The Medallic Art Company

The Medallic Art Company is one of the premier mints in the United States. In addition to tokens, coins, and mass-market and military awards it has also historically produced some of the finest art medals in the United States.

The Medallic Art Company was founded by two brothers, Henri and Felix Weil. Their father had emigrated from France and set up an import business in New York City. He taught them painting and got them interested in the artistic process. Both brothers initially apprenticed with sculptors; Henri with George Wagner, whose sister he later married, and Felix with Alex Doyle, who had a commission for a Yorktown monument. Henri eventually went to work for the Deitsch Brothers, manufacturers of leather goods and ladies' handbags. In keeping with the then dominant Art Nouveau style these items were heavily decorated with brass ornamentations. While Henri was modeling these brass elements and preparing them for local casting, a time-intensive and expensive process, he found out that in France these elements were die-struck. He also found out from his contacts in France that the models for these ornaments were being reproduced on a Janvier reducing machine that gave the finished product much finer detail than could be achieved by casting a hand-prepared, original scale model.

Henri was instructed to travel to France to acquire and learn how to operate a Janvier reduction machine. He returned to New York City with the first Janvier to ever enter the United States and Deitsch Brothers set it up on its premises. While the brass ornamentations could now be produced far more cheaply, the fate of Deitsch Brothers' handbag business was sealed because fashion had quickly moved away from the ornate brass-decorated style. Fearing for his job Henri went looking for alternate uses for the expensive machine. He came up with idea of pitching the Janvier process to medallic sculptors. Leveraging his contacts to sculptors he managed to secure his first die-reduction order from Boston-based sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt.

Encouraged by this success Henri found more business from medallic sculptors and one of the Deitsch brothers managed to secure the exclusive distribution rights of Janvier machines for the United States. Henri became the mechanic who taught customers how to operate the complex machine.

Around 1907 Henri met Robert Hewitt, Jr. Hewitt was a real estate man with a passion for medals. He was a member of several numismatic and medallic societies all over the world, and he proposed to Henri Weil that a medallic society be established in the United States. He gave it the name Circle of Friends of the Medallion. Hewitt and Weil managed to convince the Deitsch brothers to finance the society and it was successful for several years.

With business going well for Deitsch Brothers' medallic division, Hewitt suggested that a separate corporation be formed under Henri's guidance to focus solely on medallic work. He recommended the name Medallic Art Company. The time seemed right because one of the two Deitsch brothers had fallen very ill and the other was not getting any younger. Negotiations about a buyout dragged on though and turned acrimonious when Deitsch sold Henri's dies to J.K. Davison in Philadelphia. He also sued the young company over their use of the name Medallic Art Company, which he claimed they had not acquired together with the tools and equipment. Yet by 1910, the start-up troubles were finally behind and the company was officially registered with the State of New York. The young company set up shop at 10 East 17th Street in Lower Manhattan.

In 1918 the Weil brothers were reunited when Felix closed the sculpture studio he had run with Jules Edouard Roiné. Roiné had died in 1916 and Felix had wound down the ongoing operations. The brothers knew that to stay in business they had to grow the company and expand from medallic pre-production into production. That required expertise but also lots of capital. They found a partner in Clyde Curlee Trees, a businessman from Indiana. Trees moved the company into larger quarters in New York City and purchased their first press equipment. He also forced the brothers to act more business-like and advertise their services, something the Weil brothers regarded as frivolous and unnecessary because they had always used their personal contacts with sculptors to get new business.

By 1929 the disagreements over how to run the business had become insurmountable and Trees managed to raise enough money to buy out the Weil brothers. Thus ends the founding chapter of the Medallic Art Company but the best days were still ahead.

In 1930 Trees was deeply involved in launching the Society of Medalists medal series which turned into the biggest success that any medallic series in the U.S. ever had. In the 1940s the Medallic Art Company was engaged by the U.S. government to produce millions of military service medals. This period made Trees a millionaire.

Like so many other New York City manufacturing companies, the 1970s made a move out of New York imperative. Business was under pressure while the factory's real estate value had skyrocketed. In 1972 the Medallic Art Company gave in and moved to Danbury, Connecticut. A steady decline in the popularity of medallic art kept up the financial pressure and resulted in a sale and move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The story does not end there though. The company was purchased by the Northwest Territorial Mint and moved to Dayton, Nevada. It operates as a division of the larger company and still maintains a large die library going back to the company's early days.