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Series.  An issue of a number of numismatic or medallic items with a common theme or design and a continuity in their issue. When a number of related items are issued at one time, this is considered a set. It is only when similar items are issued over a period time that constitutes a series. The concept of series developed with the early precepts of medal marketing. A collector of medals, an early publisher (James Mudie) reasoned, would want more than one medal to form a collection, or suite of medals. Why not supply this finite number on a subscription basis to form a ready made collection? Thus medals were issued in series periodically with a single continuity of theme.

For the next two centuries the most popular themes for series have been the heads of state, church, numismatic and professional organizations – or art medals for collectors. English kings have been recorded by medal series, the French created a series for their famous Frenchmen, and, while not intended as a series, Papal medals have been issued for a thousand years.

Art series, in contrast, are issued for the sheer pleasure of owning an attractive medallic work of art. The first began in 1889 when the French medalist Roger Marx created the Société des Amis de la Médalile Française. A similar organization was founded in Brussels in 1901 for Dutch and Belgium medalists, Société Hollandaise-Belge des Amis de la Médaille d'Art.


Coin series.  A series of coins is usually a run of similar items of the same denomination and type. These are generally the creation of one or two artists with the design repeated. These are identified by year of issue and the date they bear, and often a mintmark indicating the mint of issue. Thus a series of coins differ only slightly from each other despite the fact they are issued over a period of years.

Medal series.  Medals in series, however, are generally uniform in size, shape and composition – but not necessarily by the same artist. Series medals are usually sold by subscription and issued over a period of time, where maybe one or two medals are released at a time. Also similar medals by the same publisher issued over time may be considered a series by collectors and numismatists where, perhaps, they were not so intended originally; the series of presidential medals issued by the United States Mint is such a series.

History of medal series.  To James Mudie (flourished 1815-20), a London entrepreneur, must be given credit as the first medal publisher to issue medals – by series – on a broad basis. For his Mudie's National Medal Series of forty medals, he hired Edward Thomason (1769-1849) to strike the medals (beginning in 1820) in his Birmingham plant from dies engraved for the most part by French engravers.

Thomason went on (without Mudie) to create a 48-medal series on the Elgin Marbles, a 16-medal series, the Medallic Illustrations of Science and Philosophy, the 36-medal series of the Kings and Queens of England. His most notable medallic undertaking, however, was his famed 60-medal series: the Thomason Medallic Illustrations of the Bible.

The Paris Mint issued their first series of medals in their famous Frenchmen of the 18th century. Here, like the later U.S. Mint, these may not have originally been intended to be a series, but similarity of issue bring to mind this classification by numismatists and that is how they are collected.

U.S. Mint series.  A most interesting early series was the American Art-Union Medals as prize medals to promote a lottery similar to an undertaking in England. Each medal bore a portrait of a contemporary artist: Washington Allison (1847), Gilbert Stuart (1848) and John Trumbull (1849). The medals were struck at the Philadelphia Mint and distributed to member-subscribers.

Following the Civil War the United States Mint gathered together several 3-inch medals bearing portraits of the American presidents already issued. It added the few missing presidents and continued this until the present day for, perhaps, the longest running series (but not the largest number of medals in a series) in America.

The U.S. Mint began a series with three furtive issues in 45mm size: the Union Pacific Railroad Medal, 1869 (CM-39), Emancipation Proclamation Medal, 1871 (CM-16) and the Grant Peace Medal, 1872 (PR-14). The first and third bore Grant's

portrait, the second with Lincoln's. Each medal bore the inscription "Medal Series of The U.S. Mint," but nothing more was issued.

While Congress bestowed medals to heroes of land and naval battles from the War of 1812 onward, these were grouped together into somewhat of an ersatz series when the first List medals were offered for sale to the public after the Civil War. Today the U.S. Mint issues medals in their series of Secretaries of the Treasury, Mint Directors, and Mint Buildings.

Private U.S. series. The Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia began honoring their president in 1884 with a medal of Charles Edward Anthon. They sought out Lea Ahlborn at the Swedish Royal Mint to prepare the dies and strike the medals. She also engraved the second medal in the series in 1890, two more medals were struck before the series closed, the final medal was of Joseph J. Mickley.

The concept of a presidential medal for the head of another numismatic organization appealed to the members of the New York Numismatic Club. They commenced their series in 1911 with the portrait of Frank C. Higgins. Fortunately they had not one, but two medalists within their own membership. So they had Jonathan A. Swanson prepare the portrait obverse, and Victor D. Brenner the symbolic reverse. By the end of the century they had all 40 presidents honored – the longest running such series still in existence. Brenner's reverse has appeared on all.

Other numismatic organizations adopted similar medal programs to honor their leaders. The Rochester Numismatic Association began a series in 1913; their president served for only one year so they had 87 medals in their presidential medal series before the end of the century, for the greatest number of such medals. The Token and Medal Society, founded in 1960, has such a presidential medal series, as does the California State Numismatic Association, and others. In the professional field, the American Institute of Architects have a president medal series.

Private medal series.  Modern private collector medal series in the United States began with the Circle of Friends of the Medallion in 1907, where it lasted for 12 issues within six years. It was modeled after medallic societies in France and Belgium mentioned above. In 1930 the Society of Medalists was born on the same basis of two medals a year by prominent American sculptors. It continued an unbroken 60- year record of two highly artistic medals for 129 issues, until 1995. Every noteworthy American medalist of the twentieth century (with the obvious exceptions of Saint- Gaudens and Victor Brenner who both died before the inception of The Society) are represented in this series.

A small coterie of companies arose in the 1960s for the purpose of issuing medals in series. The most noted, perhaps, was Presidential Art Medals; this firm published series on U.S. presidents, states, signers of the Declaration of Independence, medicine, aviation, great religions of the world, and major events of World War II.

But medals in series experienced a boom in the 1960s with the rise of private mints. Franklin Mint, the first and most productive, issued over 60 different series from 1960 to 1980 when the demand dissipated. The market, it was learned, just could not absorb any more such series at the time.

Aborted Series.  A small number of series are aborted before completion of their announced intentions. Often this is the result of the death of an artist who intended to do the entire series. Examples of this include Ralph J. Menconi (1915-1972) who died before the full compliment of 25 medals in his Great Religions of the World Series were struck. Sixteen medals were issued before his November 1972 death, he had prepared the models in advance for two additional medals and these were issued in due course. Seven of the 25, however, were never issued.

In other cases the result of the cessation was lack of interest or poor sales. The

series of Philip Kraczkowski (1916-1996) were particularly noted for this. Only three of his Executive Branch Series were issued, one of his Musical Hall of Fame Series, and three Living Free Series.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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