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Jul 03 2022

The Franklin Mint’s Medallic History of the United States

NNP intern Kellen Hoard reports on the Franklin Mint’s Medallic History of the United States medal series:

As I arrived home in Seattle on Thursday from the ANA Summer Seminar, I was greeted by fireworks being set off throughout my neighborhood—five days early—by those eager to celebrate Independence Day and show birds who is boss.  This premature celebration occurs every year, and though some near me welcome it and some despise it, I take it as an opportunity to begin my reflection on the state of the nation a few days early.  Amidst the celebration, I look to consider what I feel the values of the United States should be, whether we are collectively living up those values, and how I can play a better role in contributing to the country moving in the direction I believe it should.

But for numismatists such as ourselves, the booming of fireworks are not the sole catalysts for reflection on subjects such as these.  While collecting, I find myself continually encountering tangible manifestations of how this country and its citizens wished to represent themselves over the centuries.  From early American paper money to Civil War tokens to Congressional medals modern commemorative coins, it is possible to see how different Americans through time viewed their own country and what its ideals should be.  We seem to be particularly honest about our perspectives on and values for our nation when it is on our money and exonumia.  I find it, personally, fascinating.

In the course of my work with the Newman Numismatic Portal this summer, I came across an interesting photo which returned my attention to this idea of sharing our American values through numismatic objects.  The image was of a Franklin Mint set titled “Medallic History of the United States,” which contained 200 silver medals that purportedly featured the major events of each year between the Declaration of Independence and the Bicentennial on their obverse and reverse.  Immediately, my curiosity was piqued by which events were deemed worthy by the Franklin Mint for these medals, and how the definition of “major event” could vary wildly depending on the Mint’s perspective on American progress.  

The events featured vary wildly, from the 1777 adoption of the Articles of Confederation to the 1869 “Black Friday” panic to the 1904 first pitch of Cy Young to the 1965 Northeastern blackouts to the 1973 Vietnam War ceasefire.  At first glance, there seems to be almost no pattern.  But when observing the hundreds of events listed, it became clear that a trend did exist.  It was a trend of consistent setbacks for our nation—British invasions, slave importations, ill-advised conflicts, terrible laws—paired with instances of genuine American dedication to overcome those setbacks, including American international cooperation, the Emancipation Proclamation, the organization of movement against war, and the passage of superceding and progressive legislation. 

The Franklin Mint series did not hold back on including some of the worst, most embarrassing, most devastating moments in our country’s history.  But the Mint also demonstrated the power of Americans to address those flaws and those mistakes when there is the willpower to do so.  It drew a 200-year picture, numismatically, of the progress we have made—and room for progress we can still make.  As we approach July 4, I think it is worth it for us to take a lesson (for probably the only time) from the Franklin Mint, and reflect on the history our nation, good and bad, so that we might determine a path forward that addresses its flaws, celebrates its achievements, and improves our path forward in perpetuity.  

Link to Eric P. Newman’s set of the Medallic History of the United States series:

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