Swedish Patriotic Society, Oscar II issue (post 1872), silver medal, extremely fine; ex J. Coolidge Hills Collection. The American Numismatic
Orders, Decorations and War Medals
A history by Geoffrey Giglierano
"At the meeting on Saturday I gave a sort of a brief history of the Society's collection of
decorations, war medals &c, and as it would be impossible to give a history of the collection
without mentioning the name of a certain man by the name of Saltus quite frequently…and there
were various things said regarding the fact that he was the donor of nearly all the collection."
--letter from Bauman Belden to John Sanford Saltus, December 21, 1914.
Over time, historical societies and museums gradually change their collecting and exhibition priorities. It is the rare
institution that does not, at some point, re-evaluate what it will accept and what it will retain for its collections. And to a
great extent, it is the interests and energies of a few individuals within the organization that drive that process. This
certainly was the case with the American Numismatic Society with regard to its collection of orders, decorations and war
medals, which was created and developed largely through the efforts of a few officers and members of the Society,
particularly John Sanford Saltus (1853-1922).
Saltus first became a member of the ANS in 1892, and in 1893 he made his first donations of coins to the Society's
collections. While his donations of coins were numerous, he soon showed an even greater interest in building the Society's
collection of medals. By the time of his death in 1922, Saltus had given the ANS 1,705 coins, but by comparison, his
donations of medals, decorations and orders totalled 3,336. In a relatively short time, the Society had assembled a
significant array of medals and decorations.
Previous to Saltus' involvement, a modest level of collecting of orders and decorations had been initiated with the
encouragement of ANS officials such as Daniel Parish Jr., the president of the Society from 1883 to 1896. A major boost
for the medal collection, however, came in 1900 when the Society had the opportunity to send a display to the Paris
Exposition. The Society's Secretary, Bauman Belden, aggressively promoted the project. Despite the misgivings of some
members and officers, the Society went ahead and did the display, which was very well received. A grouping of insignia,
badges and medals from the U.S. military and a variety of American fraternal and social organizations proved to be an
especially popular element of the ANS presentation at the Paris Exposition. Encouraged by this success, the Society's
leadership decided to create a committee on insignia, which eventually evolved into the ANS Committee on Decorations,
Insignia and War Medals.
Throughout the course of its existence, this group included some of the Society's most dedicated members, such as Stephen
H.P. Pell. Pell, who had the distinction of receiving a Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur for his actions as a
volunteer with the ambulances of the American Field Service in WWI, as well as being named honorary President for Life
of the ANS, participated on this committee from 1908 to 1933. But almost from the committee's inception, two of its most
enthusiastic members were Belden and Saltus. They formed a dynamic team, with Saltus searching out interesting
specimens on his travels around the country and to Europe, and Belden regularly scouring the sales and dealers' shops in
New York. When funds were required for an acquisition, Saltus was extremely accommodating. Their correspondence
from this period is, in large part, discussions about the locating and purchasing of various pieces, as when Saltus wrote to
Belden on Dec. 31, 1905:
"I think we ought to have a badge, ribbon and button of the 'Military Order of the Carabao.' If you can get one, do so, let me
know how much it costs (if it has to be paid for) and I will give it to the Society."
This particular letter also serves as an indication of how Belden and Saltus applied their wide-ranging interests to expand
the scope of the ANS medals collection. Initially, the Society seemed to focus on collecting standard American military
insignia and decorations. Although it would continue to do so, adding new examples as the uniform regulations changed
and new decorations were issued, Saltus and Belden increasingly did not limit their search to officially-issued material. For
example, the previously mentioned "Military Order of the Carabao" was a thoroughly unofficial organization of U.S. Army
and Navy officers who had served in the Philippines around the turn of the century, and were jealous of their colleagues
who had gone to China during the Boxer Rebellion and received the "Order of the Dragon."
Secretary of the ANS from 1896-1903 and 1905-1916, he was also its first Director (1909-1916)
The ANS Decorations, Insignia and War Medals committee, which by 1914 included Saltus as chairman, and Bauman
Belden and Stephen Pell as committee members, also had moved into collecting historic medals from earlier periods, as
well as many non-American examples. A great deal of their collecting activities was driven by current events and on July
22, 1914 Belden would write to Saltus, who was in France at the time:
"I see by the morning papers that there is a very good prospect of a scrap between Servia (sic) and Austria, with a possibility
of some of us taking a hand, which will, no doubt, bring out a new crop of medals."
