Mar 252014
 

The Perth Mint has in its possession an undated Royal Society of Western Australia Kelvin medallion. The medallion features a portrait of The Right Honourable William Thomson, Lord Kelvin OM GCVO PC PRS PRSE, and the inscriptions ROYAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA and KELVIN 1824 – 1907.

The Lord Kelvin medallion, or the Medal of the Royal Society of Western Australia as it is known today, was first awarded in 1924 and is now a biennial award which recognises a scientist or scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to science in the State.

Kelvin

Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) was a mathematical physicist and engineer born in Belfast in 1824, who began attending tertiary classes from the age of 10 at Glasgow University where his father was a Professor of Mathematics. He wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 16, and went on to attend Cambridge University before returning to Glasgow University as a Professor of Natural Philosophy, a post he held for 53 years.

Lord Kelvin is best known for his work on the laws of thermodynamics and the invention of navigational and electrical measuring instruments. In 1848, he proposed an absolute temperature scale now known as the ‘Kelvin scale’, which determined the exact value of absolute zero. He was also responsible for formulating the second law of thermodynamics, and had a career working as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor. He was appointed the Director of the Atlantic Telegraphy Company in 1856. In this role he succeeded in installing a telegraph cable under the Atlantic Ocean in 1866, and was knighted for his efforts by Queen Victoria on 10 November 1866.

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“I have no satisfaction in formulas
unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”

William Thomson, October 1884
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Kelvin was also an enthusiastic yachtsman and from 1870 he spent many summers aboard his yacht, the ‘Lalla Rookh’, inventing marine tools to improve navigation and safety, including the development of a machine to predict tide levels worldwide, and a mariner’s compass more accurate than any other in existence at the time.

Kelvin became a Lord in 1892, taking the name ‘Kelvin’ after the River Kelvin in his beloved Glasgow, and remained an international celebrity until his death in 1907. He was buried at Westminster Abbey not far from where Sir Isaac Newton lies at rest.

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Jan 022014
 

This enigmatic medallion is the first in a unique set of three – they are the only medallions struck by an Australian Mint prior to 1931 that commemorates the Mint, as opposed to an event or occasion.

Although the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth Mints each struck a small number of medallions commemorating a range of important events, only these three Sydney Mint medallions relate to the Mints themselves.

According to research published by John Sharples, Numismatic Curator at the Museum of Victoria, this medal was “…issued in 1901 to publicize the Sydney Branch of the Royal Mint.”

We can imagine that the selection process for the designs to be used on a medallion intended to advertise the design expertise and production quality of the Sydney Mint would have been very carefully thought through. Consideration of the design elements either side bear this conclusion out.

1901SydneyMintMedallionobv

Obverse: Example of the 1901 Sydney Mint Medallion held by The Perth Mint.

OBVERSE DESIGN: The obverse design of Queen Victoria shows her wearing a diadem (a small ornamental headband, coronet or crown) and a veil. The legend “VICTORIA REGINA” runs around the perimeter.

This particular portrait of Victoria was designed by Leonard Charles Wyon – the designer of the famous portrait seen on the Type II sovereigns of the Sydney Mint. The only other Australian numismatic item to feature this particular portrait of Queen Victoria was the Egypt Medal – awarded to Australian soldiers that served in the Sudan War between 1882 and 1889.

REVERSE DESIGN: The basis for the reverse design on this medallion was first seen on the British 1825 proof crown of King George IV. In what is regarded as a standard work on the subject of British silver coins (The Silver Coins of England), the British numismatist Edward Hawkins offered the following comment about this design: “This reverse is beautifully executed by Merlen… These pieces are exceedingly beautiful, but, though dies were prepared also in 1828 and 1829, none were actually issued for currency.” [1]

Several minor additions were made to Merlen’s original design for the reverse of this medallion – a small depiction of the Tower Mint at London can be seen to the left of the crown at the top, while a rose can be seen to the right of the crown.

1901SydneyMintMedallionrev

Reverse: a small depiction of the Tower Mint at London can be seen to the left of the crown at the top – a clear signal that the medallion was an official product of a branch of the Royal Mint, articulating all of the expectations of quality and expertise that history might bring.

