GREAT BRITAIN (Version) Germany Lusitania Propaganda Medal by K. Goetz with box & document

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Collections: Medals, World Medals

Product type: Medal

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GREAT BRITAIN (Copy) Germany Lusitania Propaganda Medal by Karl Goetz with box and document 55.5mm Medal 61.6 grams (BHM 4118; Eimer 1941A, type c) World War I

The postcard illustration does not come with the medal, but the original box and document does.

Obverse: DER GROSS-DAMPFER LUSITANIA DURCH EIN DEUTSCHES TAUCHBOOT VERSENKT 5. MAY 1915’, (translates to ‘The liner Lusitania sunk by a German submarine 5 May 1915’).

Reverse: depicts Death, in the form of a skeleton, behind the ticket office counter of the Cunard Line in New York, issuing tickets to a crush of passengers. Above the window are the words ‘CUNA LINIE’. Arranged vertically and below the counter are the words ‘FAHRKARTEN AUSGABE’ (‘ticket office’). At the extreme left of the crowd a man reads a newspaper bearing the headline ‘U BOOT GEFAHR’ (‘U-boat danger’) and standing next to him is a top-hatted and bearded figure, a representation of the German Ambassador to the USA Count Johann-Heinrich von Bernstorff, raising a warning finger. The significance of this reference is that on 1 May 1915, the day Lusitania sailed from New York, a German-sponsored announcement appeared next to the Cunard advertisement in all New York papers reminding passengers that Germany was at war with Britain and her allies and that the war zone included the waters around the British Isles, and that vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, were liable to destruction in British waters. The reverse text along the upper edge, ‘GESCHÄFT ÜBER ALLES’, translates to ‘Business above all’. The initials of the designer, ‘KG’, can be seen in the space along the bottom.

British copies of Goetz’s original medallion were made on the instructions of Captain Reginald Hall RN, Director of Naval Intelligence. The logic behind the duplication was straightforward. The date error could be used to imply ‘advance planning’ and that the fate of the Lusitania was sealed before her departure from New York, her sinking being premeditated and pre-arranged.  
The British were happy to further mislead public opinion about the status of Goetz’s medallion. They blurred the traditional distinction between ‘medal’ as an official award in respect of some act of gallantry or special service and ‘medallion’, regarded as an unofficial work of art produced for sale and profit. They also contrived to represent Goetz’s satirical censure of the British as if it were patriotic German celebration by focusing attention on the caption-like text and its date, rather than on the slogan-like text incorporated in the designs. British propaganda thus originated the myth that Goetz’s ‘Lusitania Medallion’ was an official commemorative of the sinking and in the process implied national approval for the act itself.

The widespread distribution of the British copies, with accompanying propagandist literature, undoubtedly prolonged the effect of the original sinking in influencing neutral opinion against Germany. It helped also to deflect attention from the contentious issue of the British naval blockade of Germany and its allies, the interception and searching of neutral vessels on the high seas, as well as from other British actions that were harming her standing in neutral (and especially American) eyes – the brutal suppression of the Dublin ‘Easter Rising’ in 1916 and the summary execution of its leaders being a case in point. Although Goetz in a subsequent satirical medallion endeavoured to undo some of the damage by ridiculing British propaganda efforts, the success of Captain Hall’s project was difficult to deny. In January 1917 the Bavarian War Office ordered that the manufacture of the original medallion be forbidden and that all available pieces should be confiscated.

The British replicas were sold at a shilling each, in an attractive cardboard presentation box with a hinged lid. The proceeds were directed to St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostels and the Red Cross.

The British ‘copy’ of Goetz’s first issue ‘Lusitania Medallion’ may be identified as follows:


  • The date in the obverse text reads ‘5. MAY 1915’ and not ‘5. MAI 1915’.
  • The copy has a much cruder finish and there is significant loss of detail.
  • The reverse text lacks the clearly defined umlauts over the ‘A’ of ‘GESCHAFT’ and the ‘V’ (‘U’) of ‘VBER’.
  • The text on the copy tends to be slightly larger and certainly more crudely formed than that of the original

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The outside of the lid is decorated with an illustration of the liner steaming from left to right, below which are six lines of text – ‘R.M.S. LUSITANIA: CUNARD LINE. 32000 TONS: SUNK ON HER RETURN JOURNEY FROM THE UNITED STATES BY A GERMAN SUBMARINE MAY 7TH. 1915’. The inside of the lid bears sixteen lines of overtly propagandistic text hammering home the disturbing ambiguities offered by the German original and stating that the piece ‘is proof positive that such crimes (viz the sinking) are not merely regarded favourably, but are given every encouragement in the land of Kultur…’. Accompanying the medallion and presentation box in many instances was an ‘explanatory’ illustrated leaflet. Again much stress was placed on the idea that the original medallion sought to celebrate the sinking in terms of a naval victory. The document’s last sentence reads: ‘The picture seeks apparently to propound the theory that if a murderer warns his victims of his intention the guilt of the crime will rest with the victim not the murderer’

Karl Goetz was a German medallist born in Augsburg in 1875. He studied there and also in Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin and Düsseldorf until 1897. After time spent in the Netherlands and Paris he settled and worked in Munich from 1904. His first medals date from 1905. He is best known for his satirical and propaganda medals during WWI and for the Lusitania medal of 1915. He was a member of Munich's Artist Society and Numismatic Society. During WWII he produced further propaganda medals. He died in Munich in 1950.