R.M.S. Titanic and R.M.S. Carpathia, Smith and Rostron, Villan and Hero
March 28, 2012
With every disaster there are inquiries and finger pointing. Sometime even some good comes from it, such as the International Ice Patrol, emergency prepardness training, safety features and use of new technologies of the day such as wireless communication.
But by far, the lore of events at sea rests heavily on the decisions of the captain of the ship. White Star Line’s Edward J. Smith had a life at sea and was given command of the R.M.S. Titanic for was was expected to be one last round trip as a perk upon his forcoming retirement. As he died on that faithful evening, we will never know his side of the story.
Until this year, personalities have not been honored on coins (there is now a set with color appliques featuring stars from the blockbuster 1997 movie). So we must turn to the art of the medal which honor the captains in sculptural format.
In 1980 Allen Sloan of Gloucester, Mass. honored Smith with a very limited edition portrait medal (in the 1979-80 era, Sloan also designed and had cast medals depicting Einstein and von Zeppelin among several others). Sloan’s meda is bronze with a dark patina, and was cast at the C.A. Brown art foundry of Cranston R.I. (Mr. Sloan currently specializes in landscape paintings with a golf theme, and does very nice work.) The rendering of Smith’s portrait on the obverse and the Titanic on the reverse are done in a very straightforward style. The reverse highlights the ship, with just a hint of the impending disaster to come, and does not dramatize the sinking.
Captain Arthur Rostron of the Cunard Line’s R.M.S. Carpathia was well respected and was thrust into the part of the hero by proximity. The Carpathia was a night out from New York on a trip to the Mediterranean, and about 60 miles from the Titanic, arriving early in the morning to retrive passengers in lifeboats. Among those saved was Margaret “Molly” Brown of Denver, and soon after the event organized several honors for Roston and the Carpathia’s crew, among which were a silver loving cup for the Captain, and medals in gold (senior officers), silver (junior officers) and bronze (crew) (A silver example is the the collection of the American Numismatic Society, and several have been offered in the past several years via auction, the illustrated example is from a Bonham’s sale). Although fewer than 350 were made, they do appear on the market regularly.
A little known medal was privately done by Theodore Spicer-Simpson. It is a bronze uniface, with a handsome profile to the right. This is by far the scarcest of all the medals, I could not even find my scan of it (I ruthlessly sold my example during the movie craze of 1997).
The highest award was a Congressional gold medal. Designed by John Flanagan (later known for the design of the Washington Quarter of 1932), Struck at the U.S. Mint with dies cut by the Medallic Art Company. Rostron was presented a gold example. Unlike many U.S. Mint medals, examples were not sold to the public, however, bronze uniface and two-sided examples exisit. This image is from the Medallic Art Company.
The reverse has an artistic and heroic representation of lifesaving at sea. One partial rescue boat and one to be rescued, sculptured as classical male nudes, and with just a hint of the iceburg in the background. Certainly done to evoke the horor of the event and an action dramatized by accounts, although not one witnessed directly by Rostron. Would the medal have had the same effect if the participants were in evening clothes and wearing life vests? Certainly not.
Roston went on to a full life in the servce of the Cunard Company, retiring as Commodore of the line in 1931. In 1919 he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He died in 1940 at the age of 71.
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