As the "scrap" of which Belden spoke developed into WWI, an event that ultimately killed millions of people and shattered
empires, the ANS decorations committee members gradually came to expand their collecting activities to reflect the
unfolding significance of the historic events of those times. In the spring of 1914, they had still been looking primarily
backward, with Saltus asking if they had all examples of U.S. medals "relating to the Spanish War" and Belden informing
him that they did in fact have everything except for the "Sampson medal for Santiago." But by the end of that year, when
Belden was notifying Saltus that he had located a source for the Sampson medals they needed for the collection and was
proceeding with purchasing them, they were also seriously discussing the availability of "imitation iron crosses." By June
1915, Saltus and Belden are reviewing what the Society had and did not have in terms of the "standard" military medals of
both the combatant nations and their neutral neighbors.
One neutral nation of particular interest was of course the United States. The committee actively collected medals
connected with the growth of America's military power and expanding role in international affairs. They pursued badges of
American veterans of foreign wars - such as the campaigns in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and China - and in
August 1915 Belden informed Saltus that he was working on researching a piece on United States war medals for the next
issue of the journal. The result was a very thorough summary with the descriptions and histories of America's medals. He
continually kept Saltus updated through 1915-16 as he made purchases ranging from a Romanian Military Commander's
Cross to a U.S. Army expert rifleman's badge.
By 1916, another individual who figured prominently in the history of the ANS was working with Saltus in building the
decorations and medals collection. Archer M. Huntington (1870-1955) had been President of the ANS from 1905 to 1910
and guided its reorganization during those years. Afterwards, he remained a member of ANS Council until his death, and at
various times when funding was inadequate, he stepped in to underwrite the Society’s operational costs, staff salaries, and
purchases of new acquisitions. In the period 1915-1920, during which the organization experienced some particularly
difficult times and other projects were taking up much of Saltus’ attention, Huntington regularly joined with Saltus in
providing money to obtain desirable examples of medals and orders for the Society (these acquisitions are referred to as the
“Huntington-Saltus donation” in the cataloguing text).
After the United States finally entered the war in 1917, the ANS was presented with the chance to make a contribution to
the national effort, and that contribution was greatly facilitated by the collecting work that Saltus and his committee had
done. On November 23, ANS President Edward Newell wrote to Saltus and Belden:
"An unusual opportunity for service to our country has just come to our society. A campaign has been begun for
establishing valor medals for our Country which shall bear comparison with those of our Allies. Dr. William T. Hornaday,
Director of the Bronx Zoological Park, whom you may know, has taken the initiative, and a request for the help of our
Society has been made. Dr. Hornaday has had considerable experience in securing legislation for the protection of wild
animal life, and is well equipped for directing the steps for securing a proper appeal in Congress…. This appeal comes to us
as a logical organization for supporting the plan. Personally I feel that this is one of the few directions in which we, as a
numismatic Society, can serve our country at this time. A few of our members have already expressed their warm
sympathy for the movement, and we all felt it would bring great credit to the Society if we should take the lead…We have
been asked to prepare reproductions in color of the medals of our Allies for distribution to Congressmen and for an
educational programme in the newspapers. Our members may also be asked to write to their representatives urging
cooperation. Perhaps it may be necessary for a representative of our Society to appear before the Congressional
Committee, in which case we would, of course, have to bear the expense of that representative. For properly conducting the
campaign about $2000 would be required."
Saltus, not surprisingly, donated the funds necessary for this project. The collection he and Belden had built was used in
creating the promotional images for the campaign, and ultimately, President Wilson and Congress did authorize new valor
and service medals for the American military in 1918, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the medal that would
eventually become known as the Silver Star. The usefulness of the ANS decorations collection was further demonstrated in
that last year of the Great War, when three sculptors who had been commissioned to work on designing new medals for the
U.S. Navy came to the Society to study its many examples of both American and foreign awards.
The Society also used the collection to create a popular exhibit of American insignia and decorations at its headquarters.
According to the Society's official history, this exhaustive assemblage of "the distinguishing marks on the uniforms of the
Army and Navy of the United States, including caps, collar ornaments, shoulder straps, chevrons, insignia, badges,
decorations etc., "was useful and instructive not only for the public, but also for "many army and navy personnel who
visited the museum on that occasion." The nation's military was expanding rapidly at that point, and many new recruits
were bewildered by the wide variety of insignia used by the different units and branches of service. The exhibit was quite a
success, contributing to a sizable increase in attendance at the ANS museum in 1918. Almost 13,000 visitors came to the
Society that year, which was approximately double the previous year's total attendance. Once the armistice was signed,
however, the public's interest in military subjects quickly waned, and the exhibit was dismantled a month later.
