About Us --- The Making of a Medal
The Making of a Medal ...
From Conception to Completion

Honoring the induction of Sgt. Leopold Karpeles into
the Jewish-American Hall of Fame

By Mel Wacks, Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame
Courtesy of Coin World

While the web site for the Jewish-American Hall of Fame (www.amuseum.org/jahf) receives over a million and a half "hits" per year, relatively few people leave feedback. So, when Leopold Karpeles was suggested in an e-Mail sent on February 28, 2001, Director Mel Wacks was intrigued, since in over 30 years of studying American Jewish history, he did not recall seeing this name. However, Bob Marcus, who e-Mailed the nomination, also included a brief history of how Sgt. Karpeles became an American hero and was awarded the nation's highest tribute - the Medal of Honor (often mistakenly referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor).

Mr. Marcus, who personally knows the great-granddaughter (Joyce Blackman) of Karpeles, and who is a Civil War buff himself, also forwarded a photo of a painting "Saving the Colors" that depicts the Battle of the Wilderness (May 6, 1864), and in particular shows Sgt. Karpeles carrying the flag of the Massachusetts 57th Regiment. The painting hangs in the Connecticut Valley Historical Society in Massachusetts. After additional research, Mr. Wacks decided that Karpeles would be the Jewish-American Hall of Fame honoree for 2002, and asked award-winning sculptor Alex Shagin to create the medal.

Shagin was shown the painting and a portrait of Karpeles, made many years after his act of bravery, for reference in creating the obverse design. For the reverse, the artist was given a reproduction of a letter written by President Lincoln on May 16, 1862, acknowledging the prayers by Congregation Mikveh Israel for the Union cause.

Shagin's first sketch for the obverse was inspired by the painting and Karpeles' own description of that eventful day: "When ... the right of the 9th Corps commenced breaking and falling back in considerable disorder, the rebels having commenced a flanking movement ... (I as) Regimental Color Bearer ... urged (the Lieutenant Colonel) to stand firm and rally as many of the retreating troops as possible, he said 'All right, I will stand by you.' We then, by every possible exertion, by waving the colors and otherwise, were enabled to rally a large number of retreating troops around our Regimental Colors ... thereby saving the portion of the Wing from almost total destruction, in which engagement our Colors were very severely shattered." One of the design elements is a tree stump, upon which Karpeles stood to make the Union colors more visible.

Even though the drawing was approved, the artist was not satisfied, and completely revised it, so that the viewer is drawn intimately into the very dramatic scene. When the revised sketch was sent to Mr. Marcus, he wrote." It is a very attractive design. The design depicts him wearing an officer's coat. As color sergeant, he was an enlisted man and wore a different coat altogether. I would respectfully suggest this be communicated to the designer/sculptor as the jacket should be correct and display his proper insignia of rank."

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Marcus supplied a sketch "to reflect what Leopold Karpeles actually wore at the Battle of the Wilderness." Alex Shagin, utilized this drawing together with other historic materials to create his final design in clay.

(Mel Wacks holding plaster model of obverse)

When completed, this was cast in Plaster of Paris.

Continued on the Next Page >>
QuizzesnominationNewsShopAbout JAHF
© 2000-2017 Jewish-American Hall of Fame © 2012-2017 American Numismatic Society All Rights Reserved