Collectors Note: Recently I purchased a set of eight uniface medals, mounted on a board, that illustrate the medal making process. Unlike coins, which are almost always produced with one blow from the dies, medals usually require multiple strikes to bring up the design. The reasons are that these pieces are usually larger, often have more complex designs and are very frequently struck in higher relief than coins. The set covered the obverse design of the George H. W. Bush inaugural medal which celebrated his swearing in as the 41st President of the United States on January 20, 1989. We will start with a biography of George H. W. Bush.
The Early Years and Private Sector Career
George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 24, 1924 to a well to do family. His father, Prescott Bush, was a successful Wall Street banker, among other positions, and had served as a United States Senator, representing Connecticut, from 1952 to 1963. George’s family moved from Milton, Massachusetts to Greenwich, Connecticut shortly after George was born.
George had planned to enter college immediately after he graduated from high school, but the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 prompted him to enlist in the U.S. Navy as an aviator. George was the youngest aviator in the Navy when he enlisted, and he served with distinction. He flew 58 combat missions, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals and a Presidential Unit Citation. After he had flown his combat missions, George served in pilot rescue and training missions. He was honorably discharged in September 1945.
George married Barbra Piece in January 1945 soon after he returned from his service in the Pacific. They had six children, including George W. Bush who would be elected President of the United States in 2000 and John Ellis, “Jeb” Bush who would serve as Governor of Florida. Bush enrolled at Yale University soon after he left the military. He took an accelerated program which allowed him to graduate in two and a half years, but that did not prevent him from participating in extracurricular activities. He was the captain of the baseball team, played first base and participated in the first two College World Series.
Following his graduation from Yale, Bush moved his family to west Texas. There he took a position as a sales clerk at Dresser Industries. Dresser was a technology firm that supplied equipment for the exploration and production of petroleum and other natural energy resources. Bush rose rapidly in that organization.
In 1951 Bush started the Bush - Overbey Oil Development Company. In 1953 he co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation which searched and drilled for oil in west Texas and New Mexico. A year later a subsidiary of Zapata Petroleum engaged in off-shore drilling. By the 1960s Bush had become a multi millionaire. He moved his company and his family to the Huston, Texas area. By this time Bush was active in politics and was becoming a prominent figure in the Texas Republican Party.
Bush’s Political Career
Bush ran for the Senate in 1964, but he lost to Ralph W. Yarborough. That year President Lyndon Johnson, who had “long political coattails,” won in a landslide over Republican conservative Barry Goldwater. Bush won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1966, and served in the House from 1967 until 1971.
In 1970 President Richard Nixon asked Bush to give up his House seat to once more face Ralph Yarborough who was a fierce Nixon critic. Bush accepted the challenge, but was blindsided when Lloyd Bentsen defeated Yarborough in the Democratic Primary. Bentsen, who was far more conservative than Yarborough, defeated Bush in the general election.
Nixon recognized Bush’s loyalty and sacrifice when he gave up his House seat by appointing him to be the Ambassador to the United Nations. Bush served at the UN from 1971 to 1973. This position was followed by stints as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (1973-4), the Envoy to China (1974-5) and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (1976-7).
Bush left the public service when Jimmy Carter took office in 1977. In the years leading up to the 1980 presidential election, Bush served as a part time professor in the school of business at Rice University, chairman of the executive committee of the First International Bank in Houston, Texas, and the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Bush made his first run for the presidency when he entered the 1980 Republican primaries. He won a narrow victory in Iowa caucuses, but lost to Ronald Reagan in the New Hampshire primary. Bush was the runner-up to Reagan at the Republican national convention. In recognition of that Reagan asked Bush to be his running mate although Bush had labeled Reagan’s plans for tax cuts that would lead to larger government revenues as “voodoo economics.”
Reagan and Bush faced incumbent president, Jimmy Carter. The polls were close at first, but the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran and the rates of unemployment plus inflation, which Reagan called “the misery index,” led to a landslide victory for the Republican ticket.
Reagan and Bush won by an even greater margin in 1984. The election was marked by the historic selection of Geraldine Ferraro as the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. It marked the first time that a major U.S. political party selected a woman as a candidate for vice president. Reagan and Bush won a smashing victory winning every electoral vote except those from the state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
George Bush ran to succeed Ronald Reagan as president in 1988. Although the vice presidency might seem to be a logical stepping stone to the presidency, history has shown that not to be true. When Bush ran, the last sitting vice president who had won the White House was Martin Van Buren who succeeded Andrew Jackson in 1837. The only other vice president who had come close was Richard Nixon who lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Nixon won the White House in 1968. The surest way for a vice president to become president is for him to assume the office after the death or resignation of his boss.
George Bush faced a stiff challenge for the Republican presidential nomination from Kansas senator, Bob Dole. Bush turned the tide when he won the New Hampshire primary.