The inclusion of an image of the Tower Mint was a clear signal that the medallion was an official product of a branch of the Royal Mint, articulating all of the expectations of quality and expertise that history might bring.

The French motto “Dieu et mon droit” is seen on a scroll below the shield. Kearsley’s Complete Peerage, published in 1799, translates this to mean “God and my right hand”. This motto refers to the divine right of the monarch to govern, and is said to have first been used by King Richard the Lionheart as a battle cry, as well as an official motto of battle. It was then adopted as the royal motto of England by King Henry V in the 15th century.

The exact date of Merlen’s death is not known, however it is believed that he passed away in either Paris or Brussels in or around 1850. Leonard Charles Wyon is known to have died at his home in London in 1891 – as this medallion is believed to have been struck in 1901, it is therefore clear that the dies were prepared well after the death of both of the designers involved.

The two subsequent medallions issued in this series feature the same reverse design, however feature the portraits of King Edward VII and King George V respectively. Further research will undoubtedly inform us as to the reasons for which these rare, impressive and attractive medallions were struck.

Just what we should make of the fact that only one type of medallion was struck during the reign of each monarch remains to be seen. One such medallion, struck in silver and featuring the portrait of King George V, was offered for sale by Noble Numismatics as part of the John Chapman collection in July 2008. This medallion was described as “inscribed around edge ‘A.M. Le Souef’.” Albert Malet Le Souef was the last Deputy Master stationed at the Sydney Mint – his association with this medallion indicates that while the Sydney Mint medallion with the portrait of Victoria may well have been struck to act as an advertising medium, if that is the case they were clearly an exclusive advertising medium, one also presented to important dignitaries involved with the history of the Sydney Mint.

Further research is sure to shed more light on the rarity and purpose of these enigmatic medallions.

First published by Sterling & Currency

[1] Forrer; Leonard, “Biographical Dictionary of Medallists”, Spink and Son, London, 1909, p Vol IV, p40.

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Aug 162013
 

Assembled over many decades, The Perth Mint’s historic collection is a treasure trove of fascinating coins and medals from around the world. Check out these previous from the Vault posts that are now building into an absorbing historical record of many pieces in the Mint’s safekeeping.


Not only does this eye-catching medal feature in the Mint’s historic collection, but we found that another example is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, suggesting it must have quite some significance.

Two factors provoked our curiosity: its striking Art Deco design and the unusual fact that it’s made from 99.9% nickel. So what’s its story?

TMond_medallionhe back identifies the issuer as Mond Nickel Company, a UK business founded in 1900 by Ludwig Mond, the inventor of the nickel refining process. That clearly explains the choice of metal!

Although the company had mining assets in Canada, it shipped most of its raw material back to Britain for purification. This modus operandi must have made it exactly the sought of business the organisers of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition were keen to attract.

Their aim was to alert the public that in the exploitation of raw materials of the Empire, new sources of wealth could be produced. Officially, their intention was “to stimulate trade, strengthen bonds that bind mother Country to her Sister States and Daughters, to bring into closer contact the one with each other, to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other”.

To celebrate its attendance at this landmark event, Mond commissioned Percy Metcalfe to design its commemorative medal. An inspired choice, Metfcalfe rose to fame with his designs for the first coinage of the Irish Free State in 1928 and thereafter several other nations. He is remembered in Australia particularly for the obverse of the 1935 Australian florin showing George V.

The dominant Mond_medallion2feature of his design for Mond was Britannia, symbolising the Mother Country as the  driving force and leading industrial power in the Empire. Below appears part of a globe depicting iconic animals representing resource-rich dominions: a springbok for South Africa; a beaver for Canada; a tiger for India; and a kangaroo signifying Australia.

The piece foresaw a bright future. “In his recognisably Art Deco design Percy Metcalfe captures the driving spirit of modernity. By concentrating on simple geometric shapes he implies strength and vitality,” the V&A notes. But the Empire was at its zenith: by the mid-twentieth century its sun had set – leaving Metcalfe’s medal as a fascinating historical reminder of its former glory.