The end of the war did not end the Society's efforts to continue building its decorations and medals collection, but within a
few years, those efforts would be diminished through the loss of their greatest proponent. John Sanford Saltus died at the
Hotel Metropole in London on June 24, 1922, apparently having poisoned himself by accidentally ingesting some
potassium cyanide he was using to clean antique coins in his hotel room. While colleagues like Baumann Belden had been
important in the growth of the medals collection, Saltus clearly had been the driving force behind the process.
He was the only son in the family that owned Saltus Steel and was well off. His estate was estimated to be worth around
$2,000,000 at his death. It was his generosity as well as his enthusiasm for the subject matter that fueled the building of the
medal and decorations collections. He also had the opportunity to connect with dealers and collectors in many different
locations - following the death of his wife, he spent the last 15 years of his life traveling extensively. His correspondence
with Belden is frequently on the stationery of places such as Le Grand Hotel in Nice, the Hotel Continental in Paris, the
New Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, or the Hotel Telegrafo in Havana. What motivated Saltus to work so hard on the
subject is a matter for conjecture - an article in the New York Times Book Review and Magazine on July 23, 1922,
suggested that Saltus was a "romantic" who was moved to collect orders and medals "…with all their memories of battles
and of courts, of deeds of valor, and of mighty kings."
Yet Saltus also demonstrated an ongoing interest in the everyday insignia and decorations of the American soldiers, sailors
and marines who were on the front line of the United State's transformation into a modern world power in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. He was a patron of the arts who had sponsored the creation and installation of heroic statues of Jeanne
d'Arc on Riverside Drive in New York City and in cities in France, and helped restore the great library at Louvain, among
many other projects that could be interpreted as being the product of a "romantic spirit." But he also had an interest in
modern art and had supported the work of a variety of artists. Regardless of what mixture of ideas and images inspired him,
without his involvement the collecting of medals and decorations was not as high a priority at the ANS after his death.
John Sanford Saltus
Even so, other members, officers and staff at the ANS did continue the process of building the decorations collection. In
the 1920s-1930s, Harold Gillingham, Curator Howland Wood, and Colonel (later General) Dewitt Clinton Falls continued
to expand the collection, acquiring foreign orders when possible, and pursuing new U.S. medals as they became aware of
them. The members of the Decorations Committee, for example, discussed the desirability of acquiring pieces such as a
medal that the Daughters of the Confederacy issued in 1925 for men of "Rebellion Descent" who served in WWI, and
Spanish medals from around the time of the Spanish American War. Additions to the collection, however, were much less
common than they had been in earlier years: in the Report of the Committee on Decorations, Insignia and War Medals
published in 1934, Gillingham noted that "The accessions to your Society's cases during the year 1933 have not been as
numerous or as varied as your committee would have liked; but owning to the peaceful condition of the world, fewer such
awards have been inaugurated, and friends of the Society have not been as generous in their gifts as might be expected,
owing to the financial conditions just past through." Clearly, Saltus' enthusiasm and deep pockets were missed.
There was a certain amount of growth to be sure: Gillingham, who had taken over as Chairman of the Committee on
Decorations and War Medals in 1920, had a special interest in Napoleonic era European orders and donated or obtained a
variety of pieces for the ANS. In addition to serving as ANS Treasurer from 1924 to 1939, and as second VP in the late
1940s, he wrote four monographs on the subject of decorations between 1928 and 1940. Throughout the time of
Gillingham's active involvement, the Society's staff strove to exhibit as much of the medals and decorations collection as it
could, periodically adding more wall and "swing" cases to the east gallery of the museum for the display of the medals. In
these cases, a neat and practical display system was utilized, with each artifact mounted on a black card emblazoned with
gold lettering that identified the piece. These cards were designed to slide into brackets in the flat display cases, and
specimens could be easily changed or added. With this flexibility, the Society could still respond quickly to current events
through its collection, as it did in 1940 when the ANS presented an exhibit of medals and insignia of the French and Polish
forces that faced the German Blitzkrieg.
At the end of WWII and into the early 1950s, the collection experienced some modest but steady growth thanks largely to
the involvement of Major General Edgar Erskine Hume. Hume helped obtain both current materials, such as Soviet
decorations he obtained while in Austria during the occupation, as well as older medals that could be found in the various
places where he was stationed. Hume's interest in medals and decorations seems to have grown out of his own personal
experiences and background: trained as a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, he served as a U.S. Army doctor on the
Italian front in WWI. His subsequent posts included American Red Cross Commissioner to Serbia in the early 1920s, a
position on Eisenhower's staff in WWII, Chief of Military Government in the United States Zone of Austria, Chief Surgeon
of the Far East Command after the war, and Director General of Medical Services of the United States Command in Korea
under Douglas MacArthur. In the course of his career he was awarded 3 Distinguished Service Medals, 5 Silver Stars, 4
Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, and the Soldier's Medal, and at the time of his death he was President General of the
Society of the Cincinnati.
