WHY I LIKE THIS MEDAL
An article which originally appeared in The Historical Medal Journal No.4 (May 2022)
Obverse: Man in traditional Bosnian costume standing with a donkey
Reverse: Train crosses an aqueduct and enters a tunnel, incuse legend FRANCISCVS JOS I IMP ET REX BOSNIAM RAGVSEO LITORI FERREA VIA CONIVNXIT MCMI in five lines below (King and Emperor Franz Joseph I joined the Ragusa coast with Bosnia by railway 1901)
Bronze, Rectangular 60x44mm, by Rudolf Marschall dated 1903
References: Moyaux 423; Forrer unlisted
I acquired this medal last year even though it’s neither within my areas of medal collecting nor did I intend to resell it commercially. It was a treat all for myself: in common with any collector, I simply ‘had to have it’. As a bonus, it seems to be rare. The medallist, Rudolf Marschall (1873-1967) was Austrian and had a prolific medallic output judging by Forrer – but this medal is not listed by him and internet searches have thrown up very little. According to Moyaux, the medal is rare because when Emperor Franz Joseph saw the first examples struck, he ordered production to cease. The reason being that he feared the depiction of the donkey would lead to unfavourable remarks about him, which seems to show a very thin skin!
There are many collectors of medals that depict or relate to railways, and no doubt most of the medal’s potential admirers will be drawn to it for this reason (and this is the reason it is catalogued in Moyaux). The medal celebrates the completion in 1901 of the railway which linked the port of Dubrovnik (the historic Ragusa) with its Bosnian hinterland. The line was some 125 miles long and this medal was struck two years later.
However railways do not interest me; for me it’s the obverse that drew me in. The evocation of the image is such that in my imagination it could be taken from a large scale painting by a famous Victorian artist. The obverse depicts a Bosnian man in traditional dress leading his faithful pack mule across the mountains, a view towards the Adriatic in the distance beyond. This represents the old traditional way of life and travel, contrasting sharply with the reverse, which depicts the modern world at the start of the 20th century, the coming of the railway and the fast interconnectedness it brings with it. The contrast is between the old and the new, the slow and fast, tranquillity and noise. It is a world in which pack mules or donkeys are redundant.
Of course, to modern minds, mention of Bosnia recalls the tragedy which befell Bosnia-Herzegovina during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to say nothing of the siege and shelling of Dubrovnik. We might also think of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination at Sarajevo in 1914. However to my mind, this medal recalls happier times when the Balkans retained an air of exotic mystery in the eyes of western Europeans.
The broader point of this brief article is that we should not necessarily be narrow in scope when adding to our collections. If we see a medal we cannot resist, the time to buy it is when we first see it.
Moyaux, Auguste, Les Chemins de Fer autrefois et aujourd'hui et leurs médailles commemoratives (Brussels 1905)
The translation of the Latin to English is my own ‘free’ translation and relies heavily on distant foundations laid at school.
Copyright Charles Riley 2022