The Australian Numismatic Society


Medallic Art and Meszaros  by  Phil Benjamin.

Exonumia - According to “The International Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Numismatics” by R.Scott Carlton this term was coined By Russell Rulau in 1960 to refer to numismatic items other than those issued by a government for circulation as money. This is a broad term and people differ as to its inclusiveness.

The items include but are not limited to: checkpieces, tourist dollars, promissory notes, tokens, coin weights, coin jewelry with altered normal coins such as carving, enameling, engraving (love tokens & hobo nickels), postage stamp money, medals, script, advertising pieces, elongated coins etc. Personally, I also include non-circulating legal tender as these ‘coins’ are not meant to be used as everyday currency, have a vast seigneurage and are more akin to medallic themes than coinage. All of these examples, the list of which is by no means exhaustive, are as you all know, areas of collection in their own right.

The area of exonumia I wish to comment on today are medals, medalets & medallions, mainly medallions.
Historically medals were struck coin-like circular metal pieces over about 35 mm in diameter struck as awards or commemorations and medalets were smaller than this and medallions much larger and often unifaced. However, the first medals, what some would call medallions because of their large size, were cast in the 15th century by a number of artists, the most notable of whom, as father of the art, was Pisanello (Antonio Pisano - ? 1380s -1455) who turned to medal making late in life with most of his medallic work being in his last decade. His most famous work

was that of Emperor John V111 Palaeologus the penultimate Byzantine Emperor at Ferrara in 1438.

A number of Italian Renaissance artists followed his example and one of the earliest and best followers was Matteo de’ Pasti whose medal of a very interesting nobleman, Sigismondo Malatesta
(The Wolf of Rimini), who was twice excommunicated, is very similar to Pisanello’s of the same man.

The next image is of a 19th century cast copy of de’ Pasti’s medal of Isotta degli Atti

who was Malatesta’s mistress at twelve years of age, bore him two children and later became his third wife.

The reverse shows an elephant walking across a field of flowers being a representation of strength, fame and even immortality and traditionally associated with piety and chastity and having the maker’s name and the date 1446. Having heard about the relationship you can make up your own mind about the reasons for this legend and odd reverse.

His first two wives died in mysterious circumstances and there has always been speculation that Malatesta had them killed. His was an interesting life!

After 1440 the art of the medal spread fairly quickly throughout Europe.

As occurred with other aspects of the enlightenment new inventions allowed a wider circulation and
appreciation in the community and the invention of the screw press in the 16th century enabled larger volumes of medal production and with better detail as the medals were struck rather than cast.

In the 17th century Pieter van Abeele, a Dutch medallist, invented the repousse method of making medals. He pressed both sides of the medal separately and then joined them by a metal rim. This rim required a small hole for the hot gas, formed when the rim was attached, to escape. The next three slides show the repousse medal by Abeele of Charles 11 leaving Holland from Scheveningen to reclaim his throne on June 2, 1660. 70mm, silver, Obverse Charles 11 large bust, wearing a long wig and a medal on a chain, three quarters right and armoured; Reverse shows a fleet of ships with victory above with a scroll inscribed SOLI DEO GLORIA – TO God alone the glory.
Eimer 210 plate 24.

As a form of art the medal followed all the contemporary fashions in art over the years from classical, neo-classical, art Nuevo, art deco, abstract, etc., and are now produced in many different media from metal to glass , acrylic, porcelain

(Cook by Wedgewood) and others.

My main interest of recent times is the Art Medallion, and especially those of Michael Meszaros and of his father, Andor; both struck and cast.

Ray Jewell wrote an article in Volume 2 of the Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia concerning Michael in which he interviewed Michael and showed a range of his work.

In discussions with Michael he has impressed upon me the limited canvas and shape of the medallion and how simpler shows more or as he said in his interview with Ray Jewell, the making of medallions has ”made me aware that good art is in many ways a subtractive process – I keep taking elements away until I cannot take any more away without the work falling apart”.

