In 1968, soon after Mel Wacks was appointed as Numismatic Consultant to the Judah L. Magnes Museum by its Director, Seymour Fromer, the first numismatic issue — a modest one — was launched: Wooden Shekels.
Following the release of the Wooden Shekels, the formation of the International Judaic Commemorative Society was announced by Wacks. But Joseph Milo, Director of the Israel Coins and Medals Corporation complained that such a venture would compete with their programs. And so, it was decided that the Magnes Museum would “issue art medals portraying events and personalities in Jewish-American history.” Thus, the Jewish-American Hall of Fame series of art medals was born.
The goal was not only to raise funds for the Magnes Museum, but to raise awareness in Jews and non-Jews alike in the substantial contributions made to America — and the world — by American Jews.
Since then, over 25,000 Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals have been issued — finding homes in collections, museums, etc. around the world, as far away as China — becoming the longest continuing series of non-government art medals now being issued in the United States. Dr. Alan Stahl, currently Curator of Numismatics at Princeton University, wrote in the catalog of the Fédération Internationale de la Médaille (1990, Helsinki) that the Jewish-American Hall of Fame series was “[one of the most] important series of medals in recent years.”
Coin World columnist Jeff Starck, wrote in the July 30, 2012 issue that “A notable achievement of the series of [Jewish-American Hall of Fame] medals is the sheer number of respected and famous artists who have been commissioned.” These have included winners of the two most prestigious awards to medalists — the American Numismatic Association’s Numismatic Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture (Eugene Daub, Virginia Janssen, Jim Licaretz, Hal Reed, Alex Shagin, Marika Somogyi, Paul Vincze, Gerta Ries Wiener and Karen Worth), and the American Numismatic Society’s J. Sanford Saltus Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Art of the Medal (Eugene Daub, Alex Shagin and Karen Worth).
The Jewish-American Hall of Fame expanded to the Internet in 1997, in a website named www.amuseum.org. The website features a virtual tour through 500 years of American Jewish history, illustrated by Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals, quizzes about all of the honorees, and much more. It won the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for the Best Non-Commercial Web Site. In 2001, the Jewish-American Hall of Fame became a Division of the American Jewish Historical Society. Beginning in 2010, the Jewish-American Hall of Fame plaques went on permanent view at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, in Richmond. And in 2019, the Jewish-American Hall of Fame Medals Collection of the Cincinnati Skirball Museum was established.
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