Sometimes, the most interesting aspects of numismatics are the oddities that exist outside of the legal tender sphere, such as medals or tokens. A vibrant collecting community surrounds these items and illuminates intriguing historical perspectives.
As a matter of fact, like the creators of famous works of art or celebrities signing autographs, prominent medalists and token producers have acquired a following—such as Thomas L. Elder, an early-20th-century numismatist and coin dealer who issued a wide variety of medals. A man of strong opinions, Elder’s medals often carried a politically-charged message that related to the tumultuous period between the turn of the century and World War II. Today, these medals have become prized collector’s items.
Unlike coins, medals carry no legal tender status. Sometimes they are issued by the U.S. Mint, but these kinds of medals are generally only produced to recognize special occasions. Much more silver, copper, brass, and other medals are produced by private entities, even to this day. This frees medalists from the design constraints of the mint.
The Elder Medals
Most of the coin collecting community was familiar with Elder, a prominent coin dealer, auctioneer, and numismatic expert operating out of New York. Beyond striking tokens and medals, Elder was also a frequent contributor to the trade magazine he ran, The Numismatist. It remains an iconic publication within the industry up to the present, more than a century after its founding, and is officially administered by the American Numismatic Association (ANA).
Shown above is one of the more historically significant medals that Mr. Elder issued. It relates to the United States’ entry into the First World War. Even though President Woodrow Wilson won reelection in 1916 for “Keeping Us Out of the War,” it became clear that the U.S. would have to throw its weight behind its allies in Europe.
The medal includes a quote from President Wilson regarding the members of Congress who opposed (and voted against) the declaration of war against Germany. The opposite side includes the names of the senator and representatives who voted against the war authorization, as Wilson (and Elder) sought to brand them as unpatriotic, leaving the government “helpless and contemptible.”
This WWI-era Elder medal is a fairly obscure collectible. Although its scarcity is well-established, there are no official mintage totals that exist or have been documented. This makes finding such a rarity even more exciting for collectors of medals.
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