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Oral History of  Medallic Art


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Dick Johnson has been interviewing people since high school journalism class in 1946. His first numismatic article was published in 1949. As editor of Coin World and author of more than 1,000 articles since then he has often been required to conduct data gathering interviews, taking notes for the most part. 

Recently he turned to tape recorded interviews for his wide ranging numismatic writing. Once he learned that MCA wanted someone to conduct recorded interviews of people in the medallic field he found this an ideal opportunity. 

He brings vast numismatic experience to this project. He has been a coin collector since February 1939, and a professional numismatist since 1960 with the creation of Coin World. As founding editor he was the first to conduct weekly gathering and publishing news in the numismatic field, with frequent interviews both by phone and in person.  

He was named director of research at Medallic Art Company in 1966 where he learned hands-on the techniques and methods of medal making, plus marketing in the medallic field. Here he cataloged over 6,600 medals the firm had manufactured in the past, wrote articles on many of these, speeches for the president of the firm, in addition to preparing press releases for new medal issues. 

With insatiable curiosity he learned every step of medal manufacturing. For the art aspect of the business, however, he had to be trained by the art director and vice president of the firm, Julius Lauth. It was company policy to respect the artists who created the firm’s products. The artists were always identified in all writing, press releases, even named in company advertising. 

Johnson was active in the great outpouring of medals for the American Bicentennial of 1976. He did research for the sales department and demonstrations at trade shows. He also edited the firm’s collector newsletter, The Art Medallist. Following July 1976 when Bicentennial medal demand dropped, he was terminated but a grateful management sold Johnson more than 60,000 surplus medals. 

Johnson called upon a collector-friend, Chris Jensen, to form Johnson & Jensen to deal in art medals.  The partnership conducted 27 auction sales of medallic art, selling nearly 150,000 medals over an eight-year period by accepting medal consignments from collectors and dealers. When cost of conducting such auctions, usually in New York City, became unprofitable the pair returned 63 medal collections to consignors before disbanding. 

Shortly afterwards Johnson was named executive director of another auction firm, Collectors Auctions Ltd., for a group of investors. Here he oversaw eight more medallic auctions. He turned to writing about medals, first continuing a project he started in 1960, compiling terms in the field, preparing a work, An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology. 

Later he began compiling biographies and lists of numismatic works of American coin and medal artists. This ever-expanding databank now contains more than 3,300 artists entries. In 1998 he wrote a script, The Medal Maker, which was narrated by Elizabeth Jones, former Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. This was made into a home video by Hollywood film producer, Michael Craven. 

In 2005 he was named to the board of directors of the Gallery Mint Museum. In 2006 he served as medal consultant to the Carnegie Hero Fund for their centennial medal, and was named curator of numismatic art at the Belskie Museum in Closter New Jersey. In 2007 he created a method of judging art medals and did this at the international FIDEM convention in Colorado Springs, in September that year. 

For Medal Collectors of America he has written dozens of articles for their monthly newsletter, MCA Advisor, and two sections for their web site: “Frequently Asked Questions” and “Why Collect Medals.” He is also editor of the “Collector’s Guides and Checklists” section. (He also wrote a FAQ section for another organization in which he is also active, American Medallic Sculpture Association.) 

He is a frequent contributor to E-Sylum, a weekly intertnet newsletter for collectors of numismatic literature. He has written over 750 articles for this free newsletter, available at           

He is a member of three specialized organizations of medal interests -- Token And Medal Society, in addition to the two previously mentioned -- a member of national numismatic organizations, and a life member of two such regional organizations (New England, Central States). He is an original member of the Rittenhouse Society, a group that encourages numismatic scholarship (named after the first U.S. Mint Director, David Rittenhouse).     

Some most recent publications include:

“Medals Should Have Their Own Terms of Condition “MCA Advisory 9:1 (January 2006) p 7-8.

“A Century of Carnegie Medals” The Numismatist 119:10 (October 2006) p 50-53, illus.   

“Lincoln Cent is Obsolete, Lincoln is Not” Coin World 48:2450 (26 March 2007) p 14, illus.

“How To Tell Struck Medals From Cast” MCA Advisory 10:4 (April 2007) p 4-6.

 “A Wall of Medal Records” MCA Advisor 10:7 (July 2007) p 2-5; reprinted in Asylum 25:4            (Fall 2007) p 3-7 (both articles illustrated by the photo above).

“Objects of Desire” [Medallic Objects] The Numismatist 120:9 (September 2007) p 38-42, illus.   

 “World’s Greatest Medallic Art Exhibition Ever” MCA Advisor 11:9 (October 2008) p 10-11.x