied by excellent photographs and detailed commentary, and the owner's introductory history about LGF and her role in the arts is both very illustrative and highly entertaining.”

Set Goals
Collect as many of the coins and medals designed by Laura Gardin Fraser as possible. Despite having won the 2016 Most Creative Custom Set Award, I fully intend to continue adding pieces to this set as I identify, purchase, and have them graded.

Slot Name
Item Description
Full Grade
Owner Comments
View Coin 1912 Cast Medal/Sherlock Studios 131mm 1912-DATED BRONZE JOHN CARDINAL FARLEY E: 1 - L. GARDIN FECIT Fraser Studio Archives NGC MS 62 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.
View Coin 1913 Medal/MAco 1913-002 United States 50.5mm UNDATED BRONZE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL SCIENCE - AWARD CLARA D. NOYES, M.A.C.O. NGC MS 63 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
View Coin 1913 Medal/MAco 1913-005 50mm 1913-DATED BRONZE BETTER BABIES MEDAL CROWELL PUB. CO. NGC MS 66 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
View Coin 1915 Medal/MAco 1915-017 United States 63mm 1915-DATED BRONZE ROSEMARY HALL MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. Fraser Studio Archives NGC MS 62
View Coin 1919 Medal/MAco 1918-002 Copyright 1919 71mm 1919-DATED BRONZE BIDE - A - WEE LAURA G. FRASER NGC UNC Details 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.
View Coin 1920 Medal/Gorham M296 70mm 1920-DATED BRASS CHAPLAINS OF ARMY & NAVY AWARD MEDAL GORHAM CO. ON EDGE NGC MS 63 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
View Coin 1921 Coin United States 50C 1921 ALABAMA PCGS MS 64 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
View Coin 1922 Coin United States 50C 1922 GRANT PCGS MS 64 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
View Coin 1922 Coin United States G$1 1922 STAR GRANT NGC MS 62 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.
View Coin 1922 Medal/MAco 1919-007 76mm UNDATED BRONZE IRISH SETTER CLUB AWARD MEDAL NGC MS 67 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
View Coin 1923 Medal/MAco 1923-016 United States 76mm 1923-DATED BRONZE HORSE ASS'N OF AMERICA MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. ""CUTIE, 1929"" NGC MS 63 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
View Coin 1923 Medal/MAco 1923-017 76mm 1923-DATED BRONZE THE MORGAN HORSE CLUB MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 64 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
View Coin 1923 Medal/MAco 1923-017 United States 76mm 1923-DATED SILVERED THE MORGAN HORSE MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. ""AMHA SADDLE SEAT, 1974"" NGC MS 64
View Coin 1924 Medal/MAco 1924-036 United States 38mm 1924-DATED SILVER CHICAGO LIVE STOCK EXPO MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. Owosso Sugar Co. NGC MS 62
View Coin 1925 Coin United States 50C 1925 FORT VANCOUVER PCGS MS 63 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
View Coin 1926 Coin United States 50C 1938 OREGON TRAIL NGC MS 65 The editor of “The Numismatist” in a November 1926 editorial declared that the bold and striking design of the Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar was “much more appropriate for a medal than a coin”. Though the editor may have been technically correct, the collectors have had the last say as evidenced by an article by Q. David Bowers appearing in the October 1998 issue of “The Numismatist”. In that article Q. David Bowers writes that the “Society for United States Commemorative Coins” voted the Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar their favorite commemorative.

The design of the Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar isn’t the only component of this coin that endears it to collectors. For the collector interested in the history behind the coin, and the history of the coin, this coin has something for everyone. First, without the determination of Ezra Meeker and Dr. Minnie Howard there is no Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar. Ezra Meeker first traversed the Oregon trail in 1852 with his wife and newborn child and sought to raise funds in order to place markers along the trail. Dr. Minnie Howard was a resident of Pocatello, Idaho which is in close proximity to Fort Hall, a major stop along the trail. Through their efforts, Congress authorized the minting of up to 6 million coins! Then there was the mismanagement of the proceeds from the coins by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. On top of that there was an attempt to increase sales to collectors by introducing coins with different dates and mints.[1] And if that isn’t enough there is confusion as to which is the obverse of this coin, the wagon side or the Indian side? Incidentally, the wagon side is considered to be the obverse by the US Mint while the Frasers consider the Indian side as the obverse.[2]

Not lost to me amidst all these story lines is the fact that this coin represents the only collaborative work done by both James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser. Thus, with two of that days more accomplished sculptors designing the coin it is no wonder to me why this coin is so highly regarded among collectors. Besides the obverse/reverse confusion there is confusion as to which Fraser designed which side. Conventional wisdom has that Laura designed the conestoga wagon side because animals were among her favorite subjects for sculpting and likewise James the Indian side because of his skill sculpting Indians.[3] However, Mitch Sanders writes in the July, 2013 issue of “The Numismatist” on page 105 that James designed the wagon side while Laura did the Indian. Incidentally, Laura produced the plaster models for both sides of the coin based on James and her’s drawings. Then in order to expedite production of the coins Laura had the Medallic Art Company make the hubs that she then hand carried to the Philadelphia Mint.[4]

Despite all this, what I find most intriguing is the monogram on the coin’s reverse (Fraser definition). The monogram has the initials JE and LG in small letters on top of each other with one large F on the end. To me this signifies the Biblical definition of marriage that the two shall become one. Though James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser had no children, they had a wonderful marriage that spanned 40 years and only ended with the death of James in 1953.

Laura had this to say about their life together: We talked and laughed and competed all our lives. When we weren't working, we were talking, and we never grew tired of each other or ran out of subject matter to discuss or argue about. The theatre and [New York] Philharmonic were our favorite social events. We could spend literally days discussing a play or a concert. Good acting always thrilled us, as did the strength and beauty of poetic writing. Of course our own creative work was our life. It was that way to the end. A few minutes before Jimmy passed away, I sat on the edge of his bed and started talking about our doing a Lincoln. He just beamed with excitement. I didn't want him to overexert himself, so I thought I better leave. I got up and walked to the door, then turned around and looked at Jimmy. He raised his head, nodded, and looked at me, smiled and said, “By golly, Laura, we’ll do a colossal Lincoln...together!” [5]

1 The Numismatist, November 2014, “Sunrise at Pocatello”
2 Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8
3 The Numismatist, November 2014, “Sunrise at Pocatello”
4 Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8; The Numismatist, November 2014, “Sunrise at Pocatello”
5 End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel Epilogue “Something more beautiful for America”
View Coin 1929 Medal/MAco 1929-046 United States 75mm UNDATED BRASS AMERICAN BAR ASSOC. NGC MS 64 Every year since 1929, The American Bar Association awards this medallion designed by Laura Gardin Fraser for "Exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence." This medallion is an unawarded 75mm example of the ABA medallion struck in gilded bronze. From the reverse picture, it appears as if the gilt did not uniformly take. This medallion is also struck in two sizes 100mm and 75mm, of which the 100mm is scarcer. It's struck in bronze, 24k and 14k gold, and gilt bronze.

