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

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Title: Star of Fortune Medal, George Valentine Massey Medal
Date: 1893
Medium: Gold (22 karat)
Dimensions: 2 1/2 inches (6.4 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Miller
Object Number: 96.041.002
This is a round gold medal, designed by Elihu Vedder for Gorham Company and presented to George Valentine Massey for his service in the administration of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

This medal was made by the Gorham Company in Providence, Rhode Island.

Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) was a painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist, and writer. Born in New York City, Vedder studied art under T.H. Matthison in Sherburne, New York and in Paris at the atelier of Picot. He also studied in Italy, traveling to Florence and Rome before returning to New York City in 1861 where he made sketches for Vanity Fair magazine. He returned to Paris and then settled in Rome in 1867. He received many commissions for his designs including a number from Louis Comfort Tiffany for glassware, mosaics, and statuettes.

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). In the case of this medal, only the obverse was struck. The back was left blank to be engraved individually for each recipient.

This medal was designed by Vedder to commemorate the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Individual medals were presented to artists and architects at the opening ceremonies of the Fair, each one with a unique reverse. On the reverse of this medal is engraved: "To/ George Valentine Massey/ with gratitude for wise counsel/ and eminent service/ in the administration of the/ Worlds Columbian Exposition/ Chicago 1893/ and as a token of the/ friendship and esteem of its/ President/ Harlow N. Higinbotham."

Looking at the front of the medal you see Fortune seated on a fantastical rail car that is fitted with wings. Wings often appear in images of Fortune. Clouds or smoke billow from the wheels and fill the air behind the figure. Notice the large cornucopia she holds in one hand, spilling coins. The cornucopia is often featured on representations of Fortune. In the other raised hand she holds a palm frond and a veil that flows behind her, surrounding her body. The railcar is gliding into the rising (or setting) sun, seen just above the ripples of a calm sea seen behind the figure.

To see another representation of Fortune in the Museum’s collection, search for object number 60.143 in the keyword search box.

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.