Thursday, July 21, 2016

Uniface award medals

Early pen and pencil makers proudly boasted of their medals won at the national and international exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Not many examples survive, though it is possible some are being held by collectors of medals, unknown to collectors and historians of writing instruments (a medal awarded to Livermore in 1879 can be seen here).

Pen collectors hold a number of Waterman medals, but nearly all are electrotypes -- near-exact electroformed replicas, consisting of a plated copper shell over a lead alloy core. This was discussed in a past post on a Waterman medal from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the gist being that we know that Waterman had electrotypes made so that they could exhibit their awards in multiple locations, but that we have no idea how many were made, nor how typical this might have been for other medal winners.

The situation is further complicated by the existence of uniface replicas -- that is, medals with blank backs, their faces copying just the obverse or reverse of the original. These are often found with threaded posts on their backs, indicating that they were made to be mounted on a board or plaque for display. Were these privately commissioned by award recipients, though, or were they given out alongside the original medals?

I've not had much luck searching for information online, but on a recent visit to the Corning Museum of Glass I stumbled across the display shown above. Hawkes was a major manufacturer of cut glass, and the topmost plaque beautifully illustrates how these uniface pairs were used. It is still not clear, however, if this plaque was presented by the Exposition Universelle, or if Hawkes had it made. Perhaps the Corning Museum will be able to add some information; perhaps there are other similar plaques in their collection, not on display, and there might be a label on the plaque's back.

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