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Jul 192013
 

Agricultural societies developed in the 19th century to encourage the development of new farming techniques and celebrate the activities and achievements of rural communities. Annual shows emerged as key forums for the exchange of ideas and arenas in which their hard work and skill was acknowledged and rewarded.

Agricultural_medal_Herberton

Issued by the Herberton Mining, Pastoral & Agricultural Association, this medal was struck at the Sydney Mint circa 1890.

From early in their history, agricultural and pastoral associations sought to raise standards by encouraging farmers and graziers to compete for prizes in the form of inscribed medals. When the three year-old Sydney Mint added a screw press to its coining presses in 1858, Australia at last had reliable machinery to make medals appropriate to standards required by colonial governments, educational institutions, learned societies, the agricultural sector and others.

In A History of Medal Production at the Sydney Mint 1858-1926, author Susie Davies classifies agricultural medals as one of the Mint’s six main stylistic genres. “Australian agricultural medals tended to have an obverse depicting a farmyard or an agricultural scene, all similar in composition and style. The reverse… usually comprised a wreath, a beaded circle close to the edge, or a border which contained the society or association’s title.”

Agricultural_medal_Peak-Downs

Peak Downs Pastoral & Agricultural Society Prize (uninscribed) circa 1890.

The Perth Mint is privileged to be the custodian of several agricultural society medals dating from this period. Featuring an image of a horse, bull, ram and ewe together with a wreath of fruits and wheat arching above a farm-yard scene, the Peak Downs Pastoral & Agricultural Society medal is a classic example.

Undoubtedly, such designs reflected British interpretations of rural life. This worked well for colonial medallists at this time as they sought to characterise agriculture as a fruitful and prosperous activity undeterred by Australia’s difficult and unfamiliar environments.

Agricultural_medal_Stock-Design

Agricultural medal displaying the work of Queensland engraver Robert Capner.

When a particular society did not possess sufficient funds to have its own dies prepared, stock medals were available like this one (left) portraying two farm horses. The reverse bears the letters ‘RC SC’, identifying Robert Capner, Sculptor, a Brisbane die sinker who engraved dies from the 1870s for a large number of Queensland medals that were struck at the Sydney Mint. As far as we can deduce, it represents Capner’s close copy of a design originally engraved by English medallist Joseph Moore.

In time, prizes at agricultural shows became rosettes and ribbons, leaving these historic medals as fascinating records of rural life and the determination to achieve progress on the land. As such, there is no doubt they represent unique items of Australian agricultural heritage.

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May 232013
 

Knowing people’s passion for trains, especially steam trains, we were especially keen to uncover the story behind the locomotive portrayed on this medallion in The Perth Mint’s historic collection.

Leschenault_Lady

The quest for information led us to the State Library of Western Australia where we retrieved a typed document written in 1974 by Dr Bernard Rumens entitled History of the Leschenault Lady.

It revealed the story of a hardworking steam locomotive that at the end of its long career was saved from scrap and lovingly restored by enthusiasts for the enjoyment of thousands of tourists in the State’s south-west.

Originally known as G233 “G” Class 2 – 6 – 0, the engine was one of six built by James Martin & Co of Gawler, South Australia in 1898 on behalf of West Australian Government Railways. Initially used as mainline locos on passenger, mixed and goods trains, the “G” class also served as shunting and wharf engines.

Leschenault_Lady_steamtrain1

G233 Leschenault Lady (Credit: Weston Langford)

With WAGR’s acquisition of larger locomotives, many of these adaptable engines found employment on private lines hauling logs in Western Australia’s southern forests. It is recorded that G233 worked on the isolated railway from Hopetoun to Ravensthorpe, a mining district, for a lengthy period commencing in 1909.

With extraordinary durability, G233 was still working as a shunter at Bunbury in the run up to dieselisation in the early 1970s.

Impending modernisation prompted enthusiasts to launch a determined effort to save “The Vintage Train”. With support from local politicians, they acquired the engine and three dilapidated carriages, commencing a restoration project that caught the imagination of the people of Bunbury.

