A lava medallion or tablet is made by taking molten lava and pressing it between two, forged plates to form a mold and rapidly cooling it in water to solidify it. The lava has to be retrieved from a recent flow that still hot enough to be malleable.
This particular lava medallion was made from the lava of a volcano called Mount Vesuvius in Italy, as depicted on the back of the medallion. Mount Vesuvius is famously known for its 79 A.D. eruption, when it destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Mount Vesuvius, like many volcanoes can lay dormant for centuries, before erupting. The last time Mount Vesuvius erupted was March 1944, during World War II.
The lava medallions became popular souvenir or commemorative pieces starting around 1820 into the early 1900s and often depicted images of famous people, rulers, or events.
This lava medallion comes from 1880 and was commissioned by Henry Augustus Ward. Henry Augustus Ward is famous for founding a company called Ward’s Natural Science in 1862 in Rochester New York. At that time, it was the leading supplier of natural science materials/specimens to museums. The company is still around today, but now it specializing in providing science education materials for high school and college-level studies. Howell refers to Ward’s brother-in-law, Edwin Howell, who was a partner in the Ward Science company for a time.
It is not known how the lava medallion ended up it the museum’s collection, but it might have been donated by a former director Henry Levi Ward, who was the son of Henry Augustus Ward and the museum director from 1922-1932. There is no evidence that this lava medallion was mass produced and sold by the Ward’s Natural Science Company.