History / Summary

    The original Lusitania Medallion was privately designed and struck by Karl Goetz in August 1915 to mark the sinking, by a German U-boat, of the Cunard liner Lusitania on 7 May 1915. The sinking of the Lusitania was a controversial event and became a focus for the propaganda campaign during the war.  

    In April 1915, the German Embassy in Washington issued a reminder to passengers, that the waters around Great Britain had been declared a war zone by Germany and that any passengers undertaking the Atlantic voyage in ships flying the flag of Britain or her allies would be at risk. Nonetheless the Lusitania left America for Britain on 1 May 1915 with nearly 2000 passengers and war materiel, including rifle cartridges, empty shell cases and non explosive fuses (listed in the manifest). 

    The Lusitania was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat on 7 May 1915 near Ireland. Most of the passengers were drowned. The log of the U-boat stated only one torpedo had been fired at the Lusitania, however a second explosion led people to believe that two were fired. The speed with which the ship sank (it took only 18 minutes), and the second explosion, later led to rumours that high explosives were secretly carried on board the Lusitania.

    Germany claimed the Lusitania was a legitimate target, due to being a British Armed Merchant Carrier (she was listed as one, but had not been fully fitted out as one), her cargo of war materiel, and she was sunk within the British war zone. However there was uproar in the British and American press, focusing on the loss of civilian life. Goetz's medallion was produced in response to this, to illustrate the hypocrisy of the British Government, who he felt had tried to use the passengers as human shields to assist in moving contraband (such as the explosives rumoured to have been aboard), despite the warnings of the German Government.

    The original medallion was one of a small run produced privately by Goetz, and sold in Munich and to some numismatic dealers. Unfortunately for Goetz, there was an error on his medallion. He mistakenly recorded the date of the sinking as 5 May - two days before the event actually took place. He later blamed this error on a newspaper report he read.

    One of the medallions made its way to England, where its content caused outrage. Australian newspapers in April 1916 noted that in the latest German catalogues for commemorative medallions in Holland, showed one, 'illustrating the ship sinking, and treating the disaster as a joke'. In addition to this perception, the error about the date led to the perfect propaganda tool for the British, who claimed that it showed the sinking of the Lusitania was premeditated. Although the medallion was privately produced, the press claimed it was endorsed by the German Government, had been awarded to the crew of the attacking U-boat, and distributed throughout Germany.

    In Britain, the production of a copy, with the original German 'MAI' spelt 'MAY' was authorised (although due to the quality of the work, some of the British examples appear to also read 'MAI'), with the funds raised to go to charity. The production run of approximately 300,000 in various metals (most in die cast iron) was undertaken by department store owner Gordon Selfridge. They were offered to the public at prices starting at one shilling each. The medallions were contained in a presentation box and were accompanied by a leaflet, describing the cruelty of the Germans, who killed innocent women and children. This reinforced the stereotype of the bestial German Hun which had become prevalent in British propaganda.

    Goetz made a second issue of the medallion, with the correct date of 7 May. However, the damage for Germany had already been done. In January 1917 the Bavarian Government ordered that the manufacture of the original medallion be forbidden and existing copies confiscated. Despite this, Goetz continued to defend his medallion as satire.

    Item Description

    Original British issued Lusitania medallion in its original box. Box is showing signs of wear with part of the inside description missing.