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Madison's History Captured on Coins
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013 11:00 AM
John Tullis plans to create a full line of commemorative coins documenting historical moments and places in Madison. So far, Tullis has created coins for the new Madison-Milton bridge, the Madison Regatta, the Saddletree Factory and more. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org)
Madison resident John Tullis hopes to bring a new appreciation for Madison's historic landmarks and events - past and present - through his new business venture and hobby in souvenir coins.
The coins, which Tullis began making this summer, pay homage to the city's most notable - and sometimes lesser known - historic landmarks and events, such as the Madison-Milton bridge project, Regatta and Saddletree Factory and early fire houses. The pieces come in silver and gold.
Tullis said the intention is to provide a snapshot of local locations in their heyday.
"There are so many things that have disappeared over the years," he said.
Tullis, 76, was born in Madison, but left the area when he was a teenager to join the U.S. Air Force. For several years, he also worked in general contracting and general electrical contracting throughout the Southwest and West Coast before moving home in 2001.
Tullis uses a room in his State Street home to design the coins, which are then minted elsewhere. The process takes about eight weeks.
He has made about 20 coins, but he anticipates there will be more than 100 when the project is finished. The plan is to sell them in sets, as he creates different versions featuring the same subject.
Tullis and his wife, Valentina, have a fascination with Madison culture in the 1940s and 1950s, and that's helped fuel the new business model and approach.
"It is our intent to do a history of Madison in coins," he said. "And that's going to take about 110 coins, believe it or not."
Tullis started making the coins in the summer, around the time of the Regatta, and his first coins were of the bridge project. He also intends to include a small pamphlet with every item.
It's his way of spreading the history of the landmark, as well as honoring it.
"I want to do one of these for every coin," he said. "Because Madison has so much history it's just mind-boggling."
The coins are not Tullis' first attempt taking a micro look at Madison. Not long after permanently moving back home, he began making miniature collectibles of "Little Jimmy," the weather vane mounted atop the Fair Play Fire Company No. 1 station on East Main Street.
The station is Indiana's oldest volunteer fire company and is not far from Tullis' childhood home on East Street. Tullis created a small, full-colored, desktop trophy of "Little Jimmy" out of bronze and then a pendant out of pewter.
In addition to the coins, Tullis creates coins attached to key chains. The key chains have been so popular Tullis estimates they have accounted for about 25 percent of his total business.
Overall, he said the community has shown an interest in the new coins and has stayed interested while he unveils new work.
The pieces are available for purchase at the Art on Main Gallery and the Madison Visitor's Center. Tullis also has a website being built, www.souvenircoinsmadison.com, which will feature the coins and products, as well as a small history of the featured areas and landmarks.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's been as good as could have been expected. Or even better," Tullis said.
John Tullis can be reached at (812) 599-4950 and Valentina Tullis can be reached at (812) 701-7137.
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