The obverse features a bust of Chief Justice John Marshall (chief justice of the supreme court between 1801-1835). The motto "TO THE END IT MAY BE A GOVERNMENT OF LAWS AND NOT OF MEN" is contained in the Massachusetts Bill of Rights and written by John Adams. The reverse features a seated image of Justitia holding a scale in her right hand and a downward pointing sheathed sword with her left. Laura Gardin Fraser's monogram appears below Justitia.
View Coin 1929 Medal/List 645 69mm 1928-DATED BRONZE CHARLES A. LINDBERGH CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL NGC MS 63 BN On May 4, 1928, the Congress of the United States passed a joint resolution authorizing the striking of a gold medal to be presented to Charles A Lindbergh. This medal was to commemorate him for the first non-stop transatlantic flight between New York and Paris on May 20-21, 1927. In a ceremony held on August 15, 1930, President Hoover presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Charles A. Lindbergh.

The resolution also provided for the striking of no more than 10 million bronze medals to be sold to the public at no cost to the treasury. Moreover, a commission was established to manage the sales. The profits from the medals were to be used for purchasing the Lindbergh homestead in Little Falls, Minnesota ($250,000) and for the construction and equipping of a Lindbergh museum in St. Louis, Missouri ($250,000). Any profits exceeding the budgeted $500,000 were to be spent on aviation research. The sale of these medals continued into the 1970’s. My medal is one of the later medals as determined by the different methods of mint packaging over the years. [1]

The following excerpt is copied from a notice in the January 1929 issue of The Numismatist announcing Laura Gardin Fraser as the designer of the Lindbergh gold medal; “A profile sketch of Col. Charles Lindbergh will be drawn by a woman artist chosen to design the medal, authorized by Congress, commemorating his transatlantic flight. When the young American flyer, who is known as the most photographed man in America, could not produce a suitable portrait of himself in profile, tentative sketches were submitted by artists.

Mrs. Laura Gardin Fraser of Westport, Connecticut, has announced that her sketch met with approval and that Colonel Lindbergh will sit for his portrait at her New York studio. When designed the medal will have on one side a profile of the Colonel with his flying headgear on. The other side will represent an allegorical figure flying through space. The American flag will serve as part of the background while the rest of the background will be made up of stars emblematic of Colonel Lindbergh's flight through night as well as day.

(Note: The picture I use as this medal’s reverse was taken at the Fraser’s New York studio. Though nobody can tell for sure, the hands shown holding the background are believed to be those of Laura Gardin Fraser.) [2]

In a letter to Charles Moore, the Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, Mrs. Fraser says this about Charles Lindbergh during his hour long sitting at their studio, “I found him a most delightful personality. His charm and graciousness, which are so evident, have gone far to make him the idol that he is.” [3]

Along with Charles A. Lindbergh, the Fraser’s brushed shoulders with, or counted as friends, some of the most influential Americans of their time.

Early in their marriage James was a fan and personal friend of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and if he was in New York he seldom missed a Yankee home game.

James Earle Fraser learned more from Augustus St. Gardens than the art of sculpture, he also learned to play golf. At the Fraser home in West Port, Connecticut, James liked to drive golf balls from their home to their 1.5 story, 30 x 60 foot studio and back again. Memorable to Laura was Jimmy with Admiral King, Admiral Halsey, General Marshall and General Arnold all laughing and taking their turns hitting golf balls. [4]

One of the Fraser’s closest friend was poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Edwin was a frequent house guest of the Frasers and they often dined out together and spent their evenings playing poker. Once Laura, as described in “The End of the Trail”, cleaned out both Jimmy and Edwin with a royal flush.

Another time the Fraser’s received an invitation to Thomas Edison’s home for lunch. Over lunch, Mr. Edison simply sat and dreamed away as his luncheon guests ate and talked.

Laura sculpted a relief portrait of her close friend, Mrs. E.H. Harriman the wife of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman. A profile bust of Mrs. Harriman designed on a plaque won Laura the Saltus Medal of the National Academy of design in 1928. A sampling of the other names the Frasers met or were friends are names like Roosevelt, Ford, Byrd, and Hershey. [5]

1 The Numismatist, April 1928, pg. 234-235
2 James Earle Fraser & Laura Gardin Fraser Studio Papers, The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Box 6/Folder 4
3 Coinage Magazine January 1970, The Ordeal of Laura Gardin Fraser by Don Taxay
4 End of the Trail, the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel, pg. 51-52
5 End of the Trail, the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel, Chapter 3
View Coin 1930 Medal/MAco 1930-001-001 United States 72mm 1930-DATED BRONZE HUNTER AND DOG SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS - 1 NGC MS 66 BN Before Laura Gardin Fraser married James Earle Fraser on Thanksgiving Day of 1913 she was an admiring student and subsequently an instructor under his tutelage at the Art Students League in New York City. After three years as a student, she joined him as an instructor at the school in 1910. It is here that she honed her skills as a sculptor, receiving several awards for her work.[1]

Perhaps on account of James' teaching, Laura learned that to be a successful medallic artist she needed to simplify the design, employ appropriate symbols, use care in spacing all the elements and execute the design with style. Accordingly, I believe Mrs. Fraser meets or exceeds each of the aforementioned objectives with her 1930 Hunter’s Medal. This medal also has the distinction of being the inaugural issue of the Society of Medalists.[2]

The Hunter’s Medal is struck in bronze and is 72mm in diameter. It has a mintage of 3,235 and a reported 125 silver re-strikes struck with the original pair of dies and issued in the 1970s. [3]

The following is quoted by medalist and sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser concerning the Hunter’s Medal. “There are many persons who desire to collect medals but are unable to do so because the medal is used in most instances as a specific award. The scope of the subject matter which bears no relation to a particular person or occasion embraces many forms of expression and the sculptor has a large field of choice. In this case, I felt that a sporting subject would be a departure from what one has been accustomed to seeing in medallic art. Therefore, I chose the hunter with his dog because it presented the opportunity of telling a story embodying a human and animal element. It has been studied as to the correctness of detail so that it should have an appeal to those who are interested in out-of-door life. The ruffled grouse forms the reverse. It may be considered as a national game bird and is distinct in character and very decorative. It is hoped that there is sufficient merit in the rendering of this work to appease the collector whose interest is in the art of the medal.”

