William A. Speck collection of Goetheana : medals and medallions
Scope and Contents
The William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: Medals and Medallions consists of 178 medals, coins, medallions, and reliefs depicting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and other figures, mostly literary. By date, the pieces range from 1740 (a Gutenberg medal commemorating the tercentennial of the invention of printing) to 1934. The earliest Goethe items are the circa 1775 tin medal by Boltschauser and the 1808 medallion modeled by the painter Gerhard Kügelgen (1772-1820). The medals and medallions tend to cluster around anniversary dates: Goethe’s centenary in 1849 and his subsequent birth and death anniversaries in 1899 and 1932. Several Schiller medals commemorate the centenary of his birth in 1859 and the hundredth anniversary of his death in 1905.
This collection was featured in the lead article, with a supplemental loose plate, in the second issue of The Yale University Library Gazette (I:2, October 1926). In this essay, entitled “The Goethe Medals and Medallions in Yale University Library,” Speck states that the collection includes all but one of the Goethe medals modeled from life. He then tells the story of one of the rarest items in the collection, the discarded jubilee medal of 1826. The Swiss medalist Henri François Brandt (1789-1845), who spent most of his professional life in Berlin, was commissioned by Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar to create a medal commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Goethe’s residency in Weimar. The obverse showed Goethe in profile, the reverse Carl August and his wife Luise. But the duke was dissatisfied with this first strike, disliking his own portrait and the horn-like curls the artist gave to Luise. A new medal was made, in which the offending curls were deleted and Goethe became slimmer. Both versions are included in the collection.
The collection contents list notes the depictions on the obverse/reverse of each item, the material from which it is made, the creator of the medal, and any notes.
- Speck, William A. (William Alfred), 1864-1928 (Collector)
Language of Materials
Chiefly in German; some materials in English.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
The William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: Medals and Medallions is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Acquired at various times and from various sources.
Organized into five series: I. Medals and Reliefs Depicting Goethe. II. Medals and Reliefs Depicting Schiller. III. Medals and Reliefs Depicting other figures. IV. Larger Medallions and Reliefs. V. Similar Objects Made of Non-metallic Materials.
6 Linear Feet (23 boxes)
The William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: Medals and Medallions consists of 178 medals, coins, medallions, and reliefs depicting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and other figures, mostly literary. By date, the pieces range from 1740 (a Gutenberg medal commemorating the tercentennial of the invention of printing) to 1934. The earliest Goethe items are a circa 1775 tin medal by Boltschauser and an 1808 medallion modeled by the painter Gerhard Kügelgen (1772-1820). Many medals and medallions date from anniversaries, especially from Goethe's centenary in 1849 and his subsequent birth and death anniversaries in 1899 and 1932. Several Schiller medals commemorate the centenary of his birth in 1859 and the hundredth anniversary of his death in 1905.
William A. Speck (1864-1928)
William A. Speck, the son of German immigrants, was born in New York City in 1864. A pharmacist by profession, he amassed the largest Goethe collection outside of Germany. In 1913, he and his collection came from Haverstraw, New York to Yale, where he served as curator of the Speck Collection until his death in 1928. For further biographical information on William A. Speck and a general history and description of the Speck Collection, see the finding aid for the William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: Manuscripts (YCGL MSS 6).
Commemorative medals and medallions featuring images of Goethe and Schiller were one of the earliest collecting interests of William A. Speck, founder and first curator of the Speck Collection of Goetheana. Correspondence preserved in Speck’s papers indicate that he was purchasing Goethe coins and medals as early as 1890 from dealers in Germany and the United States, among them Adolf E.Cahn and L.& L. Hamburger, both in Frankfurt a.M.; Carl Wiebe in Hamburg; and in New York City, Edward Frossard. When the Speck Collection was acquired by Yale in 1913, the university’s press release noted that it included a “practically complete collection of medals struck in his [Goethe’s] honor.”
Some sixty items from the collection were on public display when the Speck Collection occupied room 226 in Sterling Memorial Library. When the Yale Collection of German Literature (which embraces the Speck Collection) was moved to the Beinecke Library in 1963, the exhibited medals were reunited with the rest of the collection. With the exception of the larger items, the medals were kept in individual 6.5-inch envelopes with typed information on the front. They were also cataloged on cards, but no code or numbering system links the objects with the catalog cards. Both the typed envelopes and the catalog cards were clearly projects of the early decades of the Speck Collection’s history at Yale. They certainly were not added to or altered after the move to the Beinecke; in all likelihood they were products of the 1920s and 1930s. The identification of the items and description in this finding aid is based on the cards and the annotations on the envelopes. The envelope numbers and numbers previously used to identify larger items (L-# and X-#) are included in the listing below, and the original envelopes and catalog cards are included in the collection.
- Authors -- Germany -- 18th century
- Authors -- Germany -- 19th century
- Authors, German
- Coins (money)
- German literature -- 18th century
- German literature -- 19th century
- Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1749-1832
- Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1749-1832 -- Portraits
- Medallions (medals)
- Plaques (flat objects)
- Reliefs (sculptures)
- Schiller, Friedrich, 1759-1805
- Schiller, Friedrich, 1759-1805 -- Portraits
- Speck, William A. (William Alfred), 1864-1928
- Guide to the William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana: Medals and Medallions
- by Christa Sammons
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
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