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Thread: 1915 Lusitania Medal

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    Default 1915 Lusitania Medal

    I have been looking around for one of these thats in good condition for ages and won this one on ebay. Normally the boxes are pretty screwed but this one looks great considering its cardboard and coming up on 100 years old !

    It is a British copy of the original German Medal. The story below tells about the sinking and the outrage of Germany releasing the medal with an incorrect date. This incident was one of the major incidents that led to the United States entering the first world war. The photos at the bottom are of the one I bought.

    The Sinking of the Lusitania



    “Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!” shouted British Seaman Leslie Morton.

    It was 2:08 p.m., the afternoon of Friday, May 7, 1915, and the Cunard liner Lusitania was on a course well suited to the firing needs of the German U-boat, U-20. The German captain recorded in his logbook: “Clean bow shot from 700 meters range (G torpedo three meters depth adjustment) cutting angle 90 degrees. Estimated speed 22 sea miles.”

    The torpedo hit the steel skin of the Lusitania at thirty-seven feet per second, ten feet below the waterline, and the power of its explosive charge blasted deep within the bowels of the ship rocking the 32,000 ton vessel. Almost immediately, a second explosion from the volatile coal dust in a depleted bunker dealt the Lusitania another raucous explosion, seemingly equal to the first, but which proved to be the fatal blow.

    The Lusitania carried a variety of cargo that day. Some minor munitions for the British war effort against the Germans, automobile parts, cotton goods, and the precious lives of 1,958 individuals: men, women, children, infants.

    In the next 18 minutes pandemonium and chaos reigned. Flustered with an inexperienced crew, and bewildered by the unexpectedly severe reactions of the wounded liner to the damage, the Captain of the Lusitania tried vainly to head for the shore, 13 miles away, so that he could perhaps beach the vessel and save the lives of his crew and passengers. At the end of 18 minutes the only sounds remaining of the conflagration and confusion were the whimpering sounds of the dying and the choked thrashing of the drowning. The great ship had disappeared beneath the surface to its final resting place some 300 feet below the frothing surface, deep down in the cold and dark resting on the ocean floor. Above, crates, deck chairs, flotsam, and bodies, both those quiet in death as well as those struggling yet to live, crowded the surface and continued a slow spreading circle of death and destruction.

    Only a few were lucky enough to make it on to one of the launched life boats. Those who ended up in the water and survived were fewer still. The final tally of the dead would total 1,201 souls, up to that time the greatest sea tragedy ever, and one that would turn what sympathy the German nation enjoyed among neutral lands into universal condemnation.


    Karl Goetz

    This German medalist and sculptor was best known for his satirical medals created during and shortly after the conclusion of World War I. Born in Augsburg, Germany, he studied art in that city under master Johannes Dominal and continued his education and training in Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin, and Düsseldorf until 1897. After spending the subsequent two years in the Netherlands, and after that Paris for five years, he finally settled in Munich where he spent the rest of his life. Karl Goetz was a busy man, enjoying active membership in the Munich's Artist Society, The Numismatic Society, The Ancient Club of Munich, and the Artisan Society for Numismatics in Vienna. Karl Goetz also extended his sculpting and medalist abilities in the creation of pattern coins for the German Empire and the Weimar Republic.

    By the later 1940s, Goetz struggled to continue working as he dealt with increasing paralysis in his right hand caused by a stroke. By the time of his death at the age of seventy-five his entire right side was paralyzed.

    Writer Gunter W. Kienast (The Medals of Karl Goetz [1967, reprinted 1980], and later Goetz II: a supplement to The Medals of Karl Goetz [1986]) chronicled some 784 different medallic works of Karl Goetz, including 175 with satirical themes. Many of the non-satirical medals were created as commemoratives of significant events in his personal life or the lives of his friends and acquaintances, or to commemorate the birth or life of a famous personage.

    Goetz received many awards and recognitions during his lifetime, including the Silver State Medal at Nuremburg (1906), the State Medal at Gent (1913), and posthumously, the Silver State Medal of the World Exposition in Madrid in 1951.


    The Lusitania

    The keel for the great ship was laid in May, 1905 in Clydebank, Glasgow. A bit over twelve months later it was completed and launched on June 7, 1906.

    Lusitania was 785 feet long and 88 feet wide with a displacement of 31,550 tons. The great ship was driven by four steam turbines generating what at that time was an impressive total of 68,000 horsepower capable of speeding this greyhound of the seas to over 26 knots. In 1907 the Lusitania retook the coveted Blue Ribaud (Blue Ribbon), the trophy held by the fastest ship in the Atlantic, and flaunted by the Germans for the previous decade. For the next eight years the Lusitania undertook regular and profitable service ferrying passengers and freight across the Atlantic.


    The Great War Begins

    In 1914 Europe was a powder keg of ambitious nobility, nationalistic hostility, mixed alliances and escalating crises. The flash point was realized on June 28, when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the Austria-Hungarian noble, Archduke Francis Ferdinand.

    A month later Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, followed a day later by Russia’s mobilization in support of Serbia which immediately pulled France into the conflict. The German response was to attack France by going through neutral Belgium, and act which prompted England’s entrance into the fray. The fragile peace enjoyed in Europe collapsed like a house of cards. The Great War had begun.