The Circle of Friends of the Medallion (1909-1915) laid the groundwork for the formation of the Society of Medalists under the auspices of the American Federation of the Arts in 1930. The Society of medalists provided a forum for prominent sculptors to exhibit their medallic art. The resulting medals were then made available to the collecting public. From 1930-1995 the Society of Medalists issued a total of 129 medals at a rate of two per year. In addition to the regular issue medals, there were also five special issue medals. All the SOM medals were struck by the Medallic Art Company. [4][5][6]

The Medallic Art Company then headquartered in New York City was founded in 1903 by two Frenchmen, Henri, and Felix Weil. Today, based in Dayton, Nevada, the Medallic Art Company is America’s oldest and largest private mint. The Medallic Art Company specializes in making academic awards, maces, and medallions. Among their most notable awards is the Pulitzer Prize, the Peabody Award, the Newbery Medal, and the Caldecott medal. The Medallic Art Company has also struck the inaugural medals of eleven presidents.[7][8]

1 The Meadowlark Gallery;
2 The Medal Maker;
4 Wikipedia “Society of Medalists”;
5 Wikipedia “Circle of Friends of the Medallion”; Circle_of_Friends_of_the_Medallion
6 PCGS “Enduring Society of Medalists First Issue Continues to Attract Collectors” by Fred Reed - September 9, 1999;
7 Wikipedia “Medallic Art Company”;
8 The Medallic Art Company;
View Coin 1930 Medal/MAco 1930-001-001 United States 72mm 1930-DATED SILVER HUNTER AND DOG SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS - 1 NGC MS 66 This silver medallion, struck in the 1970s, is a restrike of Laura Gardin Fraser's inaugural issue of the 1930 Society of Medalists bronze medallion. It was to have a made to order maximum mintage of 700, but it only has a reported mintage of 125. This medallion is struck in .999 fine silver, weighing 7¼ ounces.
View Coin 1930 Medal/MAco 1930-026 United States 102mm UNDATED BRONZE JOHN ENDECOTT MASSACHUSETTS BAY 300TH MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 64 BN The Governor Endecott medallion struck by the Medallic Art Company in 1930 commemorates the Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary. Interestingly, this medallion was not commissioned by a group or a committee involved in the tercentenary celebration but as stated in the June 1931 issue of “The Numismatist,” for a private account. The mintage of the medallion is about 200 suggesting that this large 102 mm bronze medallion was only intended for limited distribution. [1]

While The Numismatist does not give the identity of the private account, a small paper insert included with the medallion does. The text is as follows, “Designed for William Crowninshield Endicott, esq. by the well known sculptress Mrs. Laura Gardin Fraser, of New York.” William C. Endicott was president of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1927-1936) and a descendant of Governor John Endecott. Subsequently, he may have only intended to distribute this medallion to his family and friends and/or possibly to the other members of the Massachusetts Historical Society. [2]

The obverse features a 3/4-profile bust of John Endecott flanked on both sides by the legend, “Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary.” Below the bust are the years of his birth (1588) and death (1665) delimited by a rosette.
John Endecott, an agent of the Massachusetts Bay Company landed at Salem in 1628. In 1629 he became the first governor of the colony. Except for one year, John Endecott served in the capacity of assistant, deputy governor, or governor (16 one year terms) for the remainder of his life. He has also served as the colony’s chief military officer. [3]

The most prominent device on the reverse is the Endecott Pear Tree. Unlike the obverse with a wide open field, the reverse is dominated by the Endecott Pear Tree. The pear tree appears underneath the legend, “Governor’s Garden.” Around the tree trunk at the base of the tree are the phrases “Salem 1630” and “Orchard Farm 1632.”

In 1630 Governor John Winthrop arrived in Salem with the “Charter of Massachusetts Bay” accompanied by close to 1000 Puritan refugees from England. Thus the tercentenary marks the anniversary of this event and the 1629 royal charter that established the colony and its governance. [4]

The year 1632 represents the approximate date the Endecott Pear Tree was planted by John Endecott on his “Orchard Farm” estate. Remarkably, this tree is still alive today and bearing fruit. The following is the text of the historical marker placed at the site of the Endecott Pear Tree. “Growing on this site is the oldest cultivated tree in America, planted ca. 1632 by John Endecott, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The “Endecott Pear Tree” is a living link to the earliest European settlers of our nation. Endecott was granted 300 acres where he settled and farmed, calling this property “Orchard Farm.” This ancient tree lives as a symbol of heritage, strength and resilience.” [5]

Artistically, Laura Gardin Fraser employed a few subtle design techniques to enhance the appearance of both the obverse and reverse of this medallion. The sheer size of this medallion at nearly four inches in diameter called for creative means to so-called, “Fill in the wide open fields of the medallion.”

Rather than sculpting a full right side profile of John Endecott with a truncated shoulder, Laura Gardin Fraser used a 3/4 bust. What is meant by “3/4 bust” is that instead of a one-side profile, both shoulders and a small portion of the opposite eyebrow are visible on the bust. This opening up of the shoulders and a slight tilt of the head towards the left does a lot to fill in the open fields without looking odd or out of place. Thus when you look at the medallion your eyes are drawn to the most prominent features on the device with the highest relief.

Laura Gardin Fraser utilizes an interesting technique when sculpting the pear tree that works as well on the reverse of the 102mm Endecott medallion as it does with the trees on the 15mm 1922 Grant gold dollar. Both these pieces feature clusters of leaves that have a smooth but uneven surface at the highest relief while being accentuated by more detailed leaves at a lower relief. This gives the appearance of billowing clusters of leaves that is especially effective on the Grant dollar because of the limiting size and thickness of the coin. Likewise, because of the size and thickness of the Endecott medallion, Mrs. Fraser has the freedom to pepper the billows of leaves at the highest relief with lightly detailed leaves and pears for a more aesthetically pleasing design. Furthermore, she is able to show more of the branches on the Endecott medallion than on the Grant dollar. The reverse illustration of this piece is a side-by-side comparison between the Grant dollar and the Endecott medallion.

I find it fascinated that as I familiarize myself with more of Laura Gardin Fraser’s medallic creations that I’m able to discern certain similarities in her designs. Those similarities can probably be summarized as her own unique artistic “signature.”

