In Memoriam of McKinley—Medal Honors Third Slain U.S. President

The centerpiece of medals devoted to the 1907 dedication of slain President William McKinley’s mausoleum is a two-inch silver-plated bronze piece depicting McKinley on the obverse.

The reverse of the two-inch silver-plated bronze McKinley medal depicts the McKinley Memorial (Photos: Gerald Tebben)

By Gerald Tebben

A shocked nation was reeling in 1901. For the third time in 35 years, an assassin had taken the life of an American president. This time a nut job with a handgun had turned a New York celebration into a national tragedy.

Inventor Thomas Edison’s cameras recorded William McKinley’s visit to the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo and the funeral in Canton, Ohio. The films played across the country in the weeks after the killing and even today can be viewed online at will.

After McKinley’s death, the nation wanted keepsakes, and the Bureau of the Mint and private enterprise obliged. In 1903, the Mint placed McKinley’s portrait on the obverse of a commemorative gold dollar struck for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

With a price tag of $3, sales of the gold coin were slow, and fewer than 17,500 were distributed.

In 1916 and 1917, the Mint again struck McKinley dollars, this time to raise funds to build the McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, Ohio. McKinley is portrayed on the obverse and the memorial building is shown on the reverse. Approximately 10,000 coins were distributed, once again at $3 each.

Another Memorial and Medals
McKinley’s body was temporarily interred at Canton, Ohio’s, Westlawn Cemetery until a suitable mausoleum, the McKinley National Memorial, could be built in the same community. George Bruce Cortelyou, who was secretary of the Treasury during the Panic of 1907, headed the committee that built McKinley’s final resting place. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the tomb’s dedication on Sept. 30, 1907. James Whitcomb Riley wrote a poem for the event.

Collectors know the event today mainly through a series of medals, watch fobs and badges produced by Whitehead and Hoag, a privately operated mint. The centerpiece is a 2-inch silver-plated bronze medal showing the bust of McKinley on the obverse and the mausoleum on the reverse. The medal was designed by the committee’s assistant secretary, Frederick S. Hartzsell, of Canton. Henry Ryder, of Newark, N.J., engraved the dies.

The Numismatist praised the medal in its October-November, 1907, issue: “A medal, appropriate in design and approaching perfection in mechanical execution, has been issued by the McKinley National Memorial Association to commemorate the dedication of the McKinley Memorial.

“The few not distributed, preceding and during the dedicatory exercises, are offered for sale at fifty cents each.”

While a reported 10,400 medals were struck, the medal seems uncommon today, rarely turning up at coin shows.

Uncirculated pieces are hard to find. Prices tend to run $15 to $25. The medal is an inexpensive and dramatic addition to a collection.

Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.


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