I never met Andor and I am, I believe, the poorer for this. Andor was a graduate in Architectural Engineering who was born in Budapest, trained in his sculpture in Paris, Vienna and Budapest and emigrated to the Antipodes in 1939. He had a tough time here; this country being fairly culturally bland at that time. He then tried the UK but over there he was “doubly alien, not only a Hungarian, but an Australian as well”. He then returned to Australia and made a life as a sculptor.

His attitude to the medallion making is summed up in the following from one of his lectures –“What chamber music is in relation to music generally, or the sonnet to poetry, is the art of the medallion to sculpture --- medallion making is an art form in its own right, somewhere between the two dimensional painting and the three dimensional sculpture in the round”..  

Michael I have met and I enjoy discussing his passion with him. He was born in Melbourne, qualified as an architect and has trained in Rome and is a full time sculptor who worked with his father until he died in 1972 and since then he has been in solo practice.

To me both have undoubted artistic ability as shown in their ability to show the essence of their portrait subjects and in the large number of public sculptures in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I love their work. Andor seems to me to show more of the spirituality of his prewar era and Michael shows more of a modern whimsical clarity but still with a thoughtful insight in his creations.

I choose from amongst my holding a number of their works for appreciation.



Sir Earle Page
–Bronze, 69mm and cast in 1958, Carlisle 1958/1 – Michael thinks this was probably his father’s only double sided casting because they are technically difficult. Large medallions were placed in various places including the Page Pavilion at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and other smaller ones were for members of Sir Earle’s large family. The number made is not known.

Sir  Robert Menzies
(1894-1978),- twice Prime Minister of Australia (1939-41 & 1949-66)  by Stokes, 63 mm, sterling silver, mintage 50, bronze 100, made 1969, Carlisle 1969/8.

These are two strong men and political contemporaries who, though not liking each other, worked together in politics; both coming from humble beginnings and winning their education by scholarship, passing with first class honours and proving to be extremely able men. Their strength of character shows in the medallions; Page’s showing, perhaps, a little more humility and compassion but I could be wrong because Michael has told me that the portrait was done by his father when “Earle was old and cranky and he regaled my Dad with the Machiavellian terms of his will, which made it almost impossible for his beneficiaries to cash in their shares.”

As spiritual works by Andor:
Christ amongst the doctors, a prize winning medallion, whimsical and a little humorous, commissioned by a high school in memory of Sir Reginald Halse, the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane,1943-62. Cast in 1956, 180mm (also 70 mm copies), Bronze. The medal refers to the Gospel of Luke chapter 4 verses 40-48 where Joseph and his family had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover and could not find him amongst the fellow travellers at the end of the first day’s travel homeward so they went back to look for him and it took them three days to find him talking amongst the doctors in the temple –  “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers”. Personally, I think this statement contains a degree of exaggeration to make a good story. This medallion and next, Dante, show the signature figures of Andor’s style and creations.

This piece is a Bronze medal on wood, 182 mm diameter, by Andor Meszaros and minted by Pinches in London in 1965. This medal was commissioned by the Italian Institute of Culture, a part of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to mark 700 years since Dante’s birth and a copy was presented to the State of Victoria  and is in that state’s museum collection.

This work shows Dante being shown through the underworld , purgatory and into Paradise by his guide Virgil. This “Divine Comedy” by Dante is one of the great literary works of the world over 14,000 structured lines of poetry written in ordinary Italian; whereas if it had been written in Latin it would have been called the “Divine Tragedy”.

Next are some of the stations of the cross
11 (1943),12 (1952)& 14 (1948) 63mm, bronze made in various sizes and metals. The 14 stations were made by Andor over a thirty year period and have been variously named ’the Canterbury series’ and ‘The Stations of the Cross’.

They were not made in chronological order but as the spirit moved Andor. The first was Christ before Pilate in1942.

They, like all Andor’s medals, have a distinctive style and when one is used to his style it is an interesting exercise to browse through Les Carlisle’s magnum opus and pick out Andor’s medals without reading the description first.

