Besides world coins, tokens, and medals based on a particular theme, my primary area of numismatic interest is in United States coins. This past year though I have delved into an area of numismatics that until now was unfamiliar to me. Rather than starting another theme based set, I started a set based on the work of a particular sculptor. I started a collection of coins and medals featuring the artwork of Laura Gardin Fraser.
While I was somewhat familiar with the coins attributed to Laura Gardin Fraser, the same cannot be said concerning the many medals she designed. Familiarizing myself with her medals became quite a task because she was much more prolific in designing medals than she was with coins.
The first thing I wanted to know is what to collect. All her coins are very well known and readily available. However, I had no clue as to the number and availability of the medals Laura Gardin Fraser designed. Later, I was to discover that she may have designed and sculpted up to one hundred medals.
A search of the internet produced a medallic art databank created by Medallic Art Company corporate historian, D. Wayne Johnson. Laura Gardin Fraser's databank page was the most important internet resource in helping me to identify her medals. This page had practically everything, a comprehensive list of items by date with pictures, auction appearances, and a bibliography which I found invaluable to my research.
I also found the ANA archives of The Numismatist and the Newman Numismatic Portal very useful. The archives of The Numismatist contains numerous articles on Laura Gardin Fraser's work. I even found a couple of the ad pages to be helpful. The Newman Numismatic Portal contains all the medallic art auction catalogs of the Presidential Coin & Antique Company. These catalogs were especially useful because of the lot descriptions and estimated valuations. The valuations helped me to determine what I could expect to pay for the medals in my collection.
Along with purchasing new pieces for my collection came new books for my library. These included End of the Trail by Dean Krakel, The US Mint and Coinage by Don Taxay, and Numismatic Art in America by Cornelius Vermeule. Other references included The American Women Medalist, a Critical Survey by Elaine J. Leotti and a January 1970 Coinage Magazine article entitled, Ordeal of Laura Gardin Fraser by Don Taxay. In fact, I think Don Taxay's article in Coinage Magazine is the most credible narrative I have read on the contest for the Washington Quarter.
Next, the purchasing avenues for medals is somewhat different from that of coins. However, other places such as E-Bay are pretty much the same. For me, E-Bay was a familiar place in which to begin my collection. It was also a good source of Laura Gardin Fraser's most readily available medals. That said, it didn't take to long for the E-Bay well to dry up. Subsequently, the annual Presidential Coin and Antique auction quickly emerged as a top purchasing outlet for all those difficult to locate medals.
In the last Presidential Coin and Antiques auction I passed on a scarce silver Washington medal and ended up winning a silver plated Morgan Horse medal at a price that was towards the bottom of the estimated valuation. What really surprised me about winning this auction is that even before I found out that I had won the auction, or even paid a single red cent, the piece showed up on my doorstep! I've never had this happen before especially since this was my first auction with Presidential. All this brings me to the most important and necessary element of my transition into the world of medals, the human element!
While looking for information pertaining to the 1947 MacArthur peso and 50-centavo piece in The Numismatist, I ran across a letter to the editor written by a collector of anything Fraser. This person also included their e-mail address in the body of the letter. With a little encouragement from another of my friends I sent a cold contact e-mail inquiry to the writer of that letter. To my amazement I got much more in his reply than what I had asked for or even hoped for.
What I have now is a new friend who is very eager to help me in my quest. One of the resources that I have not had the opportunity to examine is the Fraser family papers. However, my new friend had. As a result I found out the specific contents of a nine-point letter Laura Gardin Fraser had sent to the Philippine embassy chronicling her difficulties with the Philippines peso and 50-centavo coins.
Later we had an hour long conversation over the phone about Laura Gardin Fraser and he freely answered a number of my questions. He also e-mailed me some of his own writings on the topic and sent a spreadsheet he had compiled of many of Mrs. Fraser's works. As an extra bonus the spreadsheet contained the latest final hammers for each piece. This was very helpful as a tool to help me gage how much I would have to spend in order to continue this collection.
My new friend also watched for buying opportunities on E-Bay and more than once notified me of a piece that his search uncovered and mine missed. My latest two purchases are a direct sale from a friend of my new friend. I purchased the 1912/13 National Institute of Social Sciences medal and the rare 1932 John Endecott Massachusetts Tercentenary medal from this person after a very pleasant half-hour phone conversation and a confirming e-mail. I immediately mailed him a check for the medals and he mailed the medals to me on the next business day. As it turned out, the day my check cleared his bank was the day the medals showed up at my house.
This is the way I love to do business and I am impressed with the honesty and integrity of the people I come in contact with in this hobby. It really doesn't get much better than this. And to all those who have helped me in my numismatic journey a hearty, thank you!
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