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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 19, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 35
The Presidential Insignia

On Commencement Day, President William R. Brody will wear the presidential insignia, a silver necklace that holds the Johns Hopkins seal, right, and a medallion for each of the university's presidents. Brody's portrait is shown below at left.
Photos by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Greg RienziThe Gazette

On Commencement Day 1966, the university's eighth president, Milton S. Eisenhower, added a rather conspicuous accessory to his academic regalia, one that had been created to help him and future presidents stand out in the crowd.

That year, Eisenhower first wore the Johns Hopkins presidential insignia, a long and hefty sterling silver necklace that signifies the authority vested in the president by the board of trustees.

The tradition of academic ornamental jewelry dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe and was brought to JHU to add a touch of pageantry and regality to university ceremonies.

The insignia, crafted by local silversmith Henry Powell Hopkins Jr. (who believes he is a distant relative of the university's founder), features a Johns Hopkins seal pendant, chain links and 20 medallions, on 13 of which are portraits of each of the university presidents. Seven medallions are blank, awaiting likenesses of future presidents.

Two other local artists, Bill Heymann and Frank Hill, engraved the portraits, basing the images on photographs provided by the university. The reverse side of the portraits contains the president's name and years in office.

Hopkins, who with his son, Henry III, and daughter, Martha, still owns and operates Henry P. Hopkins Silversmiths in Baltimore, estimates that the insignia cost $5,000 to make and took nearly a year to craft. The trick, he says, was designing the exact length of links between the engraved medallions so that the necklace would drape properly over an academic robe and fall on the wearer's sternum. Hopkins says that the piece had to be reworked several times before it fell just right on Eisenhower, a man of modest height.

Hopkins had in 1954 crafted the university's mace, which is carried by the chief marshal during the commencement procession, and carried and displayed at presidential inaugurations. Hopkins Silversmiths also designed the ceremonial necklace worn by Edward Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the maces in use at Washington College, Loyola College, the University of Pennsylvania and several other colleges and universities.

"But Johns Hopkins was one of our first big jobs," Hopkins said. "It really put us on the map."


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