North Carolina and the Franklin Mint: Part One

Looking for a true collecting challenge? Try to assemble a complete set of the North Carolina themed medals and ingots produced by the Franklin Mint! Though all of the pieces contained in such a set are less than 50 years old, endeavoring to find and acquire them all will test the mettle of even the most dedicated collector. Why? There are multiple reasons, but first a bit of history.

The Franklin Mint traces its roots to 1964 when businessman-entrepreneur Joseph Segal and Gilroy Roberts, the former US Mint Chief Engraver, combined their talents and launched the General Numismatics Corporation. The new company’s objectives were to produce high-quality coins and medals and fill a collecting void left by the cessation of the US commemorative coin program which issued its last coins in 1954.

The new company went public in 1965 and shortly thereafter dropped its “generic” name in favor of “The Franklin Mint.” The Franklin Mint (FM) went on to become the most successful private mint in the US, producing coinage for more than a dozen nations and more than 150 commemorative and topical medal series. The FM’s initial success was due in no small part to having Gilroy Roberts serve as its Chairman and top engraver. It also invested in some of the finest minting equipment and technology available at the time. The quality and beauty of the design and engravings of the FM’s releases set it apart from most all of its competition.

Though the FM did not issue a medal series specifically about North Carolina, many sets on its long list of medal and ingot collections did include pieces with a North Carolina focus. I’m aware of more than two dozen different FM collections that feature a piece related to the “Tar Heel State.”

One of the earliest medal sets struck by the Franklin Mint was one marketed under the brand “National Commemorative Society.” This collection featured monthly issues dedicated to honoring great Americans and important events from US history. The medals were struck in sterling silver (0.925 fine silver), were 39mm in diameter and weighed 0.83 ounces (approximately 0.77 ounces of pure silver). Two series of the medals were issued between 1964 and 1976; the collection totaled 150 medals. The medals were most definitely an attempt to attract US commemorative coin collectors who no longer had new issues to add to their collections. Included within the series was a 1965 medal honoring Orville and Wilbur Wright and the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903.

The Wright Brothers were a popular theme for medals from the FM. In fact, the historic “first powered flight’ accomplishment of Wilbur and Orville at Kitty Hawk is the most common North Carolina event commemorated within the various FM medals sets. One could form a nice and varied collection just from these medals!

The FM marketed a number of “History of …” sets that each featured at least one medal with ties to North Carolina. These include a 200-medal History of the United States set that was issued in sterling silver and bronze versions between 1966 and 1977; a 24-medal bronze set titled History of America for Young Americans issued in 1976 and a 100-medal History of Flight set in sterling silver that was released between 1973 and 1977.

Wright Brothers medal from History of Flight series.

A Presidential Commemorative Medals series was struck and released between 1967 and 1970. It was a popular series and was struck by the FM in sterling silver in four different sizes (10mm, 26mm, 32mm and 39mm); the medals were also struck in platinum (10mm, 26mm) and bronze (26mm). Each featured a presidential portrait on the obverse, with an eagle perched on a US shield along with a few biographical facts about the president on the reverse. Depending on your view of the facts, a set of North Carolina presidents will either feature medals of James Polk, Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson or just Polk and Johnson – the exact location of Jackson’s birth is debated between North Carolina and South Carolina!

Andrew Johnson medal from Presidential Commemorative Medals series.

A parallel set to the Presidential Commemorative series is the First Ladies of the United States. The most direct NC link within this collection is the medal honoring Dolly Madison, the popular wife of the fourth US President James Madison. Dolly is the only US First Lady to be born in North Carolina; she was born in present-day Greensboro on May 20, 1768. Her medal features her portrait on the obverse, with the reverse depicting a scene recalling her efforts to save important documents and paintings from the British when they burned the White House during the War of 1812. This set was released in 1971 and was sponsored by the White House Historical Association; all of the medals were struck in sterling silver and measure 39mm in diameter.

Another early collection was the States of the Union series. Subscriptions were available for medals struck in bronze, sterling silver, gold-plated sterling silver and platinum; the various sets were issued between 1969 and 1972. As its name implies, the collection featured one medal from each state.

The obverse of each medal features a state’s political map with its capital city noted, along with an easy-to-recognize icon or symbol of the state and the state’s nickname. For example, the North Carolina medal features a tobacco farmer as its icon/symbol. The medal’s reverse includes the date and order in which the state entered the Union, along with the state’s official flower.

North Carolina medal from States of the Union series.

As the US Bicentennial era dawned, collectors of coins and/or stamps bore witness to an extraordinary number and variety of souvenirs and collectables from many different sources. The FM was on the forefront of collectible issues with the release of multiple “American History” themed medal series. Among the sets issued were: Official Bicentennial Medals of the Thirteen Original Colonies, Fifty-State Bicentennial Medal Collection, and Official Signers of the Declaration of Independence Medals. Each of these sets features 39mm sterling silver medals; the Thirteen Original Colonies set was also struck in bronze and 24kt gold.

North Carolina Bicentennial medal from Thirteen Original Colonies series.

John Penn medal from Signers of the Declaration of Independence series.

Some FM medals were issued as part of a philatelic-numismatic cover or PNC. One such series was the Great Historic Sites of America collection. The series honors one site from each state via a sterling silver medal (39mm) mounted in an illustrated envelope/cover. Each envelope features a detailed cachet designed by the artists at ArtCraft, a well-known producer of US first day covers. The subject of the NC-themed PNC is the Old Salem Historic District of present-day Winston-Salem. The medal’s obverse features the Home Moravian Church building which dates back to 1800; the reverse features inscriptions regarding the church’s Protestant founders.

Old Salem Historic District PNC from Great Historic Sites of America series.

Other PNCs produced by the FM include the National Governor’s Conference Bicentennial Medals series and the multi-year commemorative series produced for the Postmasters of America (PoA). The PoA series combined a new-issue US postage stamp with a similarly-themed sterling silver medal. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore was celebrated on one of the covers from the series; the stamp issue was part of the National Parks Centennial series.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore PNC from 1972 Postmasters of America series.

The medals discussed above are just some of the FM’s many NC-themed releases. In Part Two, I’ll present a few more plus dig into the FM’s numerous ingot collections. I’ll also review why trying to assemble a complete set of these pieces is such a challenge.

Until next time, Happy Collecting!

-- David Provost

© Copyright D. Provost 2014. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Sources:

  • “Franklin Mint Installs Equipment.” The Numismatist. May 1965: 711. Print.
  • “Gilroy Roberts and Joseph Segel Organizing Coinage Firm.” The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. November 1964: 3246. Print.
  • Joseph M. Segel – Biography. www.josephsegel.info. Web. 11 February 2014.
  • Franklin Mint. Numismatic Issues of the Franklin Mint 1969 Edition (Covering the Years 1965-1968). Yeardon, PA: Franklin Mint, 1969. Print.
  • Franklin Mint. Limited Editions of the Franklin Mint 1977 Edition (Covering the 1976 Issues). Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Mint, 1977. Print.
  • Sheraga, Robert J. Franklin Mint Silver. www.franklin-mint-silver.com. Web. 11 February 2014.