Summary

Australia
International Exhibition Bronze Prize Medal, 1888 (AD)
Mint: Melbourne
Other Details: An unissued specimen bronze prize medal of the Centennial International Exhibition featuring a bust of Queen Victoria facing left wearing crown and veil and a Victor's wreath of wattle and oak around the Southern Cross and the motto in Latin "To the deserving arts, distinguished honour". These medals were struck at the Melbourne Mint, this example was retained for their reference collection. The 1888 Centennial International Exhibition, celebrating a century of Australian settlement, surpassed even the grand scale of the1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. It attracted over two million people, but the Victorian government had to spend £250 000 on it, ten times the amount estimated. The exhibition had a distinctively imperial focus, and a greater emphasis on culture than in 1880, particularly on music and painting. A choir of five thousand sang music old and new, and half a million people attended symphony concerts. There were over three thousand paintings on display, including works by artists like J.M.W. Turner and C. Lutyens. The Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens was lit inside and out by electric lights, claimed to be the largest installation of arc lighting in the world.

Physical Description

The bronze medal of the Centennial International Exhibition featuring a bust of Queen Victoria facing left wearing crown and veil and a Victor's wreath of wattle and oak around the Southern Cross and the motto in Latin "To the deserving arts, distinguished honour"

Obverse Description

Bust of Queen Victoria facing left wearing crown and veil ; around, CENTENNIAL INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION MELBOURNE

Reverse Description

Around below wreath, MELBOURNE MINT MDCCCLXXXVIII STOKES AND MARTIN SC. within wreath around Southern Cross, ARTIBUS DIGNUS HONOR INSIGNIS

Edge Description

Plain

Significance

On 28 May 1888 the Executive Commissioners for the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition advertised a competition for the design of a medal and certificate to be given to exhibition prize-winners. A payment of 100 guineas would be given to the winner in each category. The medal designs were to be modelled in relief, and the designs for the certificate to be drawn in Indian ink. The medal was to show the Queen's head in profile on the obverse, and a 'suitable design' on the reverse. Nineteen designs for the medal were received, and 52 designs for the certificate. A sub-committee from the Fine Arts Committee was appointed to select the winners, and on 18 Jaunary Ernst A. Altmann, a Melbourne die-sinker and engraver, was selected as the winner of the medal design and Mrs Mary Stoddard the winner of the certificate design.

The Royal Mint was asked to strike the medal, but Deputy Master George Anderson reported that some of the relief was almost undercut, requiring unusual pressure, and was not feasible. This had hapenned to Altmann before, when his winning medal design for the 1880 exhibition was also rejected. Altmann was too unwell to re-work his design, so George Anderson was asked to both design and execute the medal. The dies were to be engraved by Stokes & Martin. Anderson set to work, and produced a medal that featured the Queen's head on the obverse, based on the Jubilee medal by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, except that the crown had been replaced by a 'more firmly seated one which is seen inthe New Zealand war medal'. On the reverse he provided a wreath composed of the leaves and acorns of British oak and the leaves and acorns of the wattle. The oak and wattle were tied together 'by a true-lover's knot, 'symbolizing the unity and affection between the mother country and the colony'. The motto 'Artibus dignis, honor insignis' - meaning 'to the deserving arts, distinguished honour' - was placed within the wreath, encircling the Southern Cross.

The medals were minted in gold, silver and bronze, in 1-1/2", 2" and 3" in diameter respectively. The first medal was presented to Governor Sir H. B. Loch on the day of his departure from Victoria, on 15 November 1889, 10 months after the close of the Exhibition.

Exhibitions in Melbourne became a regular occurrence from the middle of the nineteenth century, becoming grander and larger each time. The 1888 Centennial International Exhibition, celebrating a century of Australian settlement, surpassed even the grand scale of the1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. It had more British and imperial resonance. It attracted over two million people, but the Victorian government had to spend £250 000 on it, ten times the amount estimated. The sum seemed absurd after the economic boom came to an end in 1889. There was a greater emphasis on culture than in 1880, particularly on music and painting. A choir of five thousand sang music old and new, and half a million people attended symphony concerts. There were over three thousand paintings on display, including works by artists like J.M.W. Turner, C. Lutyens and Frederic Leighton. The building was lit inside and out by electric lights, claimed to be the largest installation of arc lighting in the world. -REB World Heritage Nomination, Environment Australia, 2002; Official Record of the Centennial International Exhibition. -D. Tout-Smith 23/10/2003.

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