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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: World Unity Or Oblivion, Society of Medallists 32nd Issue
Date: 1945
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions: 2 7/8 inches (7.3 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Janet Marqusee, Class of 1952, and John E. Marqusee, Class of 1951, for the Frank and Rosa Rhodes Collection
Object Number: 94.007.147
This medal, issued the same year that the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, depicts two scenarios for the future of the world, unity or oblivion.

This medal was made by the Medallic Art Company, located in New York.

Berthold Nebel was a medalist and sculptor born in Switzerland. His family came to the United States in 1900 and settled in New Jersey. Nebel studied sculpture at the National Academy of Design and the Mechanics Institute, and attended James Earle Fraser’s classes at the Art Students League in New York City. Nebel won the Prix de Rome in 1914 where his studies abroad coincided with the beginning of World War I. Nebel remained in Italy and later became a supply officer and interpreter for the Red Cross. He married Maria Lucantoni, a model he met at the American Academy. He returned to the United States in 1920 to lead a successful career as an artist.

Medallic art is a type of small-scale sculpture. The tradition of making medals is rooted in the portrait medal tradition that became popular in the Renaissance. The process of striking medals began in the 17th century when it surpassed the older method of casting. Striking is a method where a metal die (with a design in relief) is essentially stamped, with great force, onto a blank piece of metal. This technique can rapidly produce multiple copies. The invention of the engraving machine for die sinking and casting in the 19th century allowed artists to concentrate on medal designs rather than the actual engraving and cutting of the die. The pantograph machine allowed artists to render medals in a larger size in wax, clay or plaster before reducing and engraving them later mechanically. Two dies are made for each medal, one for each side (unless the medal has only one side.)

This medal was issued by the Society of Medalists. The Society of Medalists was established in 1930 to encourage the medallic work of well-known sculptors, and to make their creations available to the public. The society produced limited editions of medals twice a year from 1930 to 1995. These medals were sent to their members, who paid an annual subscription fee to the Society. Medals often reflected themes or important events of the time.

Notice the two soldiers on the obverse (front) of the medal. The one seated on the floor and leaning on a makeshift pillow is wounded, his head bandaged. A second soldier, still wearing his helmet, kneels down and tenderly supports the wounded soldier behind the neck while he offers him a bowl of something to drink or eat. Notice how the wounded soldier grasps the other soldier on the arm. The reverse of the medal features the image of a large mushroom cloud or atomic blast and the aftermath it leaves. Smoke is seen billowing in the air while dirt and debris rocket to the sky. The ground appears completely empty, yet if you look closely you will see that it is in fact a sea of corpses piled one on top of the other. Along the horizon line the inscription ominously reads, "WORLD UNITY OR OBLIVION."

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.