The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 26, July 1, 2007, Article 7


Regarding the Laura Gardin Fraser 'Better Babies' medal, Dick Johnson
writes: "It was stuck by Medallic Art Company in 1913 and carries the
catalog number 13-5 in MAco archives. The inquirer had only to look at
the edge of the medal to find the Medallic Art name. It did not come
from a 'foundry', of course - it was not cast, but struck in bronze
in two sizes: 2-inch (51mm) and 1 5/16-inch (33mm).

"The medal was sponsored by Woman's Home Companion magazine (they paid
for it and their name is on the reverse).  However, it was prepared for
a quasi-governmental U.S. organization (which generally do not patent
or copyright their products).  This is one of the few medals that was
issued such protection -- Design Patent D46,399 issued 15 September 1914.

"The application was filed by Laura Gardin Fraser herself, who,
undoubtedly, had a hunch this could have been an important creation
that deserved protection. (She took this precaution inspired by husband
James Earle Fraser's experience, who, early on, had several of his
creations commercialized by others where he earned no royalty.)

"The American Numismatic Society has two of these medals in their
collections.  Anyone can go to their website and find this medal
described by clicking on 'collections' and entering the name Better
Babies. Or click on these URLs:

ANS Better Babies medal image
ANS Better Babies medal image

"The medal was exhibited the year it was created at the National Academy
of Design in New York City. It was item #51 in their Winter 1913 exhibition.

It was illustrated in a catalog of a National Sculpture Society exhibit,
also in New York City, in 1923 (page 298).

"It has been widely illustrated, appeared in articles and cataloged
several times. It is Baxter (Beaux-Art Medals) 355, it appears twice
in Storrer (Medical Medals) 4384 and 5624. It was reported and
illustrated in 'Medal In America,' edited by Alan Stahl (1988) page 212.

"While the medal is not common, an example does come on the medal market
every year or so. As for value, I sold one once in one of my auctions,
but Joe Levine has sold them at least a dozen times, the latest of which
was in his auction 73 in 2005 (lot 664) where it brought $143.75.

"You might also hear from Fred L. Reed in answer to this E-Sylum appeal.
Fred has done some fantastic research on the Frasers' medallic work and
can undoubtedly add something interesting."

[According to our next submission, at least one example struck in
gold exists. -Editor]

Harry Waterson and Donald Scarinci forwarded information from Joe Levine
sales of the medal.  Harry writes: "This medal is known in two varieties,
34mm in Gold and 51mm in Bronze. The one Gold example was sold by Joe
Levine in Presidential Coin and Antiques Auction #69 Lot 384. It sold
for $759. The medal is signed Laura Gardin, Sculptor. In the auction
catalogue, Joe Levine wrote:

'This medal was executed in 1913 just before Ms. Gardin married James
Earle Fraser and changed the signature on her medals. Elaine Leotti,
in her paper, 'The American Woman Medalist', comments as follows:
"Fraser's Better Babies Medal done in 1913 for the Woman's Home Companion
is her only piece which can truly be called feminine. It is a well
balanced medal, nicely executed if a bit on the sentimental side. The
babies' bare flesh is soft, almost palpable, their curls and dimpled
elbows invite touch, thus appealing to exactly the audience the medal
was meant to impress.'

"The bronze version of this medal is fairly common. I have tracked it
since 1999 and Levine has sold 5 examples and 8 examples have sold on
eBay to date. The average price has been $166, although the eBay prices
have almost all been below the average. One medal was unawarded and
only two were awarded to males.  The bronze medals are edgemarked
Crowell Pub. Co. and they are all edge dated starting in 1912, with
the bulk dated 1913 and two dated 1916. The Gold medal is dated 1913
on the edge and 1922 in the cartouche. I would conclude that the medal
was in active use for about 10 years ending in the mid twenties and
that there are probably hundreds of bronze examples extant.

"It was in the mid twenties that these Better Babies Contests were
transformed into Fitter Families for Future Firesides competitions
under the auspices of the American Eugenics Society and took on a
more racist overtone. It was no longer just looking for "A sound mind
in a sound body"   I refer you to a paper by Steven Selden which
chronicles this change.  And you can track this change obverse to
obverse because in 1927 Julio Kilenyi did a Fitter Families Medal
which is illustrated in Selden's paper."

To read the Steven Selden paper on the American Eugenics Movement, see:
Full Story

Harry also forwarded a link to a picture of Laura Gardin working on
the obverse of her Better Babies Medal:
picture of Laura Gardin

Roger deWardt Lane of Hollywood, Florida writes: "I was intrigued by
the reference to the Better Babies Medal.   I had once written about
a Better Babies medal that I found at a flea market three or four years
ago, I and dug around to find the article. Then I went back to The
E-Sylum to read the information you had and was very surprised to see
that it is not the same medal."

[Roger's medal is a Better Babies Contest medal from 1931, and it's
a product of Whitehead & Hoag, not Medallic Art.  It is NOT Fraser's
design.  Roger describes it as "BETTER BABIES CONTEST - Conferred By -
THE INDIANAPOLIS NEWS, around a chubby baby. The other side - INDIANA
STATE FAIR - INDIANA - SEPTEMBER 1931, around center figures of a ball
player and a buffalo. In very small letters, below - W & H Co. Newark,

To read Roger's article: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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