Friday, May 11, 2012

ONE HUNDRED YEARS SAFETY, STRENGTH, SPEED: The B&O’s Centenary Medal


On February 28, 1927, the B&O Railroad held a formal dinner at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Baltimore. The occasion was the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Such a significant event called for an ostentatious celebration held in grandest style possible.  Over 1,000 guests were treated to a formal dinner and an on-stage presentation depicting three significant events of the early history of the B&O. It was during the dinner that plans were announced for an even larger celebratory pageant that would highlight not only “…the story of rail transport in the United States, but of all inland transport here since the first settlement of the nation.” Named The Centenary Pageant of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, it would be more widely known and remembered as the “Fair of the Iron Horse,” and bring over 1.2 million visitors to Halethorpe, Maryland.  As a memento of the evening’s festivities, each diner was presented with a unique, specially designed and newly minted medal, which museum staff refers to as the Centenary Medal.

Those who own or have seen the medal will instantly recognize it and its imagery. The medal’s obverse depicted one of the B&O’s then “modern” steam locomotives being touched by “the spirit of transportation.” The steam engine is ringed with the text "ONE HUNDRED YEARS SAFETY STRENGTH SPEED." The reverse shows the B&O’s first steam engine, Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb, and text "THE BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD COMPANY 1827-1927."



 The B&O commissioned sculpture Hans Schuler (1874-1951), to create the medal and the proof was delivered to the Medallic Art Company, located in New York, in 1926. Schuler was a German-born sculptor, and graduate of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). He taught at MICA and served on the board and as the institute’s Director from 1925-1951. This well-known and award winning artist opened a studio in Baltimore and created many important works that can still be seen throughout the Baltimore-Washington region today. His legacy continues and his studio became the home to the Schuler School of Fine Arts founded by his son in 1959 (http://www.schulerschool.com).

Medallic was a New York based company with roots in the early 1900s. It has produced many notable medals including the Pulitzer Prize Medal, the George Foster Peabody Award Medal, and the Randolph Caldecott Medal.  It is currently still in business with offices in Nevada and more information is available at www.medallic.com. Medallic took Schuler’s work and made two sets of dies: 1 ¼ -inch (31mm) and 2 ¾ -inch (70mm). Of the two versions, the 2 ¾ inch medal is by far more common since 7,500 copies were produced for the railroad. Very few copies of the 1 ¼ inch medallion are known to exist and any found should be considered extremely rare.

The larger 2 ¾ inch medal was struck in bronze and delivered to William Hay, Baggage Agent at the B&O’s New York City Baggage Department on 23rd Street and then shipped to Baltimore via the B&O in several lots. The initial lot of 1,000 was produced for the February 28, dinner and came in special blue enclosure cases. Fifty medals were presented in custom Moroccan leather cases. The B&O also purchased enclosure cards that could be customized prior to distribution with an individual or institution’s name (although not all medals were given with the descriptive insert or enclosure card).

Besides the 1,000 distributed to guests at the dinner, 3,400 were designated to be given to B&O employees with 40 years or more of service and B&O pensioners. The total distribution plan was as follows:
                13           President of the United States and his Cabinet officials
                12           Members of the ICC
                13           Governors for the 13 states the B&O passed through
                69           Public Service Commissions of the 13 states the B&O passed through
                203         Mayors of cities on and off the B&O’s line over 100,000 (several additional sites were
added)
413         Presidents of Colleges and Universities along the line having an attendance of 350 or more students
248         Leading museums and libraries on and off the B&O’s line including a few outside the system (notables named include: Boston, Cambridge, Hartford, New Haven, and Princeton).
                140         Historical Associations and Societies
                62           Traffic and Railway clubs
                239         Specials (not clear, but mentions from the dinner list)
                57           Unacknowledged from the dinner list
                73           Small Connecting, switching and belt lines
                1,800     B&O Officers and employees serving 40 years or more
                1,600     Pensioners
                215         Entertainers who participated in the February Lyric dinner
                1,000     Dinner guests
               
6,366     Total

Those not accounted for in the list were given to B&O executives and offered for sale to other B&O employees. Several remaining medals were given to loyal employees not fitting in the above mentioned 40 years of service that had requested a medal. Files contain letters of request and it appears that the medals were still distributed based on years in service.  

 The B&O spent $13,361.43 to produce the medal. Cost per medal was $1.10 for the first 5,500, the remainder cost $1.52 each due to ordering in smaller lots, cases cost $.35-$.375 each depending upon quantity ordered and enclosure cards cost $29.75. The special Moroccan leather cases cost $4.50 ea. 




Later versions received the insert card, which reads:
"This medal is issued on the one hundredth birthday of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company to commemorate not merely an important milestone in its own history but the rounding out of a century of a definite American railroad achievement.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the first American railroad to operate its lines for the public handling of passengers and freight. This was early in 1830. In all the one hundred years of its life it has changed nether its corporate name, its charter nor its fundamental organization.

The obverse of the medal depicts one of the most modern trains of the Baltimore & Ohio - The Capitol Limited or the National Limited - drawn by one of the largest and most modern passenger locomotives ever built. The spirit of Transportation guides the locomotive in its onward flight.

The reverse shows the Tom Thumb, designed by Alderman Peter Cooper of New York and the first steam locomotive to be built in the United States, even though it was never put into practical service.

Mr. Hans Schuler, director of the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, is the sculptor who designed the medal and it was reproduced direct from his models by the Medallic Art Company of New York City."

A sample of the medal was presented to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; however, it was not accepted in to the collection and actually returned.  B&O President, Dan Willard, was not pleased with this decision and efforts by Medallic to smooth over the incident were only partially successful.  Centenary Director, Edward Hungerford expressed Willard’s feelings best, saying “…it was a shame that really artistic efforts on the part of large business institutions should meet such a wet blanket from the chief art gallery of America,” and he doubted that Willard would consent to send the medal there after such treatment.

The 1 ¼” medallion was struck in bronze and gold, and was only produced as a sample. Artist Hans Schuler received one of these proofs to judge the quality of the sample and commented that the quality of the smaller medallion was exemplary. Records show that at one of these small medallions was struck in 14K gold and presented to President Daniel Willard.  This one-of-a-kind medallion had his name engraved on the side and modified to be worn on the end of his watch as a fob. Hungerford reported to Medallic that when Willard received his medallion in June of 1927, “His eyes sparkled when he first saw it and I know that it is one of his cherished treasures.”

At least three other samples of the smaller medallion were struck in bronze in June of 1927. The samples were created during discussions between Hungerford and Medallic to potentially fabricate 15,000 for distribution to all B&O employees. The idea was dropped due to cost concerns and the belief it would detract from the impact of the larger medal.  Records confirm the creation of the samples; however, none exist in the museum’s collection and museum staff has not seen any examples.

The museum’s staff receives inquiries several times a year concerning the rarity and value of the medallion. The large bronze medal comes on the numismatic market every so often and one example of a typical auction was Presidential Coin & Antique auction sale #70 December 1, 2001 (lot 1325 where it brought $41.40).

While the larger version is not extremely rare, and one can find an example if they are really searching for it, it is truly a work of art. The medal was illustrated in an article when it was first issued in The Numismatist April 1927 (vol. 40 no. 4). The description is just as valid today as it was when the medal first appeared: “The designs are excellent and the execution is splendid, making an attractive medal.” It truly is a representative piece expressing the pride and values of the B&O Railroad, as it celebrated its milestone anniversary and rich heritage as one of the nation’s most significant railroads.

Dave Shackelford, Chief Curator

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