    Naval Chess Moves

    The ground war, which the Germans had confidently predicted would last days or at most weeks, slowly devolved into stalemated trench warfare with huge numbers of casualties. For the next three years neither side advanced more than a few miles either side of the established line of trenches that would become known as The Western Front.

    One of Britain’s strategies was to play on her navy’s strength and impose a blockade of the North Sea, thereby starving Germany of food imports and materials and leaving no way to export German goods. The Germans complained to the world of what was actually an illegal blockade by the British, but to no effect.

    The German response to the British blockade was to declare a naval war zone around the British isles, and to develop the use of the submarine as an offensive weapon. The submarine had not been extensively used before this, and it played havoc with what were considered the established rules of war.

    The infamy of submarine warfare reached an early pinnacle with the sinking of the Lusitania along with 1,201 passengers and crew. The allies howled about the murderous callousness of the act, and the Germans responded with a growl of defensive righteous anger of their own. And one of those German citizens was Karl Goetz.


    The First Goetz Medal

    Karl Goetz must have been stewing in heated indignation as he sat sipping his coffee and reading his morning paper. The impertinent British had the arrogance to put innocent lives on board what he understood to be a military transport, with their hope that the barrier of guiltless souls would prevent the German navy from sinking the ship with its cargo of munitions destined for the deaths of noble Germans fighting for the Vaterland. Imagine Goetz as he repeats the parade of righteous anger over and over in his mind. An image forms of a medal, another satirical spear with which to jab the inflated British ego and to expose them for the hypocritical and heartless money-grubbers they were. Eventually his mental picture took form within his hands. Busy in his workshop he carefully sculpted the piece.

    Unfortunately for Karl Goetz and the German propaganda machinery, he put the wrong date of sinking on the medal, an error he later attributed to an error in the newspaper account he had read. By mistake, instead of the correct date of May 7, Karl put on his medal the date of May 5, a full two days before the actual sinking. Without realizing his error Karl began to make copies of the satirical medal and to sell them on the streets of Munich and to the select numismatic dealers with whom he regularly dealt. The date error probably didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time.


    The British Copy

    The British quickly recognized and seized the propaganda windfall Goetz’ medal provided. They raced to produce their own copies of Goetz’ medal and accompanied it with a propaganda pamphlet which strongly and slantedly denounced the Germans, and accused them of premeditated wholesale murder. The British copies are of a poorer quality and were produced in iron by die casting. The British copies can be distinguished by their poor looks alone, and also by their anglicized spelling of the German “Mai” as “May”, though not all of them are so made.

    The Second Goetz Medal

    Seeing the world’s abhorrent response to the tragedy, and finding the British joyfully compounding this reaction with their inflammatory copy of the medal along with its literature, Karl Goetz set about to correct his mistake by producing a second version of the medal with the proper date of “7 Mai.”

    The Pennsylvania Copy

    The British weren’t the only ones with strong feelings regarding the German ethics involved with the tragedy. Among a hoard of others were two men in the United States, Gustav Sandstrom and Clarence Mahood of Warren County, Pennsylvania.

    Sandstrom and Mahood created their own copy of the medal and sold it along with their own version of the box and propaganda leaflet similar to the British. With several obvious differences in appearance, they sold along with the box and leaflet for fifty cents apiece, three for a dollar, or a dozen for three dollars.

    Today these pieces are fairly scarce and command a nice premium among knowledgeable collectors over the common British copies. The Sandstrom and Mahood pieces are easily distinguished by the style of lettering and die engraving, and most obviously by the rather goofy grinning pumpkin head of a skeleton.


    Other Copies

    In the 1970’s, Guido Goetz, Karl’s son and heir to his medals cabinet, authorized a Japanese firm to produce reproductions of many of Karl Goetz’ more popular medals, among them the Lusitania medal. Fortunately, these authorized reproductions are distinguishable in a number of ways, most noticeably with a visible difference in quality as they are actually more finely finished than even Karl’s genuine pieces. Cheaply offered in the past, the Japanese copies are, like the Sandstrom and Mahood copies, fairly scarce and command a premium.

    In addition, there are currently at least two sources that dabble in producing and marketing copies of the medal. They also have distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from the other varieties.

    Finally, because of the medal’s popularity it has been frequently counterfeited. These are usually cheaply done copies that appear to have been produced perhaps in a high school metals class or a similar lark. Sometimes appearing in lead, other times in pewter or other alloys, most of these are extremely crude and instantly recognizable as cheap imitations.


    Attribution

    The techniques used to tell apart the different varieties of the medal include visual appearance and casting quality, magnetic properties, edge marking, presence and type of patination, weight, specific gravity (alloy density), lettering distance from the edge, presence of German umlauts (the little dots over certain alphabetic characters such as in “gerschäft über”), and a few others. Aside from visible characteristics, specific gravity determinations are the most reliable means of attribution.

    Related Ephemera

    The British and Pennsylvania copies both come with their respective boxes, and there are several varieties of the propaganda pamphlets for each.

    The British pamphlet is very scarce in the German, French and Spanish language versions, and at least the English language version comes both with and without the legend at the top that states, “Do not destroy this...When you have read it carefully through kindly pass it on to a friend.”








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    Closer view of writing on propanga sheet and inside box lid.





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