A competition to determine a name for the overhauled loco attracted 487 entries. The winning suggestion came from Bunbury Senior High School student Mark Hutchinson, 15, whose prize included £20. Leschenault Lady, a tribute to the French botanist whose name has been associated with the area since 1803, was formally conferred upon the engine on 9 October 1969 by Railways Minister Ray O’Connor at a ceremony attended by around 100 people.

So began a second life for the engine running highly successful tours through the picturesque Darling Ranges to Collie and further afield throughout the 1970s.

Sadly, regulatory and insurance complexities associated with running a steam train on the mainline made operations increasingly difficult as the decades ensued. She was seen in Geraldton in 1994 during celebrations marking the centenary of the Midland Railway and spent time on the Boulder Loopline at Kalgoorlie. Subsequently confined to the Boyanup Museum as a static exhibit, the proud Lady’s days as a working heritage icon appeared over.

Fantastic news for railway buffs

However, Geoffrey Higham, Vice President of Rail Heritage WA, informed us only today that volunteers will shortly commence a boiler repair project that aims to see Leschenault Lady steam up once again. The long-term hope, he revealed, is to have her steaming regularly between Boyanup and Donnybrook – very exciting news and a magnificent prospect for all those interested in railways.

Leschenault_Lady_steamtrain2G233 Leschenault Lady (Credit: Phil Melling)

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Apr 232013
 

This is a really exciting inclusion in our historic collection – a medal designed by eminent Melbourne sculptor and medal-maker Michael Meszaros.

These medals were presented to staff at the Footscray Ammunition Factory during its centenary celebrations in 1988. Now closed, the factory played a significant role in the protection of Australia from pre-federation times.

Footscray-Ammunition-Factory-medal

The 1988 Footscray Ammunition Factory medal by Michael Meszaros was struck in bronze (63.5mm) and also in cupro-nickel (40mm).

Calls for ammunition

When Britain withdrew troops in 1870, the self-governing Australian colonies assumed responsibility for their own defence. Under the new arrangement, pressure grew for the local manufacture of ammunition and other ordnance.

Victoria took the lead by encouraging private enterprise to establish Australia’s first ammunition plant, with the additional promise that all Government supplies would be procured from the factory.

In 1888, Captain John Whitney opened the ‘Colonial Ammunition Factory’ on land close to the Saltwater River at Footscray, four miles from Melbourne. Initially, “eight separate buildings were constructed to cover the various stages of the ammunition production,” The Illustrated Australian News reported in November 1890.

Subsequently, other facilities were added across Melbourne’s inner west, including an explosives plant at Maribyrnong for the home-grown supply of propellant. Ownership was transferred to the Defence Department in 1927 and the factory’s importance peaked during the 1940s when it employed many thousands of workers in the production of ammunition and related explosives for World War II.

Symbolism of the medal design

Michael told us his intention for the centenary medal was to put a positive slant on the manufacture of lethal products, a difficult position both philosophically and artistically.

“Since Australian defence was designed to keep Australia safe from external dangers, my design consists of a map of Australia filled with blooming flowers surrounded by seas consisting entirely of the products made by the factory – shells, bullets, fuses, grenades, etc, of different sizes and types. The symbolism is that the products surround and protect Australia and allow the flowers to grow within it.”

It was designed prior to the Government’s decision to export Australian-made arms and ammunition, a policy he says he regrets.

The medallist – Michael Meszaros

Needless to say, we’re pleased to have a design from such a renowned artist in our collection. Michael studied medal-making in Italy at La Scuola Dell ‘Art Della Medaglia, attached to Rome’s main mint. On his return to Australia, he became a full-time sculptor and medallist, working with his father Andor (1900–1972) in their Kew studio.

According to Museum Victoria, “Michael Meszaros medals are held by the British Museum, the Royal Dutch Coin Collection, and many private collections in Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In August 2011 he was awarded the American Numismatic Association’s ‘Numismatic Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture’. In 2012 he received an OAM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.”

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