Medallic Art Company Archives, Part 2

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Through Jesse Kraft for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……

This is the second installment in a three-part series on MACO Archives and the imminent displacement of the die shells and plasters from their current location in Mound house, Nevada To New York City.

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After the immense amount of preparation that took place during “Mound House in Manhattan, Part IThe time had come to put the plan into action. May 22, with laptop and too detailed Excel spreadsheet in hand and a solid strategy in mind, I boarded a plane destined to Reno, Nevada. my fine Hyundai Santa Fe the rental then took me half an hour south to Town of Carson (just 10 miles east of Mound House), to the hotel I would call home for the next 13 nights.

That first night, I had the pleasure of meeting Rob vugteveen, self-proclaimed “creative problem solver” and former Northwest Territory Currency employee and his family. Rob graciously offered his services to the project. Over dinner we discussed my goals for the next two weeks: (1) preparing nearly 20,000 matrix shells for uptake by the body. SNA upon arrival in New York, and (2) to better pack the 5,000 most delicate pieces in order to survive the 2,700 mile journey.

However, the breadth of the collection (both in the vastness of the archives themselves as well as in the diameter of the individual pieces) proved difficult for these noble purposes.

The need for this Nevada trip was obvious from the start. While compiling spreadsheets and estimating the space requirements in New York City, I felt that the boxes housing these matrices were all the same size: 24 “x 24” x 18 “. This was largely due to the lack of a calibration target in the images or the ability to compare the sizes of the boxes to the surrounding reference points. In reality, five (5) boxes of different sizes were used, and none of them had the aforementioned measurements.Luckily the adjusted space requirements were minimal, but this theory game Tetris proved a point: that the NSA was not prepared to simply ship this material to its new home without (at the very least) a basic visual inspection to fully prepare us for what we were about to undertake.

If you remember part one, I had gone through many, many images in order to make preliminary decisions about matrix shells, entering my thoughts into an Excel spreadsheet highlighting red or green cells. With this document Rob and I began to browse the collection (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Jesse Kraft (right) and Rob Vugteveen (left) at Mound House, NV, starting to prepare MACO shells for their trip across the country.

Pallet by pallet, we compared them to the MACO spreadsheet and used red and green markers to mark individual item labels with their respective color. From there, we were basically able to ditch the spreadsheet and work right from the boxes. We have now started at the item by item level, opening each box and separating the “reds” and “greens” from each other, placing each category in a new box and sealing it when it has reached its weight. maximum (approx. 50 pounds). This left most of the boxes grossly (but necessarily) underpacked.

We had gone through 12 pallets (192 boxes) before suddenly realizing that at this rate, we were going to run out of time without even starting our second task. One of the accomplishments of the process, however, is that by the time we went through those 192 boxes, there were only 182 boxes left on the pallets because we were able to condense those initial boxes by about 5%. Even greater efficiency was found in the fact that we were able to stack the boxes at five heights (compared to four heights previously) thanks to information gathered from the shipping companies. This simple change saved 25% space.

Even though it was now clear that we couldn’t work item by item, the savings we made by working at the box-by-box level turned out to be significant. Instead of having some pallets containing only “greens” and others containing only “reds”, we knew that some boxes would be what we called “oranges”, the ones containing both red and green parts. Art teachers don’t need to comment.

For the sake of efficiency, the plan has been modified to include a gradient of “oranges”. Basically we put all the “reds” on one side of the room and all the “greens” on the other, and then we filled the void. Right after the “pure reds” we started placing boxes that all had “reds” and only one “green”. Once we found all of this, we started to paddle with all “reds” and two “greens”, followed by those with three “greens”, and so on. Finally, the last remaining boxes were the ones that were all “green” but had only one “red” piece. By the time we were done, we had an order of “red”, mainly red “orange”, mainly green “orange” and “green” (Fig. 2).

From Mound House to Manhattan: The Medallic Art Company Archives, Part 2
Figure 2. Palettes separated into their potential groups.

