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Mint Assistant Engraver Adam Pietz - on making medal dies

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The following letter will be of interest to collectors of medals as well as general die cutting techniques in the 1930-40s.

This and many other interesting materials about the US Mints will be included in a book I an working on for publication sometime before the end of the year.

U.S. Mint, Philadelphia
September 7, 1943

Dear Mrs. Wilkins:
    Thank you very much for the many kind things you said about my little medallions.
    Each one of these pieces was produced by an individual treatment.
    Let us take the Anna May Wong; in this case I made a 12-inch model from life in two, one-hour sittings; from this model a negative and positive plaster casting was made, from which a copper Galvano was made, and this acted as a guide to reproduce on the Engraving machine for the die.
    Now the Lincoln was carved in relief in steel, called a hub, and this entire steel hub was carved with a flexible arm, same as you Dentist uses for filling teeth, no graver used, only on the lettering.
    From this hub my die was sunk and the medals struck.
    The Audubon Turkey is a direct carving in negative or steel die, there the process is the ancient method, using chisel and hammer to get the rough cut in relief, or really intaglio, the finish is produced by using many sizes of gravers, and special punches for the feathers, etc.
    My many years of training in sculpture and in Die Engraving makes it possible to produce any desired effect, and I hope someday you will grant me the priviledge [sic] to add your likeness to my large collection of famous people.
    In 1932 I had the pleasure of modeling from life 12 movie stars, and that was an experience which taught me many things.
    As time goes on I shall add some other work to your collection.
    With kindest regards.
/s/ Adam Pietz

[_Wyoming State Archives_, 1-1-8 1-1 Edna Kimball Wilkins papers, box 9, Medals 1942-1946.]

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Wilkins was the personal secretary (and confidant) of Mint Director Ross. She had been with Ross during her governorship and stayed at the Mint bureau until 1949 (if I recall correctly). Her correspondence is filled with insider information and copies of materials that shed considerable light on how and why some things were done.

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Gotta love those primary sources!  It's quite interesting to read how things were done back then but it makes me wonder if other World mints at the same time were undertaking the same processes. In particular, I wonder about France because they've made some lovely medals.  I recently discovered that the French Mint struck some medals of some of the Roman emperors and empresses.....I'm trying like crazy to find out if they made one for Faustina the Younger.  There's also a Caligula medal that I've seen that I'm considering trying to pick up because Caligula was, to quote a character in a British comedy show my fiancee likes, mad as underpants.  If you collect Roman, you almost have to have something with Caligula on it.

Thanks for sharing that Roger!  It's always enlightening when you share some of your research with us!

~Tom

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On 5/22/2019 at 12:50 PM, RWB said:


    The Audubon Turkey is a direct carving in negative or steel die, there the process is the ancient method, using chisel and hammer to get the rough cut in relief, or really intaglio, the finish is produced by using many sizes of gravers, and special punches for the feathers, etc.
   

This process sounds incredibly tedious.

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1 hour ago, Just Bob said:

This process sounds incredibly tedious.

And difficult!  If I attempted such a thing with my lack of patience and my astigmatism, I'd make a horrible mess of it!  It really speaks to the talents and patience of Mr. Pietz.

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RE: " That was the way all dies used to be made.  Direct hand cutting of the die in reverse. "

...and this was especially difficult because the work had to be done with hands behind the back so that the design would come out looking correct. They also wore out a lot of mirrors....   :)

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