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Griffin Roar: The Story of the Corcoran’s Admission Tags

Griffin Roar slider
By Rachel Cothran, Director of Public Relations, CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART

Last week, the Metropolitan Museum in New York did away with its beloved metal admission tags, which came in 16 colors and were first introduced in 1971. The New York Times published a story about the tags’ history and various incarnations (they were once formed into a dress!).

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Photo: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

While the tags are no more at the Met, they’re still going strong at many art institutions, including the Corcoran. Recently, a writer with Conde Nast Traveler contacted me to find out the story behind our  tags for a roundup of 15 cool tags and buttons around the globe. I wanted to go a little deeper. Here’s the story.

Mullins, 1896 catalogue. Note the “AP” initials (for Alphons Pelzer) at the right of the base.

Mullins, 1896 catalogue. Note the “AP” initials (for Alphons Pelzer) at the right of the base.

The Corcoran’s tags feature a griffin–a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. Why a griffin? Griffins were part of the Corcoran’s building design by architect Ernest Flagg (1857-1947); ground was broken in 1893. The W.H. Mullins company of Salem, Ohio, manufactured both the museum’s copper roof and griffins. Fittingly, the griffin is known in ancient lore as a guardian of treasure and priceless possessions!

“General view of works at Salem, Ohio, U.S. A., showing working force and group of 52 statues made for The Cotton States and International Exposition Co., Atlanta, Ga.,” Mullins, catalogue, 1896. Can you spot the griffin on the roof in this picture?

“General view of works at Salem, Ohio, U.S. A., showing working force and group of 52 statues made for The Cotton States and International Exposition Co., Atlanta, Ga.,” Mullins, catalogue, 1896. Can you spot the griffin on the roof in this picture?

The form was probably modeled in clay by Mullins’ chief sculptor Alphons Pelzer.  A mold was made from the clay model and individual pieces of copper sheeting about 1/32” thick were shaped around this mold.  Then the formed copper sheets were trimmed, placed over an iron support system, riveted together, and sealed with a zinc/lead solder. Over years the original orange-brown color of the copper has changed to light green as the copper reacted with sulfur in the air and formed a new mineral surface.

The Corcoran features two griffins, along 17th Street, NW at the north and south ends of the building. Spot them on your next visit!

Read more about the Corcoran’s building history here.