Next, a cross between Nuevo and deco:
Maternity and The Cricketer.

Both of these medals show how Andor has adapted the form to the shape of a medal. Both show the plain lines of art deco with the flow of late Art Nuevo.

For Artistic works:

Origin of communication This is a struck version of a larger cast plaque which Andor submitted as a group of seven designs (each to be 13X5 feet) for consideration as murals for the external walls of the National Library in Canberra but he did not win the project. However, as smaller plaques they have found their way into numerous collections. The plaque shows the action, talking (the woman being told the story) drawing (rock art), hieroglyphics, cuneiform, idiograms and other notation forms of communication allowing communication of ideas from the direct representational to the abstract concept.

1956 Olympics participants: 63 mm, bronze, mintage of 12,278, C 1956/5.  
This is his, perhaps best known medallion.

Finally there is the recent release by the RAM of Andor’s designs for our
decimal currency, which I prefer to those chosen.

We now move to Michael

From Michael, a portrait:
Yvonne Adrian
148mm, bronze and I quote from Michael - “I made this portrait of Yvonne Adrian (anglisized from Adorjan) who was probably my oldest friend in that she was the wife of the Hungarian doctor who delivered me at the Chelsea Hospital here in Melbourne. Her pet name was “NYUSZI”, which means bunny, rather than rabbit in Hungarian.

I did it as a present because of my long friendship with her.

The medal you bought was a casting bought from me by a friend called Oscar Gimsey, another Hungarian architect who was also a great friend of Yvonne. His wife sold a number of medals at the last Noble sale which had been collected by Oscar, now deceased, and which she no longer wanted,.

Yvonne was a sort of honorary group grandmother to a number of Hungarian Australians like me, and was much loved by everybody.

She was a grand cook who used to invite me, and later my wife, to wonderful dinners.

I think I made four castings. Her son has one, I have one and there is one Yvonne had herself as well as the one you have.

Yvonne once told me a story that during the war all telephone conversations had to be in English. She was talking on the phone in her heavy accent when the operator interrupted and said “You must speak English’ , Yvonne replied - “But I Am!””.

This portrait , I believe, shows Michael’s artistic ability – a strong face with a lot of character and humanity.

Now, as whimsical minimalist: Bronze cast concepts, 100 to 110mm diameter which are just simple messages, reduction almost absurdum.

Gossip, 1995 is self-explanatory (I called it rumours before hearing what Michael had called it),

2002 is the same;

rush hour 1996 shows the individual caught in the mass of humanity.

Difference of opinion
is also self explanatory and

consensus 1994 is a lovely novel depiction of the same point of view.

For Artistic we have:-

The Trumpeter  is perhaps a small misnomer but one of Michael’s favourite creations and the

serpent is ideally suited to the medium.

The courting set, struck, silver, 50mm, was produced by the Royal Australian Mint and seems to me to show the stages of infatuation, otherwise known as attraction or hormones, through dancing, a gift of serious flowers, a tiff, a gift of more serious jewelry to a kiss, an expression of real affection. The reverse shows Michael’s whimsical humour again –

the apple, bitten both sides.

The tiger (or lioness) in the grass  is a comment on natural camouflage.

Finally as an affinity with Andor’s work
15th station of the cross.
This last piece by Michael shows his ability to fit in with his father’s style in making the final station of the cross. The resurrection was done at the instigation of the Priory School in Adelaide (1981) when they bought a set (7 inches (17.7cm))  of Andor’s 14 stations of the cross. Michael says that theological thinking had moved on to include the resurrection as a Station. He has also made the point that the number of Stations has varied between 6 to 39 over the centuries.

Michael’s comment on this medal was – “my idea was that the main purpose of the resurrection was to remove the fear of death, which was often pretty awful in those days. I have shown a deliberately awful corpse draped around the bottom of the circle, with Christ rising above this awfulness.”


The Art of the Medal by Mark Jones

Journal of the numismatic Association of Australia Vol 2

Andor Meszaros by Tihamer Wachtel

Personal Communications


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29th May 2012