Saturday, March 24, 2012

Magnalium for Dominion Day

Dominion Day celebrations in Wellington. Auckland Weekly News, 10 October 1907, ref AWNS-19071010-13-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

A small medal I spotted on Trade Me recently was advertised simply as "Children's Attendance Medal", with question marks. I almost didn't bother with putting in a bid, until I decided to check out the story behind the medal on Papers Past. Previous (and better condition) examples have been put on the auction site before now, but -- I like this one. It looks like it has been through history.

Dominion Day used to be 26 September each year, from 1907, when we ceased to be a colony of the British Empire (but, there was still a while to go before all the apron strings were cut).

Anyway -- in an atmosphere of patriotism, loyalty to king, country and Empire, and all that was to entail just seven years later, the Prime Minister J G Ward came up with the idea of medals for the nation's kiddies to mark the day. Well -- at least to mark the day after the day had taken place. He sent a telegram to be read by all the country's mayors etc who were leading the local celebrations.
As the day will be historical in the annals of New Zealand, and of more than passing interest to the children, I have decided to have a medal struck in commemoration of the event for presentation later on to each school child throughout the Dominion. Kindly make this fact known at any function you may hold to-morrow. J G Ward. 
ChCh Star 26.9.1907

It wasn't met with universal enthusiasm.
When the Mayor of Feilding read the Premier's message about medals for school children, yesterday, comments were made: "It would be better if he gave us money to improve our roads." "What about devoting the medal money to poor back-blockers for roads?" 
 Wairarapa Daily Times 30.9.1907

The Nelson Chamber of Commerce has passed a resolution to the effect that it be recommended to the Premier instead of having a medal struck to commemorate Dominion Day (September 26th), that one million pennies bearing that date be issued for distribution among the school children, and the balance be put into circulation. 

Hawera & Normanby Star 17.10.1907

But, the government went ahead anyway.
In connection with the proposal to strike a "Dominion" medal, to commemorate the creation of New Zealand as a Dominion, the Government is now getting a medal designed with a view to receiving tenders from manufacturers in various parts of New Zealand. The medals will, as has been suggested to the Government, be distributed amongst school children. 

Poverty Bay Herald 12.10.1907

The Government has accepted the tender of Messrs Moller and Sons, of Dunedin, for the supply of 170,000 medals for distribution amongst the school-children of New Zealand to commemorate the celebration of Dominion Day. Marlborough Express 10.12.1907

The medals provided by the Government for presentation to all school children, to mark the raising of the status of New Zealand to a Dominion, will be presented to the scholars when the school work is resumed on the beginning of next month. The medal, which will be of magnalium, will be about the size of a florin. On one side it is indicated that New Zealand was proclaimed a Dominion on September 26th, 1907, and on the opposite side King Edward's portrait is given, surrounded by the British and New Zealand ensigns, with the inscription: "God Save the King, Edward VII, of the British Dominion, King." 

WDT 28.1.1908

There were hold ups.
The dominion medal which the Government devised to delight the hearts of all its school children, is very late in making its appearance. The medals were to have been distributed by February 28, but it will be two months yet, according to official computation, before they dangle on the necks of school girls and are "swapped" by boys. The explanation is that great difficulty has been experienced in achieving a really satisfactory design. The contractors, Messrs C. Moller and Sons, have been at much pains in the matter, and are not to blame for the delay. A design has just been approved, and in two months more the medals should be available for distribution. Feilding Star 13.3.1908

It will be another month or so before the school children will receive the promised Dominion commemorative medal. The selection of a suitable design, and prepa[ra]tion of the dies should not be hurried, and one fact which alone should compensate for the delay is that the very credible production is entirely of New Zealand manufacture. A little larger than a shilling, and made of magnalium, it is remarkably light, weighs about as much as the mock coins of cardboard to which children are accustom[ed] in the schools. 
West Coast Times 14.5.1908

The following is a wonderfully detailed article describing the medals. Rather worrying though to read that "boys" were employed in their manufacture.
The order received by Messrs Moller and Sons, of this city, for the supply of 180,000 medals to commemorate the proclamation of New Zealand as a Dominion, is generally regarded as being the largest order of the kind yet submitted to any single firm in the Dominion, and as they will shortly be ready for distribution amongst the school children throughout New Zealand, some further particulars concerning the medal will doubtless prove of interest.

The medal itself is slightly larger than a halfpenny, and bears on its obverse a circle enclosing the King's head surmounted by the royal crown, and flanked on each side with the New Zealand and British ensigns, and bears the inscription “Edward VII of the British Dominions, King.". The reverse is ornamented with crossed fern-fronds in relief, inscribed, “Presented to the children attending the schools of the Dominion." Surrounding it are the words, New Zealand proclaimed a Dominion, September 26, 1907."

