Sometimes the stars just align. On October 12, 2018, exactly 120 years since the founding of the Monmouth County Historical Association, the Annual Tavernfest will kick off a year-long celebration of the organization’s milestone anniversary. The 18th century Allen House Tavern Museum will welcome guests for a 21st century evening of music, food, and merriment.
The Thistle will commemorate this MCHA landmark with a special feature exploring the history and development of MCHA in each edition over the span of 12 months. To launch this series, let’s go back to the beginning.
The Monmouth County Historical Association was founded on October 12, 1898, at Reedmont, the Locust home of Caroline Gallup Reed. A longtime summer resident who had recently retired to the area, Mrs. Reed invited fellow esteemed residents to this initial meeting because, she felt, “it seems to me high time the people of Monmouth County began to collect and preserve for posterity history of deeds of valor performed at home…No county is richer in noble sons and daughters, significant events and acts of heroes than Monmouth. They must not be forgotten.” A descendent of founding families of the Colonies and a renowned educator and founder of one of the most prestigious schools for women in New York City, Mrs. Reed was elected as the first president of MCHA.
During the early years, the organization functioned more as an exclusive society, counting many of the county’s leading citizens as members. In 1903 one of the members, Edward Dean Adams, suggested MCHA adopt an official insignia for its members. Adams, who also served as the President of the New York Numismatic Society, engaged celebrated medalist Victor D. Brenner to design the dies for the Association Medal.
Brenner immigrated to the US from Russia in the late 1800’s, already experienced in the art of seal making. After attending Cooper Union and working with a respected jeweler in New York, he went to Paris to study under Louis Oscar Roty, then acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest medalist. The recipient of many awards and prestigious commissions on his return to the US, Brenner met President Theodore Roosevelt while working on a medal for the opening of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt had been planning on issuing a new coin in honor of the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and admired Brenner’s work, which he had seen in New York. Brenner presented his idea for a new coin to the President and in 1909 the Lincoln Head Cent was released, perhaps the most familiar of American coins.
Working from the concept presented to him by Adams and the committee, Brenner fashioned the MCHA medal from gilded bronze in the shape of a cooking pot similar to those used by the Native American tribe Lenni-Lenape. A half-figure bust of Lenape Chief Wilted Grass appears on the face of the medal with a quote attributed to the Chief on thanking the New Jersey legislature for securing a land grant, “Not a drop of our blood have you shed in battle; not an acre of our land have you taken without our consent.” To the right of the bust is the coat-of-arms of the Monmouth family of Monmouthshire, England. On the reverse of the medal the Association’s seal at the time is depicted; Henry Hudson’s ship the Half Moon in Sandy Hook Bay, with the dates 1609 and 1898 signifying Hudson’s exploration of Sandy Hook Bay and the founding of MCHA. The insignia was held by red and blue ribbon, the colors of the Monmouth family, thread through the handles of the pot. The size of a half dollar, each medal was numbered and engraved with the member’s name.
Initially, 100 medals were struck and sold to members for $3.00. The badges were also in great demand among collectors for their artistic beauty and example of Brenners’s expertise. In 1909 a second strike of 100 medals was contracted and 26 of these insignias remain in the Association’s collection. The last medal was sold in October, 1923. The plaster dies, missing for many years, were recovered in 1980 and, along with a large wall plaque of the same design as the badge, are also secured in the collection. Interest in the MCHA badge still persists with numismatists and is considered a rare and valuable collectible.