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Eric Gill’s portrait of Joseph Fry, carved in boxwood, was not approved for a commemorative medal of 1928
Eric Gill’s portrait of Joseph Fry, carved in boxwood, was not approved for a commemorative medal of 1928








Percy Metcalfe’s medal to commemorate the Everest Flight of 1933 was produced within a fortnight of receiving the artist’s models







The striking of commemorative medals at the Royal Mint for the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935


The striking of commemorative medals at the Royal Mint for the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935





Medallic revival of the 1920s

It was, therefore, a somewhat unpromising situation which Robert Johnson as Deputy Master inherited in 1922. With great determination he rebuilt and expanded the medal department, recruited a panel of fine young artists, established an independent Royal Mint Advisory Committee to vet new designs, and set about finding work to keep his skilled staff together. To the bread-and-butter service medals were added expanding numbers of privately-commissioned medals, and Johnson’s commitment was plain to see in the variety of medals and plaques which the Mint made for sale at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

Percy Metcalfe’s medal to commemorate the Everest Flight of 1933 was produced within a fortnight of receiving the artist’s models

Such vitality was not to the liking of everyone: the Royal Society of British Sculptors feared the development of a Committee of Taste, while for its part the private medal trade was unhappy about the risk of unfair competition, which might rob them of what little work they had. In vain Johnson argued that to expand interest in medals would be to increase work for everyone, and eventually a gentleman’s agreement was reached whereby a limit was placed on the number of new medals which the Mint might produce each year and Johnson agreed not to tout for work. For Johnson the concession was one which could be tolerated since his interest in medals went beyond a mere concern for numbers. Like Newton before him, he saw medal production as a training ground for new young artists, encouraging them to pursue the specialised field of numismatic art and fitting them for the more serious work of designing the United Kingdom coinage. It was a wise policy which reaped its reward in the subsequent success of Kruger Gray, Humphrey Paget and Percy Metcalfe. [7]

[7] Johnson’s contribution has been more fully described by Christopher Eimer, ‘British Medals and Their Makers 1900-1950’, The Medal 15, pp. 11-23 and 16, pp. 58-68. Amended from an article originally published in the Autumn 1990 issue of The Medal.