1 “The Numismatist” June 1931, pg. 394
2 Massachusetts Historical Society/Endicott Family Papers
3 Massachusetts Historical Society/Endicott Family Papers
4 Massachusetts Bay Colony | American History |
View Coin 1931 Medal/MAco 1931-008 United States 76mm UNDATED BRONZE R. PENN SMITH JR. MEDAL MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. JOHN WILLIAM WADEMAN,1941 NGC MS 63
View Coin 1932 Coin United States $5 1999 W GEORGE WASHINGTON NGC PF 69 ULTRA CAMEO In February of 1930, the US Congress established the George Washington Bicentennial Committee. The purpose of this committee was to make preparations for the 1932 bicentennial celebration of George Washington’s birth. Subsequently, the Bicentennial Committee and the Fine Arts Commission agreed to an invitation only competition to design a Washington bicentennial medal.

Shortly thereafter, on April 21,1930 President Hoover vetoed a bill to issue a new commemorative half-dollar honoring President Washington. Not deterred by the veto, the Bicentennial Committee went ahead with a contest to design a commemorative medal and half-dollar. In response to Hoover’s veto, the commission intended for a Washington Half-Dollar to be issued in lieu of the 1932 Walking Liberty Half-Dollar. (Incidentally, no half-dollars were coined in 1932.) Technically speaking then, the proposed Washington Half-Dollar would not be considered a commemorative but a regular issue coin. Furthermore, the Bicentennial Committee stipulated that the obverse device of the medal and half-dollar be based on a 1785 bust of George Washington sculpted by French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon. [1]

The Washington Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission expecting that the same artist would design both the medal and the coin, chose Laura Gardin Fraser’s design for the bicentennial medal. The Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission then assumed that Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon would have no objection to their plans for either the medal or half-dollar. [1] [2]

Interjecting themselves into the mix, Congress began making plans to permanently replace the Standing Liberty Quarter with a newly issued Washington Quarter. The Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission immediately petitioned Congress to mandate Laura Gardin Fraser’s design motifs. Congress without giving consideration to their request passed legislation on March 4,1931 to replace the Standing Liberty Quarter with the Washington Quarter. The Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission then appealed to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. In his reply Secretary Mellon stated that he was under no obligation to abide by their recommendation and a new contest for the quarter ensued. [2]

In November of 1931 the Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission recommended to Secretary Mellon, Laura Gardin Fraser’s model for the Washington Quarter. However, Mellon favored John Flanagan's quarter design. Because the Fine Arts Commission felt so strongly about the artistic superiority of Laura Gardin Fraser’s submission, they asked Secretary Mellon to give the artists more time to refine their designs. Still, Secretary Mellon preferred John Flanagan’s design over Mrs. Fraser’s. [2]

In a letter to Secretary Mellon dated January 20, 1932, the Fine Arts Commission had this to say concerning Mrs. Fraser’s quarter: “This bust is regarded by artists who have studied it as the most authentic likeness of Washington. Such was the skill of the artist in making this life-mask that it embodies those high qualities of the man’s character which have given him a place among the great of the world... Simplicity, directness, and nobility characterize it. The design has style and elegance... The Commission believe that this design would present to the people of this country the Washington whom they revere... The eagle is exceptionally well rendered. It has vigor. It has sculptural quality”. [2]

Finally, the Fine Arts Commission sent a strongly worded letter to Andrew Mellon’s successor Ogden L. Mills deploring John Flanagan's design for the quarter. That request was also rejected and John Flanagan’s Washington Quarter began its long run on August 1,1932. That said, whenever there are unresolvable conflicts in these matters between the treasury secretary and the Fine Arts Commission, the treasury secretary always has the final say. The role then of the Fine Arts Commission is only that of an advisory role. [1] [2]

The apparent conflict between the Fine Arts Commission and Secretary Mellon has fueled speculation as to why the secretary would reject a so-called superior design. Walter Breen blames Laura Gardin Fraser’s rejection on sexism by Secretary Mellon. David Bowers calls Breen’s accusation “numismatic fiction”. As for me, I think there is circumstantial evidence for both sides of that argument but hard evidence to support Bower’s view. [1] [3]

What I think is more likely is that Mrs. Fraser got in the way of a few bureaucratic wheels in a bitter dispute over the 1929 Lindbergh Medal. In the end Mrs. Fraser prevailed but at a cost and according to Don Taxay she was given a “persona non grata” rating.

Though the contestant identities in the Washington Quarter contest were anonymous, Don Taxay theorizes that Secretary Mellon was familiar with the artistic style of Mrs. Fraser and knew which submission was hers. Therefore, Mrs. Fraser may have been the victim of political payback. [4]

Many years after the fact, people in numismatic circles still believe that Mrs. Fraser was snubbed. Especially so when respected numismatic art critics like Cornelius Vermeil describe Mrs. Fraser’s quarter design as "Artistically, stunning. . . And technically, flawless; there's just no way to get all the required elements on the quarter and do it any better than Mrs. Fraser.“ [5]

Eventually, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s death in 1999, the US Mint posthumously revived Laura Gardin Frasers Washington Quarter design and adapted it to a commemorative half-eagle. While the treasury department did not admit to any wrong doing in 1932, it may have tacitly acknowledged the artistic merit of Laura Gardin Fraser’s design.

1 A Guidebook of Washington and State Quarters by Q. David Bowers
2 The US Mint and Coinage by Don Taxay
3 Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins
4 Coinage Magazine January 1970, The Ordeal of Laura Gardin Fraser by Don Taxay
5 Numismatic Art in America by Cornelius Vermeule
View Coin 1932 Medal/List 610 United States 75.5mm 1932 B-900A PROCLAIM LIBERTY BICENTENNIAL OF BIRTH NGC MS 65 BN Among the greatest of accolades an artist can receive is if a group of his or hers peers recognizes them for their artistry. This honor was effectively bestowed on Laura Gardin Fraser when a special committee of sculptors selected her design for the official 1932 medal of the ”United States Commission for the Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington.” That committee made up of a virtual who's who in American sculpture consisted of Daniel Chester French, Herbert Adams, Lorado Taft, and A. A. Weinman. With the committee’s selection, the National Commission of Fine Arts unanimously approved Mrs. Fraser’s design to be struck by the United States Mint under the supervision of Mint Director Robert J. Grant. [1]

On page 4 in the January 1934 issue of “The Numismatist” is the following description of the medal’s design features. “Obverse, bust of Washington in military uniform in center. Above, “Washington," Under bust, in small letters, "Laura Gardin Fraser, Sculptor." Below in a straight line, "1782, 1932" separated by the Washington coat-of-arms. Reverse, figure of Liberty holding a torch in her uplifted right hand and a sheathed sword in her left hand. Above, to the left of the figure an eagle with outspread wings, and above, 13 stars grouped in two lines. Straight across lower half of medal in two lines separated by the figure, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land.” The reverse also shows that the eagle is perched atop a fasces.