In the general election, Bush defeated Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, in a nasty campaign. There was considerable controversy over a convicted first-degree murderer, Willie Horton, who escaped while on a Massachusetts furlough program. Horton fled to Maryland where he assaulted a married couple in their home. Dukakis was unable to deflect the criticism from this incident, and it hurt him badly in the polls.
The Bush Inaugural Medal
George Herbert Walker Bush took the presidential Oath of Office on January 20, 1989. Like all presidents from the turn of the century until 2017, the Bush Inaugural Committee issued a commemorative medal that marked the beginning of the Bush presidency. Mico Kaufman designed the Bush medal, and the Medallic Art Company produced the pieces. The same artist and production company had produced the Gerald R. Ford vice presidential and presidential medals and the 1985 Reagan inaugural medals.
Mico Kaufman was born in Romania in 1924. He was imprisoned by the Nazis in a concentration camp during the Second World War. After immigrating to The United States in 1951, Kaufman continued his career, first as the sculptor of the Howard Johnson’s pie man logo and much later as a world renounced designer and sculptor of monuments and numismatic works.
The Bust Inaugural Medal design was a pleasant departure from some of the previous medals. Instead of the usual presidential profile, the Bush portrait showed him looking to the left from a three quarters facial viewpoint. A facsimile of his signature appeared below his portrait and the presidential seal was to the left of his forehead.
The reverse featured a depiction of The Statue of Freedom that stands at the top of The United States Capitol Dome instead of the Presidential Seal, which has appeared too often on the reverse of inaugural medals in my opinion. Flanking “Freedom” was the phrase, “200th anniversary of the first presidential inauguration.” Although 1989 marked the bicentennial for presidential inaugurations, there seemed to be little interest in that important historical milestone.
The collector interest in the Bush medal was surprising limited as well. The mintage from the large bronze medal, the most popular size for collectors, was 6,884 pieces. That was well below the recent sales which had routinely exceeded 10,000 pieces and at times had gone beyond the 20,000 mark. Despite the lower mintage, the Bush medal does not sell for a premium price. In addition to the large bronze medal, Bush medals were issued in silver and gold in various sizes.
The Bush Inaugural Medals Process Set consists of eight pieces. It begins with a blank planchet and proceeds through five successive blows from the dies which gradually brings up the Bush portrait and other design elements. The sixth medal shows all of the design details with an overflow of metal around the rim. For the seventh piece, the rims are trimmed down the size of the medal, the edge lettering has been added and the finishing wax is applied to the surfaces. The finished medal is shown by the eighth piece.
The Bush Presidency
The Bush presidency was marked by many successes. He removed the Panamanian criminal dictator, Manuel Noreiga, from power in December 1989. He started the Points of Light program which encouraged volunteerism, that has continued to this day and has spread to 22 countries. The Bush presidency also witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtin and the Soviet Union which marked the end of the Cold War.
He forced Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, to retreat from Kuwait after Saddam invaded that country and set up a puppet government. He left Hussein in power in Iraq which would lead to another confrontation led by his son, George W. Bush, during his presidency. Following that successful military operation, Bush’s approval rating soared to over 90%, but it would not last.
Among Bush’s more controversial policies was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA which eliminated the majority of tariffs between The United States, Canada and Mexico. The effects of the agreement upon the American job market are still a source of political controversy today.
Even more controversial was the deal he cut with Congress to raise taxes after he made the campaign pledge, “Read my lips, no new taxes!” That deal damaged Bush with his conservative base, and he would never regain his popularity with them. Many conservatives voted for Bush in the 1992 Presidential Election, but they did so with little enthusiasm. Others stayed home.
The 1992 Presidential Election developed into a three-way race between Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton and eccentric Texas businessman, Ross Perot. The tax increase issue combined with a lackluster economy hurt Bush at the polls. Perot also drew more voters from Bush than Clinton. The final results showed Clinton winning the popular vote percentage with 43%, Bush at 38% and Perot at 19%. The Electoral College vote was far more lopsided with Clinton receiving 370 votes, Bust 168 and Perot 0. Thus Bush failed in his attempt to win a second presidential term.
After his presidency George H. W. Bush has become a much-respected elder statesman. In recent years his health as not been good after he celebrated his 90th birthday. His last major public appearances have been at Super Bowl 51 and at a former presidents’ fund-raising event for victims of the recent hurricanes. Bush was wheeled out on the field at Super Bowl 51 to conduct the pre-game coin toss, to a standing ovation.
The Bush presidency marked some momentous events, most notably the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet his inability to hold his conservative base together proved to be his political undoing. As a result most historians rate his years in office as modestly successful and average overall.
Bush Medal Process Set
The 1989 Bush inaugural medal