Written by John Dale
This will be the last time you see me in this space for a while.
The Heritage Auctions blog is going into mothballs, to be re-evaluated in a year. I’d love to see it come back, but since there are no guarantees and I’ll be waiting a year in the best case, I want to send this incarnation of the blog out in style.
One of my regrets is that in a year and a half of blogging for Heritage, I haven’t been able to make a decent Viking reference. Thus, today’s topic is this Norse-American Centennial medal, part of the Dr. and Mrs. Claude Davis Collection in Heritage’s ready-to-launch August 2010 Official ANA Auction in Boston. http://www.HA.com/1143
The Norse medal, as it is usually abbreviated, has an unusual place in U.S. numismatics. Unlike many medals of its time, it is fairly well-established as an object for mainstream coin collecting. I have described it as an “honorary commemorative” in Heritage catalogs, and the history of the Norse medal is closely knotted with the silver commemoratives of the same era.
In fact, those other commemoratives are the reason the Norse medal is a medal and not a coin.
Several different commemorative coin issues were being struck or authorized in 1925; coins dated 1925 include the Lexington-Concord, the Stone Mountain (Georgia), the California Diamond Jubilee, and the Fort Vancouver (Washington) Centennial, and the 1927 Vermont (or Battle of Bennington) commemorative was authorized the same year. Many more commemorative bills were filed, only to die in committee.
The 1925 Minnesota State Fair featured the Norse-American Centennial, a celebration of early Norwegian immigrants’ arrival to the U.S. in 1825 and subsequent Norwegian contributions to American life and culture. The sponsor of the bill that created the Norse medal was Ole Juulson Kvale, a U.S. Representative from Minnesota of Norwegian descent, who was elected to the House in 1923.
Kvale was well-placed to influence the business of commemorative coinage bills, as he served on the responsible House committee. Through his service, however, he must have been aware of the logjam of commemorative coin bills. To win passage, he made the Norse commemorative a medal instead of a coin. Kvale’s bill passed out of the House and eventually became law.
Norse medals are eight-sided with a Leif-Eriksson-before-longboat motif on the obverse and a longboat on the reverse. The design was by James Earle Fraser, who is better known as the creator of the Buffalo nickel. Medals were made on thin and thick planchets, the vast majority in silver like the present piece, but also 100 struck in gold, like this September 2002 offering.
To be continued...