The 75.5mm Washington Bicentennial of Birth medals were struck in platinum, silver, and bronze. An exact duplicate of the bronze medal but only 58mm in diameter was struck by the US Mint for sale to collectors. The medal in my collection is the 75.5mm bronze variety. The 75.5mm silver and bronze medals were to be “used by the United States Commission for the Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington as first and second awards in connection with a national essay, oratorical and declamatory contests sponsored by the commission.” Three hundred silver and 3,500 bronze award medals were struck by the US mint for the contests. [2] [3]

The platinum medal is one of a kind and the first ever struck in platinum by the United States Mint. Struck from the master dies, this medal weighs in at a full pound. In a ceremony on the south lawn of the White House on December 1, 1932, the platinum medal was presented to President Herbert Hoover, Chairman of United States Commission for the Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington.

Laura Gardin Fraser was present at the Philadelphia Mint on February 4, 1932 for the striking of the platinum medal and had this to say as expressed by Charles Engelhard, whose company donated the platinum for the medal. "After scrutinizing the medal as it came from the press in the Medal Room of the Philadelphia Mint, Mrs. Fraser expressed her complete satisfaction with its artistic success. She pointed out that the use of platinum retained without impairment all the finest details of the sculptor's art in plaster, retaining the design without need of oxidation or other artificial treatment in order to successfully carry out the work.” [4]

Mrs. Fraser was very good at keeping a diary. She wrote not only of James and her’s work, but also of their social life. In October of 1930, Mrs. Fraser received an invitation to enter the Washington Bicentennial competition with four other sculptors, Hermon A. MacNeil, Carl P. Jennewein, Robert F. Aitken, and Paul Manship. In November of 1930 Mrs. Fraser wrote about beginning her work on the Washington Medal. In December of 1930, Mrs. Fraser wrote of completing the Washington medal for the competition. Concurrently, she wrote about celebrating James 54th birthday in November with a party at Tide Hill Tavern, near their summer home in Westport, Connecticut and the next day moving to their winter home in New York City. In December Mrs. Fraser writes, “A Merry time! A beautiful, crystal clear, cold, wonderful Christmas!” [5]

1 The Numismatist, October 1931, pg. 738
2 The Numismatist, January 1934, pg. 4
3 Presidential Coin & Antique Co. Auction #86, pg 33 & 124
4 The Numismatist, January 1961, pg. 18-20
5 End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel, pg. 44-45
View Coin 1947 Coin PHILIPPINES 50C 1947S Philippine DOUGLAS MACARTHUR NGC MS 66 The process from a concept in the mind of a sculptor to a finished coin in the pockets of the public can be long and arduous. For the most part, disagreements along the way between the US Mint and the designing sculptor were worked out to the satisfaction of both parties. Unfortunately, as is in the case of the 1947-S Philippines MacArthur Commemorative Peso and 50 Centavo coins, the coin in the pocket met with the sculptor’s disapproval.

Laura Gardin Fraser is the designer of the 1947-S Philippines MacArthur Commemorative Peso and 50 Centavo coins struck at the San Francisco Mint. To the best of my knowledge this is her only foreign work and definitely her only foreign coins. The obverse of the peso and 50 centavo coins feature a standard profile and 3/4 bust of US General Douglas MacArthur respectively. The reverse features the Philippines Coat of Arms.

Though these coins have an acceptable design, their eye appeal is often impaired because they are weakly struck in low relief. On April 20,1948 Laura Gardin Fraser wrote a nine-point letter to the Philippines Embassy chronicling the difficulties she encountered with the US Mint over the MacArthur coins. This letter can be found in the James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser Studio Papers, 1864-1968; Donald C. and Elizabeth Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK Box 7, Folder 4.

Interestingly, with the exception of the opening pleasantries, Mrs. Fraser never refers to herself in the body of the letter by using pronouns such as “me” or “I”. She only refers to herself as “the sculptor”. It seems as if Mrs. Fraser didn’t want to make this about herself, but instead desired to focus her attention on the coins. She also informed the Embassy of her willingness to help remedy any discrepancies. The following are the nine points of her letter.

1. When the original models were shown in the office of the Director of the Mint the only criticism made there from the minting standpoint was that the visors of the caps were high in relief against the background. This matter was remedied and the models sent to the Mint, May 19, 1947.

2. On June 11 the Mint informed the sculptor that the entire outside edges, including the lettering, of all the models must be flattened. This the sculptor did and returned the models to the Mint July 1 for the purpose of making an intermediate size reduction from which the final dies would be made.

3. It was requested of the Mint by the Embassy of the Philippines that trial reductions be made to determine the height of relief, since the reducing machine which cuts the dies can so be adjusted as to lower the original relief or emphasize it, or give the exact effect of an original model. This request was refused. (Any die making concern will always make trial reductions for a sculptor to determine the effect of relief in reduced form, so this was not an unusual request to have made.)

4. On September 6 and September 22 the intermediate size reductions were sent to the sculptor for examination. They had been so flatly reduced beyond the effect of the original models that the sculptor had to work over all the details which had been virtually eliminated by this type of reduction. It is the sculptor's opinion that the galvanos made from the plaster models had also been subjected to a buffer which further eliminates detail because the galvanos made later from these same models which were purchased by the Embassy of the Philippines and the sculptor showed the streaks of the buffer brush and definitely rubbed off the end of the nose of one of the portraits. The retouched models were returned to the Mint October 3.

5. Lead impressions of the steel die were sent to the Embassy of the Philippines and shown to the sculptor who complained that the rims were too wide and a hard line had been cut on the inside of the rim, making a sharp distinction between the rim and the background. The Mint answered this criticism by saying this would be remedied and the sculptor was asked to go to the Mint for a final inspection when this was done. The sculptor felt that the relief had been lowered too much but was assured this was necessary for striking the coins. (The result is the relief of these coins is lower than any other coins - a proof that it was not necessary to have flattened them so much.)

6. On December 3 the sculptor inspected these dies and found them satisfactory, although still complaining they were lower in relief than the sculptor considered it was necessary for them to have been made. The head engraver, Mr. Roberts, very expertly made some accents in the steel dies under the sculptor's direction, on one of the flowers, and the jaw and mane of the lion. When the sculptor gave her final approval of these details, she was assured the dies would not be touched again except for the milling of the edges.

