The Collections of Michael Hall
The Collections of Michael Hall
The Californian actor, dealer and collector of medallic art
Michael Hall was born in Visalia, California in September 1927, and followed a dream to be an actor.
By 1946 he had already taken a role in a Hollywood film: the role of Rob Stephenson in the celebrated - and at the time somewhat controversial due to discussion of divorce - The Best Years of Our Lives.
Hall had a 12 year film career, including pictures as diverse as The Last Musketeer (1952) and Blood of Dracula (1957). Despite this, it will undoubtedly be his collections, assembled for over half a century, which the 82 year old Hall looks back on with most pride.
Both during his acting career and subsequent life as a dealer in antiques and collectibles in London, Hall developed a passion for Asian and European sculpture and began collecting, gradually honing his skills at judging quality, age, and authenticity.
Hall, like many stamp and coin collectors, was most interested in the view of history which his collection offered him. Increasingly focussing on images of the great and the good in the form of medallic portraits, Hall felt he was coming to know those depicted better.
Some of Michael Hall's medals (Click to enlarge)
"These people portraits have become my contemporary friends. I feel somehow I know them better because of their sculptural, physical presence whether thug, sadistic ruler or benevolent perpetrator of kindness and fair majestic authority. These are my pals, so to speak."
Hall believes it would be impossible to form a collection like his now. Indeed interest in medals as art has probably increased over recent years and decades, as the record sale last year of Jacopo Nizzola da Trezzo's gold medal of England's Tudor Queen, Mary I shows.
The main strength of the collection is medals from early Italy, although Hall's assortment is also very comprehensive inhistoric artefacts from later Italy, Germany, France and the Holy Roman Empire.
There are several images of the Medicis as well as a great range of leaders and thinkers from the age, such as humanist Cardinal Pietro Bembo and John VIII Palaeologus Emperor of Byzantium - the latter, cast in lead,being perhaps the earliest Italian Renaissance portrait medal.
Hans Reinhart the Elder Silver Trinity Medal (Click to enlarge)
One of the star lots is to be the Hans Reinhart the Elder Silver Trinity Medal. This presents God the Father enthroned and wearing the Imperial crown and jewelled cope, his beard and hair applied in the round with twisted silver. The image of a crucified Christ appears in the foreground, whilst the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove.
Bearing the legend, PROPTER SCELVS POPVLI MEI PERCVSSI EVM ESAIAE LIII, "For the transgression of my people he was smitten Isaiah 53",it is one of themost significant medals of the later European Renaissance.
Another key lot is the cast bronze portrait medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Antonio Pisano. 1447 medal features the 21-year-old Gonzaga - Pisano's only female subject - semi-naked within a moonlit landscape on the reverse. It depicts her as the figure of Innocence, taming a Unicorn beside her.
Portrait medal of Cecilia Gonzaga by Antonio Pisano
A great part of Hall's collection has already been donated to the Los Angeles County Museum, but theremainder, which is to be offered at Baldwin's in May, is still a substantial selection and the auctioneers are enthusiastic about the challenge, as Baldwin's Ian Goldbart told us:
"It's the biggest sale of its kind to come to the market for decades. There are nearly 2,500 medals - which far outweighs the Duke of Northumberland's collection from Alnwick Castle in 1980."
In fact the last time a collection of this size came to auction was probably Henry Oppenheimer's collection at Christie's in 1936.
Hall has finally decided to sell his collection in order to encourage people to experience the pleasure which comes with being a passionate collector.
"My optimism for 'things' has been relentless. Confused at first, unsure, I have gone ahead and put my money where my mouth was. Later I found that this kind of optimism pays off."
Images: Michael Hall/A H Baldwin & Sons