Royal Medals Copied

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A year ago I showed some pictures of particularly cool finds that Claes Pettersson and his team from Jönköping County Museum had made in 17th century urban layers near their offices. One of them was the above clay mould depicting King Gustavus II Adolphus. Claes believes that it may have been used to make candy. Now he knows where the motif came from.

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The mould is actually a contact copy of a 1631 royal medal used to decorate military officers. And among Claes’s finds is a piece of yet another mould copied from a coeval medal, this one an equestrian portrait. Muses Claes, “What have they been doing at Jönköping Castle in the early 1630s? Who is this person who lends his treasures, given by the King, to be used to make lowly clay moulds?”

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I wonder if these clay copies may have been made by the sculptor during work with the medals, as a kind of backup copies? Or by someone who wanted to show the folks at home what the medals he had received looked like, without having to mail them the medals themselves.

Explains Claes,

The candy hypothesis was actually something meant for the newspapers! They wanted us to tell them that THE FIRST GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS CAKES were actually made in Jönköping. But that tradition belongs to Gothenburg in Victorian times! So please don’t take our so called interpretation too seriously, because it was never meant to be!

And the moulds don’t have to be connected with counterfeiters. It was completely accepted to make copies of 17th century medals in cheaper materials. But what complicates the matter are these moulds themselves. Clearly not made for casting metals, being made of earthenware and having no raised edges, they should have been used for pressing the image onto something soft and plastic. Wax maybe? Or stucco? Some kind of foodstuff? Nobody knows.

So – if these moulds were used to make decorations; what is the historical context? In 1631 the Swedish army on the continent won a major victory in the battle of Breitenfeld. A year later, in november 1632, antother victory also claimed the life of the Gustavus Adolphus himself. Both these occasions must have been commemorated in the Castle of Jönköping, especially the later one.

It’s probably hard for us to imagine what it meant to the people of the early 17th century to have a King dying on a battlefield as a Champion of the True Faith …according to the propaganda of the day. My guess is that his picture was literally everywhere for months, maybe years to come. And that our two small moulds were used for decorations during the period of mourning.

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Comments

  1. #1 Avenel
    November 3, 2008

    Could it be the work of a counterfeiter? Would there be a market for fake medals?

  2. #2 Warren
    November 3, 2008

    Or by someone who wanted to show the folks at home what the medals he had received looked like, without having to mail them the medals themselves.

    It would almost certainly be cheaper, easier and more sensible to send a rubbing, since that wouldn’t involve a mirror image.

    What if they actually were used to make candy? You can get chocolate filled “gold” coins now; maybe there used to be chocolate medals?

  3. #3 Claes
    November 3, 2008

    Martin – That “candy”-hypothesis was actually something meant for the newspapers! They wanted us to tell them that THE FIRST GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS CAKES were actually made in Jönköping. But that tradition belongs to Gothenburg in Victorian times! So please don’t take our so called interpretation too seriously, because it was never meant to be!

    And the moulds don’t have to be connected with counterfeiters. It was completely accepted to make copies of 17th century medals in cheaper materials. But what complicates the matter are these moulds themselves. Clearly not made for casting metals, being made of earthenware and having no raised edges, they should have been used for pressing the image onto something soft and plastic. Wax maybe? Or stucco? Some kind of foodstuff? Nobody knows.

    So – if these moulds were used to make decorations; what is the historical context? In 1631 the Swedish army on the continent won a major victory in the battle of Breitenfeld. A year later, in november 1632, antother victory also claimed the life of the Gustavus Adolphus himself. Both these occasions must have been commemorated in the Castle of Jönköping, especially the later one.

    It’s probably hard for us to imagine what it meant to the people of the early 17th century to have a King dying on a battlefield as a Champion of the True Faith …according to the propaganda of the day. My guess is that his picture was literally everywhere for months, maybe years to come. And that our two small moulds were used for decorations during the period of mourning.

  4. #4 Martin R
    November 3, 2008

    Avenel, I don’t think so — medals aren’t cast, they’re struck like coins. You can’t make a convincing fake through casting.

  5. #5 Claes
    November 3, 2008

    Martin – these 17th century medals WERE cast. So a counterfeiter would have to make a negative mould – just like the one we found. But a real mould made from the right sort of clay. Still, that was certainly no problem in a city like Jönköping, known for its advanced metal crafts since medieval times.

  6. #6 Avenel
    November 3, 2008

    Thanks, Claes, the detail did look more like castings than strikings to me. Is the clay too soft for even lead casting? Lead doesn’t take much to work with.

  7. #7 Claes
    November 4, 2008

    Avenel – one thing is certain. These moulds we found were never used for casting. Any kind of heating – even for something with a melting-point as low as lead – would have discoloured the earthenware. Besides, as the mould doesn’t have any raised edges you can’t really pour anything in it.

    But we do have real moulds (actually thousands of fragments) from foundries on other sites in town. Most of them meant for bronze – for making cauldrons, church bells etc. So we know what they look like / what kind of clay the craftsmen used!

  8. #8 DianaGainer
    November 11, 2008

    I should think any sort of mould, of the most miserable, soft clay, would do to make a cake or bread loaf squash down and take on the proper shape. It comes out of the oven very soft, you know. Other foodstuffs are even softer, especially if they have a bit of moisture in them. Going all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and classical Greeks, they had special cakes marked with this or that to honor gods and goddesses, as well as famous folks. Why couldn’t people do that for a Swedish king? Here in the U.S., we also have little molds that you bake your cakes or breads right in. That way, if you’ve greased the mold properly and dusted it with a bit of flour before pouring the dough in, after it bakes (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, about 30 minutes or so), then you turn it over and dump it out. What was the bottom of the mold is now the top of the cake. It has a lovely shape. We have these in the shapes of Christmas trees, chickens, ears of corn (for cornbread, naturally), and all sorts of other ridiculous things. Why not something fine and regal like a king?

  9. #9 Robert
    July 5, 2009

    Those medals are really fascinating! I’ve just been working on a timeline of the Thirty Years’ War for a dynamic history website, timelines.com. Here’s a link to the Thirty Years’ War timeline: http://timelines.com/topics/thirty-years-war.

    Anyone is welcome to contribute, and I’m spreading the word to people like you who could contribute great images, resources, and insight!

    Thanks for looking.

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