7. When the final silver coins were delivered it was found that they were not like the master dies as approved. The backgrounds in each coin on both sides had been gouged and made very uneven. A deep vertical depression is on either side of the portrait on the 50 centavo piece, and the reverses of both coins are particularly uneven. The middle star of the reverse of the peso has been rubbed down so that it is almost obliterated at the top prong. None of these faults were in the finally approved dies.

8. Since the reverses of these coins are to be permanent in the future coinage of the Philippine Government, the Mint should make new dies that will be stronger in relief and like the sculptor's models. The sculptor will be glad to see that they are properly done if requested to do so by the Philippine Embassy, and the Mint should be forced to make trial reductions for new intermediate reductions as well as the final die size.

9. The Mint took about 9 months to strike these coins after the receipt of the original models from the sculptor. The work could have been accomplished within 6 weeks.
View Coin 1951 Medal/MAco 1951-016 United States 88mm UNDATED GILT HUBBARD MEDAL NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOC. MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 61 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
View Coin 1952 Medal/MAco 1951-020 51mm 1952-DATED BRONZE WEST POINT US MILITARY ACAD. SESQUI MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 65 Over her long and distinguished career Laura Gardin Fraser had a very cordial relationship with the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Both Frasers loved America and the Armed Forces of the United States. Many of their military related commissions not only included medallic art, but also full size sculptures and smaller bronzes.

There are three significant works Mrs. Fraser completed for The United States Military Academy (USMA). The first is a 1952 bronze medal commemorating the sesquicentennial of the USMA. Struck by the Medallic Art Corporation, this medal was presented to the parents of the cadets who entered the academy that year. A small insert reads, “A memento of the United States Military Academy to the parents or guardians of the cadets who entered the Military Academy in the Sesquicentennial Year”.

The medal’s obverse displays the flaming torch of leadership, the sword of valor, and a laurel wreath representing victory. The reverse emphasizes the United States Military Academy Coat of Arms set underneath a rising sun. Across the face of the Union Shield is a sword and the helmet of Pallas Athena. Athena is associated with the arts of war and her helmet represents wisdom and learning. Perched atop the shield is a bald eagle clutching a bundle of 13 arrows and a scroll. The scroll bears the academy’s motto, “Duty, Honor, Country” and the words, “West Point, MDCCCII (1802) USMA. In front of the eagle’s right wing is an oak branch signifying strength and on the left an olive branch signifying peace. [1] [2]

Laura Gardin Fraser’s next work for the United States Military Academy was the 1957 Sylvanus Thayer medal. This medal exhibits a profile bust of Sylvanus Thayer on its obverse and the coat of arms on the reverse. The Sylvanus Thayer medal is awarded annually by the USMA Association of Graduates to an outstanding citizen who in service to America exemplifies the USMA values of duty, honor, and country. Sylvanus Thayer known as the “father of the Military Academy” served as the United States Military Academy’s Superintendent from 1817 until 1833. Under his leadership the USMA became a pioneering engineering school whose graduates were largely responsible for the construction of the nations initial rail lines, bridges, harbors, and roads. [3] [4]

Laura Gardin Fraser once said that, “A sculptors life is measured in large chunks of time.” Three 9x4 foot bronze relief panels chronicling almost five centuries of American history represents one of those large chunks of time in Mrs. Fraser’s life. The following is quoted in an interview with Dean Krakel concerning the aforementioned panels, “I began this project making little vignettes of historical figures in clay. We seem to know so little about American history, and so having begun this in 1935, I began to accumulate an interesting collection. I started doing events from history and animals purely American like—the skunk. Then I started sorting and organizing my figures in chronological order, placing them on large tablets. These became like the leaves of a book. This essentially is how I started the project. For a long time I thought I was doing them for love of my country, as no one or institution seemed interested.”

Eventually, the United States Military Academy took an interest in Mrs. Fraser’s panels and they were cast into bronze. Then finally in 1964 after nearly 30 years, they were unveiled at the dedication of the Academy’s new library in the portico of the library’s entrance. The first panel begins with the exploration of Leif Ericson and extends all the way through to the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War. The second panel includes westward expansion, the
development of American political parties, and the Mexican, Civil, and Indian Wars. Panel three illustrates industrial development, modern inventions, labor unions, the depression, the World Wars, and the atomic bomb. [5]

1 The United States Military Academy West Point, %20of%20arms%20and%20motto.aspx
2 Medal Commemorates West Point Sesquicentennial by Fred Reed 10/4/99, http://
3 The United States Military Academy West Point, Home.aspx
4 Wikipedia,
5 End of the Trail, The Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel
View Coin 1957 Medal/MAco 1956-041 United States 76mm 1957-DATED BRONZE OKLAHOMA SEMI-CENTENNIAL MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 65 BN Thematic coins and medals based on western subjects were a favorite of both Frasers. James Earle Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota on November 4, 1876. In 1880 his family moved to Mitchell in the Dakota Territory. It was here in the vast openness of the American frontier that James love of the West grew. In the case of Laura Gardin Fraser, I believe it was her love of American history, the allure and excitement of the American frontier, and her love of horses that inspired her rendition of the “Oklahoma Run” on the 1957 Oklahoma Semicentennial Medal. [1]

The motivation for James and Laura’s love of the West impacted their interpretation of it. In an interview with Mrs. Fraser, Dean Krakel, the author of “End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue” writes in his book; “There is a mood not only to our lives but to our studio and to everything we have ever done. I saw the frontier in a different light from Jimmy. I saw it with all its glamour, excitement, and motion and so created my Oklahoma Run. Jimmy saw the spiritual mood, the tragedy and emotional undercurrents of the frontier and so created his End of the Trail.”

Late in his life, James Earle Fraser received a commission from the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds to sculpt a relief panel of the 1889 Oklahoma Run. With his health failing and near death he asked Laura to finish the panel which at the time was only in the preliminary stages of design. Based on James sketches, Laura finished the 4 x 20 foot panel two years after his death in 1955. The relief panel features more than 250 figures composed primarily of horses and riders. Unfortunately, due to several disagreements it was not delivered until after Laura’s death in 1966 and a decade after the 1957 Oklahoma semicentennial celebration. The “Run of 1889” relief panel currently resides at Oklahoma City’s Bicentennial Plaza and is the model for the obverse of the Oklahoma Semicentennial Medal. [2][3]

Up for grabs on April 22,1889 was 2 million acres of land and 50,000 people simultaneously vying for it. [4] In all the chaos surrounding this event Mrs. Fraser brilliantly portrays a glimpse of all the glamour, excitement, and fast movement of the Oklahoma Run as featured on the obverse of the Oklahoma Semicentennial medal. She accomplishes this by varying the relief and size of the obverse devices. The highest relief devices are the largest and most detailed of the obverse images. A large horse and rider in full gallop forms the central device and gives the impression of fast motion. As the relief lowers so does the size and details of the images until the images forming the lowest relief are very small and numerous. This gives the obverse a three dimensional look. At the highest relief is a cloud of dust which frames the devices. A few wagons, one just behind the central horse and rider and a covered wagon towards the back adds diversity to the devices.