The nature of Hume's positions and the traveling he undertook for his assignments, afforded him many opportunities to
obtain medals and orders for the ANS - in one letter to Curator Sydney Noe, dated March 6, 1950, Hume stated:
"I have tried to be constantly on the lookout for material for your collection and it sometimes turns up in unexpected places,
as in the case of this Korean collection that I sent you….I was informed only today that the Korean parliament is about to
create something corresponding to a national order for award to both Koreans and foreigners. If this bill goes through, I
will try to obtain specimens for you."
Hume frequently commented on the difficulty he experienced in gaining possession of certain artifacts on behalf of the
Society, such as a "complete set of existing Korean decorations" he purchased during an official visit to that country. The
Society clearly appreciated his efforts, making him an ANS Fellow in 1951, shortly before he passed away in January 1952.
Following the loss of General Hume, and the armistice in Korea, the Society's collecting priorities seemed to shift rather
quickly, and by the mid 1950s, the medals and decorations collection was receiving less attention. A major expansion of
the decorations collection did take place in the late 1960s, but that development was the result of events at another
institution, rather than through the active effort of ANS staff or trustees.
J. Coolidge Hills, a coin and medal collector in Connecticut, had assembled a massive collection during the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. Although Hills had been a member of the ANS since 1887, and served on the Decorations, Insignia
and War Medals Committee from 1910 until his death in 1913, his will directed that his collection would go to the
Wadsworth Athenaeum, an art museum in his hometown of Hartford. The conditions of Hills' bequest, however, stipulated
that all the pieces he donated had to be on public exhibition at least six months out of each year. If the museum in Hartford
could not do so, Hills' will required that the collection be transferred to the ANS without any restrictions on its use,
exhibition, or retention. By 1966, the Athenaeum's officials decided that they could not meet the conditions of the bequest.
Their priorities had evolved over time and the space taken up by the Hills collection was needed for other purposes. In
1967, ownership of the materials was transferred to the ANS.
The acquisition of the Hills materials, which included 3,095 medals, decorations, and insignia, had a significant impact on
the character and scope of the Society's holdings in those areas of collecting. The ANS annual report for that year noted:
"The J. Coolidge Hills Collection, comprising more than 3000 war medals, decorations, and badges of patriotic societies
formerly on display in the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford Connecticut, was received as a bequest. The acquisition is the
most important of its kind to enter our cabinet in a good many years. The large number of individual items should not
obscure the fact that the collection includes a great many exceedingly rare United States and British War medals in addition
to some very fine insignia of the old European Orders of Chivalry.
Among the U.S. Decorations there are no less than eight early Medals of Honor each carrying the name of the recipient and
the action in which he won this highest of our combat awards. But probably the outstanding individual piece is the
Confederate “Davis Guard Medal” given to Lieutenant Richard W. Dowling, commander of the small garrison in the fort at
Sabine Pass, Texas….The Hills collection is particularly rich in the Naval and Military General Service Medals given to
surviving veterans by Queen Victoria in belated recognition of their services during the Napoleonic Wars….The insignia of
the Orders of Knighthood include an usually large number of First Empire crosses of the Legion of Honor. The German
States are represented by the fine old Stars of the Hanoverian Guelphic Order, the Prussian Red Eagle, the Zahringen Lion
of Baden, and the Royal Saxon Order of Civil Merit…. There are also many other decorations hitherto not represented in
the Society's already extensive cabinet.
The unusually large number of late 19th Century U.S. patriotic and military society badges and medals in the Hills bequest
undoubtedly make our holding of material of this kind the most important in the country."
Despite this "avalanche" of new artifacts, both public and institutional interest was increasingly limited. From the 1970s on,
the orders and decorations, especially the non-American portions of the collection, were exhibited less frequently. While
the fine collection of American medals and badges were still occasional subjects for study, researchers largely ignored the
European and Asian orders and decorations. The Decorations, Insignia and War Medals committee became inactive and by
the late 1990s, was officially discontinued. Consequently, the Society ultimately made the difficult decision to de-accession
the non-American portions of the collection and to make them available for the benefit of other museums, collectors and
Geoffrey Giglierano is Director of Development, The American Numismatic Society.