By John Thomassen for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
When he is surrounded by as many objects as there are in the hallowed halls of an institution like the American Numismatic Society, it is inevitable that one encounters coins, medals or tokens that were completely unknown to them before. Even for a generalist striving to know a little about everything, given the true scope and extent of what is considered numismatics, it may not be impossible – but certainly unlikely – that one can really be familiar with each area that falls into the category that is Numismatics.
But that’s a good thing! For how boring would it be to never encounter anything new under the sun, but only to delve deeper and deeper into the details of a fixed set of topics? At least that’s how someone who’s never been fascinated by a single topic for very long tends to see the world, jumping from one area to another for fear of getting bogged down in one topic. Call it a short attention span. Call it an insatiable thirst for vast knowledge; it’s what motivates some people – including the current author – and what makes working at ANS so fascinating.
All this to say that the medals below represent an area that was unknown to me until a few weeks ago when I came across two trays labeled “Thomason’s Medals” while looking for something else entirely in the British medal cabinets. If you’re wondering why these two sets caught my eye, my relatively uncommon surname (the Norwegian variant of the English surname “son of Thomas”) should give you a clue. Examining the trays, I was confronted with a relatively uniform batch of medals celebrating the acquisition (for lack of a better word) of the Parthenon marbles speak English Museumand on the other tray, a much more interesting series (in fact, several series) of large white metal composition medals stuffed with text.
First, a little about Mr. Edward Thomasson.
Born in 1769 in birmingham, England, he was the son of a manufacturer of buckles and buttons. His father ran his own factory, but despite this (perhaps the elder Thomason knew his son would learn more under someone else’s tutelage), the young Thomason was apprenticed at age 16 to the famous Matthew Boulton to his soho factory. In 1793, the 24-year-old Edward took over his father’s business and began producing gilt and plated buttons, before moving on to gold and silver plated cutlery and cutlery, then jewelery and other ornaments.
Soon after, Thomason began hitting chips like Matthew Boulton had done years before at his Soho Mint. Because of his apprenticeship under Boulton—and because Boulton had died in 1809, leaving Thomason’s business in a unique position to dominate that sector of the market—Edward ended up minting several thousand pounds of small change tokens for various businesses – most notably by Samuel Fereday ironwork, but also silver coins for the Douglas Bank on the Isle of man. These tokens were needed to pay workers their weekly wages, due to the shortage of small coins in circulation. And because low-value copper and bronze coins were not considered “real money” in the sense that they were not government-issued silver or gold, private entities were able to intervene to fill this monetary gap without upsetting the official authorities.
Most of these activities took place between 1807 (two years before Boulton’s death) and 1815.
In addition to his prowess as a maker, Thomason was also quite a prolific inventor who patented a number of improved designs, including a carriage step that folded automatically when the carriage door was closed, in addition to advances in design in the world. sword canes, umbrellas, corkscrews and firebrushes.
Another of Thomason’s projects was the construction of a bronze facsimile of the famous Warwick Vase—an ancient massive Roman marble vase discovered at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, Italy who now resides at Burrell-Collection in Glasgow, Scotland but was previously located at warwick castle in Warwick, England. This feat he had commemorated on a bronze medal in 1820, and again in 1829 on additional medals issued in compositions of bronze and white metal.
This all brings us to the many series of medals that Thomason also produced to increase his business. These include a series commemorating Napoleon’s Peninsular Campaign (20 medals); reboots of The Sovereigns of England by Dassier (36 medals); the aforementioned Parthenon Marbles series (36 medals); its scientific series (16 medals); and perhaps the most famous, his monumental Bible series, consisting of 60 medals.
These ambitious series are in addition to unique medals issued to commemorate individuals and events (Napoleon, Wellingtonthe Warwick vase, the completion of the Erie CanalKing George IV, etc.) and were popular in their heyday due to the desire of many middle-class (and certainly some upper-class as well) men to maintain a proper library as a sign of their upbringing, education, and mobility ascending. A proper library might contain not only books and literature, but good furniture, tasteful art, curiosities obtained from foreign travels and, of course, a numismatic and medal cabinet. These mass-produced series had their detractors back then (just as there are detractors today who disdain many modern medal-winning series), but they have remained both desirable to own and profitable for their makers. Most of Thomason’s medals were produced between 1806 and 1830.
Unsurprisingly, Thomason’s science medals generally focused on science fields most relevant to him and his company (metallurgy, chemistry) as well as burgeoning science fields that were poised to bring (or were already in making) significant changes in daily life (steam power, electricity). It is not entirely clear who Thomason employed to gather the then-current information that became part of his medals (some are clearly very dated to the year 2022, such as Chimborazo being the highest peak on Earthand the pseudoscience of phrenology, which many today find particularly comical, especially after learning that it was taken somewhat seriously in the 19th century), but at least some of this information would have been known and understood by Thomason himself. itself, as it was relevant to its many business lines.
Likewise, the artists and plumbers he employed remain for now in relative obscurity, except for some well-known staff such as Thomas Hallyday. In fact, many of Thomason’s medals simply read THOMASON D. or THOMASON DIREX. on the reverse lower edge, abbreviation of the Latin phrase THOMASON DIREXIT or “Thomason directs [it]– emphasizing that he guided their production, even if they were not produced 100% by his hand.
Thomason received many honors and titles during his lifetime, both for this diplomatic career (which began in 1815) and because he sent precious metal versions of his series of medals to various monarchs and families. royals around the world. In return, he received both knighthoods (including the honorary “Sir” after being knighted by King William IV in 1832) as well as gold medals in recognition of their appreciation. These honors and titles are fully detailed in Thomason’s two-volume autobiography Memoirs for half a centuryand as they are there abundantly iterated, do not need to be reproduced here.
Finally, it should be noted that the 16 Science Medals in the collection of the American Numismatic Society were purchased as a complete set in 1947 for a registered sum of $17.05 from Barney Bluestone’s Catalog of the 98th auction, held October 3-4, 1947. The auction list is shown below for those interested.
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Berry, George. “Extraordinary Token Maker, Sir Edward Thomason, Medalist, Inventor, Diplomat”, Coin News 29, no. 2 (February 1992): 47–49.
Slabaugh, Arlie R. “Sir Edward Thomason, Medalist”, world of medals 1, no. 1 (December 1974): 26–28.
The author would like to thank ANS Life Fellow Scott Miller for his help with this article.
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