The following is a description of the reverse as given by the editor of The Numismatist, Elston G. Bradfield in the June 1958 issue of The Numismatist; “Reverse: Around, at top, OKLAHOMA SEMI-CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION, at bottom, OKLAHOMA CITY; in center, two dramatic figures facing left, one representing energy and progress and the other imagination and vision; woven into the design are symbols of each activity that is derived from the earth, the air, fire and water. Harvesting is suggested by the scythe, mining by the pick, electricity by the wheels, animal husbandry by the cow and sheep, and power by the waterfall, oil wells and atomic symbol. The figure of Vision reflects the reverence that comes to him from on High. The symbol of the arrow piercing the symbol of atomic energy was the theme of the Oklahoma Semicentennial Exposition, "Arrows to Atoms" in 50 years. To the left of the central figures is 1907 and to right, 1957. In exergue, ~ PROGRESS ~ VISION~.” Of certainty, Laura Gardin Fraser employed numerous and appropriate symbols to tell the story of Oklahoma on the reverse of this medal.

This medal is struck in bronze by the Medallic Art Company and is 76mm in diameter. Distribution was by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce at a cost of $7.50 each. [5]

1 “End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue” by Dean Krakel; Chapters 2 & 4.
2 The Numismatist, July 2013, “Canine & Equine the Art of Laura Gardin Fraser”, pg. 36-37.
3 “End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue” by Dean Krakel; Chapter 4.
4 Wikipedia, “Land Rush of 1889”;
5 The Numismatist, June 1958, page 664
View Coin 1958 Medal/MAco 1957-016 United States 89mm 1958 BRONZE AMERICAN NUMISMATIC SOC. MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 65 BN The American Numismatic Society was founded in New York on April 6, 1858, to advance numismatic knowledge. In 1958 the Society had reached its 100th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion Laura Gardin Fraser, winner in 1926 of the Society’s J. Sanford Saltus Award for distinguished accomplishment in medallic art, was commissioned to design the medal. A formal celebration of the Society’s Centennial was held on April 12, 1958, at the auditorium of the Society’s neighbor, the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The accompanying medal represents a continuance of the celebration and will be named the “Centennial Medal of The American Numismatic Society.” [1]

The “Centennial Medal of the American Numismatic Society” was made to order through the American Numismatic Society. This 89mm bronze medal struck by the Medallic Art Company had an original purchase price of $3.50. [2]

I am not sure how it came about that Mrs. Fraser got the commission to design the “Centennial Medal of The American Numismatic Society.” Nor am I in any way suggesting that there was any impropriety involved. However, I am discovering that many of America’s most prominent sculptors of the early twentieth-century were part of a small and tight knit community centered in New York at the Art Students League. Consequently, the lion’s share of commissions came to the members of this community. As an aside, I like to think of this community as the legacy of Augustus Saint-Gaudens since many of the accomplished sculptors of the early twentieth-century trained and apprenticed there under his instruction.

One of those Art Students League sculptors was Anna Hyatt Huntington. Laura Gardin Fraser and Anna Hyatt Huntington were not only associates of one another, but friends. In 1923 Anna Hyatt married philanthropist, Archer Huntington. Archer Huntington was the president of the American Numismatic Society between 1905 and 1910, after which he was the Society’s honorary president and council-member until his death in 1955. [3]

Due to Anna’s health, the Huntington’s bought a 9,100 acre tract of land just south of Murrell’s Inlet, SC originally intending for it to be their winter home. Born of an artistic and natural vision, the Huntington’s opened a sculpture and botanical garden on their property in 1932 that they named BrookGreen Gardens. BrookGreen Gardens was built in part as place for Anna and other sculptors to display their works of art. Today BrookGreen Gardens is a registered national historic place with 1445 works of American sculpture. [4]

One of the 1445 sculptures in BrookGreen Gardens is an enormous granite sculpture of Pegasus and a rider in the clouds completed by Laura Gardin Fraser in 1954. The basis for the granite sculpture was Mrs. Fraser’s 1927 sculpture entitled “Air”. This much smaller sculpture features Pegasus being ridden by Apollo which is symbolic of man’s spirit and aspirations. [5]

Therefore, I think it was Pegasus that brought this around full circle resulting with the commission for the medal going to Laura Gardin Fraser. Pegasus was a favorite subject of Mrs. Fraser’s and she has the following to say about the design features of the “Centennial Medal of The American Numismatic Society”: “The Science of Numismatics engages the imagination of the artist who creates a design in sculptured form, and the artisan who reproduces that model in permanent metal. “When Nature petrified the first forms of animal and plant life, Nature made the first dies. The obverse of the American Numismatic Society Centennial Medal shows the potential archeologist, who, having broken the stone asunder, discovers a petrified animal form in one half and in the other a perfect impression of it, or the die.

“Since tablets, coins and medals constitute the authority for historical data and our earliest civilizations expressed themselves in terms of their particular mythologies, on the reverse of the medal I used the Pegasus as a symbol of the arts, to indicate as in a vision, that numismatics was a science from the era of Pegasus to the geo-physical year of the harnessing of the atom.

“To the fore of this mission are the artisans who are in the act of forging a medal, using such tools as are the basis of modern medal making.” [6]

1 The accompanying COA for the “Centennial Medal of the American Numismatic Society”
2 The Numismatist, April 1958, pg. 406-407
3 The American Numismatic Society,
4 Wikipedia,
6 The accompanying COA for the “Centennial Medal of the American Numismatic Society”
View Coin 1967 Medal/MAco 1963-001-046 United States 45mm 1967 BRONZE MARY LYON HALL OF FAME SERIES MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 66 BN The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at New York University is a 630 foot outdoor colonnade featuring the sculpted busts of 98 out of the 102 honorees elected into it. The Hall of Fame was conceived by Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, (Chancellor of New York University from 1891 to 1910) and was formally dedicated on May 30, 1901. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans currently stands on the campus of the Bronx Community College. (The New York University Bronx campus closed in 1973 due to financial difficulties). [1] [2]

The first of its kind in America, the inspiration for the hall is explained by the following paragraph copied directly from the Mary Lyon Medal COA: The spirit of The Hall of Fame is reflected in the following lines from the Old Testament: “Let us now praise famous men, by whom the Lord hath wrought great glory....All these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times...” Carved in stone on the pediments of The Hall of Fame are the words: “By wealth of thought, or else by mighty deed, They served mankind in noble character. In worldwide good they live forevermore.”