It was a relief to complete this arduous task, because not only did this dusty and grueling labor, but in the end, it also provided me with the order for which everything will be brought back to New York: as many ‘reds’ as possible destined for our warehouse in Brooklyn and the “greens” at our headquarters in Manhattan. As I mentioned my relief at knowing this order, Rob joked, “Jesse can sleep easy tonight,” as if the grueling job we just finished wasn’t enough to knock a man out on his own.

But I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all work and no play. Fortunately, halfway through this business trip, I was able to take a day off to explore… and what better way to spend the day in Carson City than Carson City Historic Mint and Nevada State Museum! Friend and ANS member Rob rodriguez offered me a tour of the installation and exhibitions, followed by an afternoon at Virginia City. Rodriguez’s knowledge and love for the region is evident. At La Monnaie, we were able to see “Coin Press No. 1” in action (Fig. 3).

From Mound House to Manhattan: The Medallic Art Company Archives, Part 2
Figure 3. Jesse Kraft with Woodrow Davis, Coin Operator of Press No. 1 at the Carson City Mint. Jesse holds the Nevada State Capitol’s 150th Anniversary Medallion, which was knocked out moments before the photo was taken.

This press was built in 1869 by Morgan & Orr and was the original press used at the Mint to mint many Carson City rarities; coins that numismatists everywhere now treasure. Still active today, the press strikes half dollar medals for visitors – currently in the process of creating the Nevada State Capitol 150th Anniversary Medallion. Virginia City is known as the epicenter of the Comstock vein, or Samuel clemens failed as a miner, began to work with the Territorial enterprise journal and changed its name to Mark Twain. It was because of the Comstock Lode that the Carson City Mint came into existence. See the geographical links between the Lode, Carson and even Reno and San Francisco was a really nice numismatic sidebar to the whole Nevada work trip.

Other highlights include dinner at the fabulous Mangia Tutto Restaurant in Carson City with friends and SNA members Howard and Kregg Herz, and a 0.6 mile hike to Kings Canyon Falls, one of the natural sources that regulate the height of Lake Tahoe. Finally, I acquired authentic western clothing from historic Virginia City (our office’s “Western Wear Wednesday” has never looked better) (Fig. 4). Refreshed, I was back to work.

Figure 4. Jesse Kraft in authentic Virginia City Western clothing, which he proudly wore on his chance homecoming on the “Western Wear Wednesday” weekly at ANS Headquarters.

The next day, the focus was on task number two: repacking what really needed to be repacked. Due to time constraints in 2018, only 15,000 of the roughly 20,000 die shells were photographed, individually wrapped and securely boxed. At that time, the team weren’t able to complete the last 5,000 items in the collection, so (out of necessity) they were hastily stacked in boxes right on the pallet. Packed for a quick six mile jaunt from Dayton at Mound House, they probably wouldn’t survive the 2,500 mile journey they’re about to make. Unfortunately, even now we have found parts that were clearly broken in their previous transit, not before.

From Mound House to Manhattan: The Medallic Art Company Archives, Part 2
Figure 5. Epoxy shells for the 1986 ANS Medal commemorating the Centenary of the Statue of Liberty.

Most of these objects are epoxy matrix shells (Figs. 5 & 6). Epoxy matrix shells were introduced in 1975 as a cheaper and faster alternative to galvano copper matrix shells. Unlike the heavy-duty copper die shells made by MACO, epoxy die shells are quite fragile and if they were to fall to the ground, they could easily shatter on impact. Not only were these more fragile die shells in direct contact with each other, each box weighed well beyond their intended capacity.

From Mound House to Manhattan: The Medallic Art Company Archives, Part 2
Figure 6. A box of epoxy dies waiting to be packed and shipped to New York.

While I have gone through the MACO material a number of times on paper, digitally, and with the medals finished, the physical matrix shells are an entirely different beast. Navigating the extra weight and bulky size and shape of each piece added unexpected time to the process, and in the end the clock ran out. I’m happy to report that Rob Vugteveen and I hit 95% of what we hoped for before my departure time. Fortunately, Rob lives nearby and is able to pack everything before the trucks arrive. Overall, the second phase of shipping MACO shells from Mound House to Manhattan was a success.


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