Allen Menke and I did an extensive article on the Specially Meritorious Medal for Roger Bender's magazine. Unfortunately Roger passed away before the article could be published and the future of his publishing business will be in limbo for quite some time. So, I would like to use this forum to pass on some information we uncovered in our research concerning fraudulently engraved SMMs.
The fact that only the U.S. Mint medals were officially engraved and that the J. K. Davison’s Sons die is the only type we have seen with suspicious engraving, this is the first indication that these medals were fraudulently engraved. We have examined five Davison’s-made Specially Meritorious Medals with engraving and in all cases, these have turn out to be fakes. Two medals were examined in person and three were reviewed from photographs. In all cases the engraving is the same except for the name and rating and appears to have been done by the same person. The medal to Cavanaugh pictured here was purchased during the 1965 Orders and Medals Society of America annual convention in California directly from George Studley and was sold as a fake. A medal to Ralph Lockwood, landsman, was sold in a January 2004 Stack’s auction and purported to be original. Three other fakes; to John Garrett, “coxswain”, William Murphy “coxswain” and Gustof Lenz, landsman also have been observed. In all cases, the medals are Davison’s pieces and all have been engraved in a style similar to original 1904 issued SMMs—but with noticeable differences.
In addition to all the die discrepancies evident on the Davison’s die, which is the first indicator that these are not original engraved medals, the names on these fraudulently engraved pieces do not appear on any of the lists of authorized recipients. In the case of the medal shown below, Francis Cavanaugh is not on the authorized list of SMM recipients nor is he on any of the Sampson Medal rolls (which would be a requirement for qualifying for the SMM). Also, the rating of coxswain, which is misspelled as coxwain on the original Bureau of Navigation list included in the 30 January 1904 letter to the Mint for engraving, and therefore misspelled on all original SMMs to sailors of that rating, is spelled correctly on this fake. The spurious piece named to Ralph Lockwood with a rating of landsman also does not appear in any of the SMM authorization letters or on any Sampson Medal roll. Also, all fraudulent engravings we observed are missing the comma after the recipient’s name and after the word "from" on the first line of the citation. Also, on original medals, there is a comma after Santiago and also after Cuba; whereas on the fakes the comma following Cuba is usually missing and sometimes even the comma after Santiago.