Mary Lyon (1797-1849) served as an educator and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1905. A pioneer in higher education for women, Mary Lyon opened the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now College). The original curriculum included mathematics, English, science, philosophy and Latin. Under her guidance and with her constant labor, the school gained a national reputation for its enlightened curriculum and high academic standards, a reputation maintained to this day. [3]

The practice of issuing accompanying medals for the Hall of Fame honorees came about through a coalition between New York University, the National Sculpture Society to oversee and approve the designs, the Medallic Art Company to manufacture the medals, and the Coin and Currency Institute to market them. A full page add in the October 1962 issue of “The Numismatist” introduced the 1 3/4 inch medals for sale in either silver or bronze. Issued at a rate of about one or two per month, the issue price of the silver medal was $14 while the bronze medal sold for $3. The program which began in 1962 ended in 1974 with 96 medals created by 42 sculptors. In addition to the smaller silver and bronze medals, there were also 3 inch bronze medals available for purchase.

The success of the Hall of Fame medal program was due in part to the art director at the Medallic Art Company, Julius Lauth. Julius knew which sculptors identified with the theme of each medal and as a result the commission for the medals was first offered to the sculptor who had completed the bronze bust on the colonnade. Therefore, since Laura Gardin Fraser did the bust of Mary Lyon in 1927, she got the commission for the accompanying medal. Mrs. Fraser completed the sketches for the Mary Lyon Medal and had them approved by the art committee before her death on August 14, 1966. [3] [4] [5]

At Mrs. Fraser’s death, Julius Lauth assigned sculptor Karl Gruppe to finish the models for the Mary Lyon medal based on the sketches done by Mrs. Fraser. Karl Gruppe, an associate of Laura Gardin Fraser in her Art Students League days was chosen to complete the medal because his artistic style was similar to that of Mrs. Fraser’s. [4]

The following is a description taken from the 1967 dated Mary Lyon Medal COA: “The obverse is a fine classical profile portrait of Miss Lyon; the reverse is a typical scene depicting her continuing role as an educator, and is a capsule story of her dedicated life”.

Over her long career as a sculptor, I find it interesting that Laura Gardin Fraser was equally capable of designing medals that were feminine in nature as is the Mary Lyon medal and masculine as is the obverse of the Oregon Trail commemorative. Of certainty, Laura Gardin Fraser was a truly remarkable sculptor.

1 Bronx Community College,
2 Wikipedia,
3 Mary Lyon Medal COA
4 Medalblog, Hall of Fame Series - The Most Successful Medal Program by D. Wayne Johnson, December 3, 2012
5 Hall of Fame at New York University Medal Series by D. Wayne Johnson 2004, Medal Collectors of America;
View Coin 1968 Medal/MAco 1963-001-055 United States 44mm 1968-DATED BRONZE GILBERT STUART HALL OF FAME SERIES MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 67 BN The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at New York University elected candidates to the hall based on their significant contributions to America. Some of hall’s honorees were people of renown in the discipline of the arts. Portraitist Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) was elected to the Hall of Fame in its inaugural year (1900). Gilbert Stuart, who with other famous paintings, is credited with painting the portraits of the first six presidents of the United States. [1][2]

Today Gilbert Stuart is remembered either consciously or unconsciously every time a one dollar bill is used in commerce. This is because his incomplete “Athenaeum” portrait of George Washington appears on the face of the one dollar bill. Gilbert Stuart’s name also appears in the annals of numismatic legend. In a story that cannot be substantiated, it is said that his sketch of Philadelphia socialite Ann Willing Bingham was the basis for the obverse of the Draped Bust Dollar. [3][4]

A portrait bust of Gilbert Stuart done by Laura Gardin Fraser for the Hall of Fame was unveiled on May 20, 1922. The accompanying 1968 dated medal was completed by Karl Gruppe after the death of Mrs. Fraser. Karl Gruppe finished the obverse model of Gilbert Stuart started by Mrs. Fraser and designed the reverse featuring a young Gilbert Stuart working on his famous “Athenaeum” head of George Washington. [5]

In spite of the quality and volume of her life’s work concluding with the Mary Lyon and Gilbert Stuart medals, Laura Gardin Fraser did not always receive the recognition she deserved. Throughout their life together, it seemed that Laura lived in the shadow of her famous husband James. Even in her death, some 13 years after James, her most notable epitaph was that she was the widow of James Earle Fraser. [6] Nevertheless, the many awards Laura Gardin Fraser received for her artistic genius give witness to her as a leading sculptor of her time.

In the private confines of their studios things were different for James and Laura. There, they considered each other as equals. Both Frasers gave each other the freedom to express themselves through their art without interference or undue influence from the other. Still the Frasers were very aware of how the public perceived them. Whenever Laura finished a commission, James and Laura had a standing bet as to how long it would take for someone to comment, “Bet Mr. Fraser helped you with this one.” One time Laura in fun snapped back at a wealthy patron, “Just who is this James Earle Fraser I keep hearing about?” [7]

Today in 2016, 50 years after the death of Laura Gardin Fraser, I believe that time has righted many of the wrongs done to her as evidenced by the 1999 Washington Half-Eagle commemorative. I also think that in correcting those wrongs, history takes nothing away from James Earle Fraser. This then is exactly how I think both Frasers would have wanted it. James and Laura loved each other very much and only wanted the best for each other. They both had a full and wonderful life together doing what they loved to do best. To them it was all about the sculpted art!

1 Wikipedia;
2 Gilbert Stuart the Complete Works;
3 History of the United States Mint and its Coinage by David W. Lange, pg. 38
4 The US Mint and Coinage by Don Taxay, pg. 106
5 The accompanying COA to the Gilbert Stuart medal
6 The Meadowlark Gallery;
7 The End of the Trail, the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel; chap. 4
View Coin James Earle Fraser/MAco 1914-012 United States 70mm UNDATED BRONZE EDWARD H. HARRIMAN MEMORIAL MEDAL NGC MS 67
View Coin James Earle Fraser/MAco 1930-001-045 United States 72mm 1952-DATED BRONZE PONY EXPRESS-NEW FRONTIER SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS - 45 MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y. NGC MS 65
View Coin 1959 Medal/Northwest Specialty Sales Co. United States SC$1 1959 OR HK-557 EUGENE, OREGON DOLLAR STATEHOOD CENTENNIAL JEFF SHEVLIN COLLECTION NGC MS 67

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