Reading our latest medal auction catalogue I was struck by the way in which medals are international in nature; celebrating cross border events, or the work of many different nationalities as regards content, design and manufacturer.
For example, this portrait of the Italian pioneer of radio, Guglielmo Marconi was made c. 1950s by Kovacs (who did Winston Churchill’s portrait memorial medal). Kovacs was a Hungarian who emigrated to France in 1956 but worked extensively in Britain and exhibited a group of plaques at the Royal Academy in that year including a laudatory medal for Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin (1). Many years ago we came across a small group of the plaques, long since dispersed to collectors and museums but this piece somehow remained with us.
Then there is the medal with the Italy/Ireland connection of an Italian nylon yarn manufacturer who set up a factory in Sligo in the grounds of a Palladian mansion in 1969. The factory closed 14 years later, and the company, SNIA Italy folded in 2010 having been involved in making part of the Medusa rocket system which relied on a sail and nuclear propulsion.
The house has recently been sold and has been used as an art gallery and with hopes of it becoming a whisky distillery. (I sometimes wonder what Google makes of our searches!)
A final section at the end of our MB78 auction catalogue is devoted to a selection of medals relating to the European Investment Bank, NATO, and the European Parliament with other commemoratives. Some are named, like the 1969 medal for the 20th anniversary of NATO/OTAN which belonged to Sir Frank Roberts (1907-1998), a British diplomat who played a key role during post-war Anglo-German relations and the cold war.
While the NATO medal is bilingual, other European medals incorporate many more languages. The gold medal for the European Parliament has the logo EP PE stamped on the box (Parlement Europeen). But on the medal, the name is translated into 6 different languages. I was somewhat stumped by the imagery – as the image of Europa and the bull doesn’t correspond to any existing coin I could find but appears be a composite invention , harking back to ancient coins but a new design.
Similarly the BEI-EIB European Investment Bank medals have text not in two but six languages on their medals. They too are inspired by earlier coinage, whether the trio of maidens symbolising the Moneta Aug of ancient Rome or the Gallic flying horse of the Parissi. All these medals were given to various British or Irish politicians, travelling westwards but the same designs, the same medals would have travelled to other parts of Europe, other points on the compass, confirming unity through language and symbolism whatever disagreements there might be of a political or economic nature.
Footnote 1: See Brown BHM vol.3 (British Historical Medals) entries 4460-4463