Unusual Items : 1925 Norse American Medal in Gold
By James Earle Fraser. Viking warrior in horned helmet with sword and shield advances from dragon ship, NORSE AMERICAN CENTENNIAL, 1825 – 1925. Rev. Dragon ship sailing r. under 4-line inscription, AUTHORIZED BY/ CONGRESS OF THE/ UNITED STATES/ OF AMERICA. with date of Leif Erikson’s discovery below, A.D. 1000.
One of 100 struck in gold, 53 of which were melted unsold, leaving a net mintage of only 47. After 83 years, the larger part of this surviving mintage has been lost or destroyed, leaving a mere handful of gold Norse pieces in existence for today’s collectors. A significant rarity, of the greatest interest to collectors of U.S. commemorative coins as well as to the rapidly increasing body of medal enthusiasts.
All Norse pieces were struck with octagonal planchets, and the thick and thin silver strikes were almost the same overall diameter as U.S. commemorative half dollars. Coin collectors were made aware of the Norse when the great publishing tycoon Wayte Raymond included spaces for them in his trail-blazing National Albums of American commemorative coins. The gold specimens were unknown to most collectors, and one who remembered them was the late Max Braile of Jackson, Michigan, who long remembered acquiring one for $20 in the year of issue.
The guiding spirit behind the Norse issue was Representative Ole Juulson Kvale (1869-1929) of the Seventh Congressional District of Minnesota, which included Minneapolis. A Lutheran pastor, Kvale officiated at the second wedding of a brash, reform-minded fellow Congressman from New York City, Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Kvale wanted a commemorative half dollar, but since six issues were already authorized for 1925 he had to be content with a medal struck by the Philadelphia Mint with an eight-sided format assuring against confusion with coins.
The bold use of Viking imagery has led many collectors to believe that the pieces hailed the voyage of Leif Erikson in 1000 AD. However, the event actually honored took place 800 years later, the arrival of the first organized immigration of Norwegians to the United States.
This band of immigrants arrived on the sloop Restaurationen in 1825, settling in Orleans County, New York. This sloop appeared on a two-Cent stamp hailing the same anniversary, paired with a five-Cent stamp with the dragon ship. Individual Norwegians had arrived during the Colonial era and more significant numbers came in the 19th century, settling in Minnesota and the upper Northwest.
The 1825 event was chosen because of the organized character of the immigration. Commemorative maven Anthony Swiatek researched the Norse in his article “A Proud Heritage, the Story of the 1925 Norse Commemorative” in the June 1982 issue of The Numismatist. Noting that the artist’s signature OPUS FRASER led one dealer to assert, “that must be the brother of James Earle Fraser,” when in fact it was Latin for “the work of Fraser.”
With its romantic history and outstanding rarity, the gold Norse Centennial piece is destined for inclusion is some great collection.
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