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The E-Sylum (7/21/2013)

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Last week's issue was such a whopper I ran out of time to write up my numismatic diary. So here goes, with the help of fellow Nummis Nova attendees Tom Kays and Aaron Packard. The monthly meeting of my Northern Virginia numismatic social group was held last Tuesday, July 9th at Ted's Montana Grill in Balston, VA (near Arlington). Mike Packard was our host.

At my request he'd picked al location near the Metro to accommodate an out of town guest, a mystery stranger none of us had ever met. I arrived first and took a seat in our private room in the back. Gene Brandenburg arrived next, inspected the wine list and ordered a couple bottles.

After exchanging a few texts to learn his whereabouts, my phone rang and I stepped outside to meet Matt R., an E-Sylum web site visitor who shared images of his collection of Central Intelligence Agency medals. Figuring him for a spook who worked at CIA HQ in Langley, near where many of our dinners are held, I invited him to join us sometime. He said he'd plan to, but I was wrong about his location - he'd have to travel here. And this month he did, taking a train to Union Station and then the Metro to the restaurant.

CIA medal Special Activities Division obverse CIA medal Special Activities Group reverse
One of Matt R.'s CIA medals

We met outside and talked for a while. He had his whole collection with him, and when we got back to the table he started laying it out - one rare medal after another. I brought a couple recently-purchased CIA medals of mine. He already had these, but agreed mine were nice.

Matt's not a numismatist like most E-Sylum readers, but he has an eye for detail. And like a top numismatist, he knows the diagnostics of real and fake CIA medals. There are a lot of fakes out there, especially on eBay. Viewing his collection and listening to his commentary was a real education.

CIA Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal obverse CIA Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal reverse
My Recent Purchase: CIA Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal

CIA Medal of Merit obverse CIA Medal of Merit reverse
My Recent Purchase: CIA Medal of Merit

Other attendees included Dave Schenkman, Joe Levine, Lenny Goldberg, Roger Burdette, Eric Schena, Jon Radel and Tom Kays. Eric is preparing a talk on token denominations for the kid's event at the upcoming Annandale coin show. I'll be on vacation with my family, and Jon and Tom talked with him about the logistics and will be there to help out.

Tom Kays writes:

Massachusetts Artillery button struck on 1802 Large Cent There were two themes for the dinner in Ballston; to either bring Government Service Medals / Military Challenge Coins (which we learned included a nice assortment of CIA awards), or simply bring something you like. Mike Packard showed us one of his favorite items, which I especially liked, since it serves collectors in three camps - War of 1812 buffs, military relic collectors of uniform buttons, and numismatists. He showed a large copper, one-piece, flat button, struck for the Massachusetts Artillery from the War of 1812 (Albert MS-18) struck over an 1802 large cent (Sheldon-232). The cent host showed clearly on the shank side, enough to identify the type. Neat.

As for the primary collecting topic of the night, few Government Service Medals were to be seen outside of Matt R’s impressive array. I brought some of my wife’s Army awards including a chain of command string, from Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment, to the Garrison Commander for Fort Belvoir, Virginia. These are most difficult to collect, since they must be earned through recognition for individual and special Government Service, by top brass, for work visible above one’s day-to-day duties and outside one’s organization.

Having been awarded to an individual, they mean so much more than anything purchased off of eBay. Most will never be sold by the recipients. Perhaps they will begin to turn up in estates in the future, but for now this is a difficult field in which to amass a large collection. Each service medal is made to order, with only a few tens or hundreds made of each type. As with the English Provincial Token Coinage of the 19th Century, captured by Dalton and Hamer after a century of study, it may take decades before advanced collectors create a Comprehensive Guide to 20th and 21st Century U.S. Government Service Medals. Until then most every example that can be obtained should be considered interesting and potentially important.

Under Secretary of Defense medal Under Secretary of Defense medal
Under Secretary of Defense medal for Environmental Security

Garrison Commander's Award Garrison Commander's Award
Garrison Commander's Award For Excellence medal

Assistant Secretary of the Army medal Assistant Secretary of the Army medal
Assistant Secretary of the Army medal

Aaron Packard I brought several examples of tokens to the meeting. His notes and images appear below.


Smith & Hartmann Engravers:
Several examples hailed from the die-sinking firm of Smith & Hartmann, a company with a legacy that traced its roots all the way back to Richard Trested's business in 1820s New York City. The story of Richard Trested, and his legacy of successive die-sinking firms can be found here: inking-legacy/


Packard Kentucky Scrip:
The second set of specimens hailed from Packard, Kentucky. Packard was a company mining town established around the dawn of the 20th century. Its life was short lived; the town existed only until 1946 when Mahan-Jellico ceased mining operations there. Nothing remains of the town in present time, and the land it sat upon is in private hands. The story of Packard, Kentucky can be found here:

Our food was excellent and conversation (and drinks) flowed freely. Dave Schenkman and I told some jokes as everyone was getting ready to leave. Then I walked outside with Matt R. One of the items passed around the table had caught his eye - a hobo nickel. Perhaps he has a new collecting theme on the horizon. I thanked him for coming so far just for our dinner meeting. It was a delight to meet him and view his medal collection in person; it was a great opportunity to see these rare items all in one place. Then he slipped away into the night, returning to an undisclosed location.

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see: CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY MEDALS (

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