The metal is an alloy of aluminium and magnesium, invented by Dr Mach, and is manufactured in Westphalia. It is quite the latest of its kind, being practically unknown in commercial circles as yet, and is a white metal resembling silver. Light as aluminium is known to be, magnalium is even a trifle lighter, its density being 2.4 to 2.57, whereas the density of aluminium is 2.67.

The breaking strain of the new metal is from 14 to 21 tons per square inch, and it melts at a temperature of 1200deg Fahr. It can be moulded to any shape whilst in a molten state, either in sand or metal moulds, and is equal to brass for the ease with which it can be worked in lathes, etc. It can be forged as easily as soft iron, but at a much lower temperature, and can be wire-drawn to the thickness of fine thread, being only surpassed in ductility by gold, silver, platinum, and copper. It is capable of taking a high polish, and does not oxidise or tarnish when exposed to the air.

The magnalium of which the medals are being made comes in highly-polished sheets 36in by 20in, and about 1-16th of an inch thick, and these are passed under a punching press by boys, who punch the disc out to the required size. They are then put under the medal press, said to be the largest in the Dominion, and subjected to a pressure of about 50 tons, the result being a highly finished and attractive-looking medal, which is decidedly superior to anything of the kind hitherto turned out for a similar purpose. The King's head is then stamped in the centre of the obverse by means of a special die, and the medal is finally bored near the edge to receive a small ring for attaching to a chain, and it is then ready for packing, prior to distribution.

Day after day they are being turned out at the rate of 4000 per day, and in order to accomplish this the huge medal press is kept going continuously every day from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. To count them would be a rather irksome business, involving too much time, so they are weighed instead. So light are they that a large handful only weighs a few ounces, 220 medals being required to weigh 1lb. The dies, which took a week to cut, were finally approved, and the order given on May 1, and since that time over 100,000 medals have been struck off, and, as previously stated, it is expected to have the whole order completed by the end of this month. It was at first decided to attach each medal to a small piece of narrow ribbon, but at Messrs Moller's suggestion it was decided to dispense with the ribbon in favour of a small ring, and the authorities being very exacting concerning the impression of the King's head, some time elapsed before their wishes were satisfied in that respect, but the result is entirely satisfactory and reflects great credit on the Secretary for Education (Sir E. O. Gibbes) and the firm entrusted with the order.

When completed the medals will be distributed as follows:— Auckland 37,000, New Plymouth 5700, Wanganui 15,200, Wellington 19,300, Napier 10,750, Blenheim 2450, Nelson 6800, Greymouth 2100, Hokitika 1350, Christchurch 22,900, Timaru 6100, Dunedin 22,000, Invercargill 10,750— total, 163,000. The remainder 7000— are to be sent to the Education Department, Wellington. 

 Otago Witness 10.9.1908

 One review of the whole thing, though, was scathing.
One of the minor failures of the Government are the Dominion Day medals now being distributed among the schools. The lightness of the material of which they are made conveys an impression of flimsiness and unsubstantiality. They look silvery, but their light weight betrays the baseness of their alloy. The design also, is jejune and uninteresting. The designing talent at the command of the Government must greatly lack imagination when such a poor performance was allowed to pass muster. Hackneyed and commonplace are the mildest terms that can be used in describing the emblems employed to impress the minds of our children with the importance and dignity of their native land. A circle surmounted by an imperial crown encloses the King's head, the lineaments of which certainly do not flatter our genial monarch. The circle covers the crossed staffs of the Union Jack and the New Zealand flag which hang limply and ungracefully on either side, the ends being bundled together clumsily underneath. On the obverse side are two attenuated sprays of vegetation probably intended to represent fern-fronds but unlike any fern-fronds we have ever seem. One inscription on this side states that New Zealand was proclaimed a Dominion on September 26th, 1907, and another asserts quite unnecessarily that the medal was presented to the children attending the schools of the Dominion. It is regrettable that pains were not taken to signalise the occasion by the preparation of a more picturesque and tasteful souvenir. In the get-up of the trinket there is little to interest a child, and we predict that few will be treasured as heirlooms. There is no doubt the money they cost could have been spent to better purpose … 
Tuapeka Times 12.9.1908 

The whole concept of celebrating Dominion Day fell into disuse from around 1912, once Bill Massey came to power as Prime Minister. I first heard about it from a talk given to pupils at Avondale Intermediate close to 26 September by our principal Mr Carnachan, either in 1975 or 1976, but I have rarely heard mention of it since.

The medal is indeed very light and with a modern aluminium feel to it. It does make a splendid magnalium souvenir of a day when, theoretically at least, New Zealand began to be a nation in our own right.

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