In a letter published in the Oct. 10 issue of Coin World,
Andrew W. Pollock III opined that the reverse motif of the 1783-dated
Georgivs Triumpho token might actually show a balloon gondola, with
the Miss Liberty (?) figure standing in a basket with corners having
fleur de lys ornaments.
“Numismatist John Pack suggested to me that the reverse motif may
represent America’s aspirations for independence being buoyed aloft by
means of assistance received from French military allies,” Pollock continued.
Certain features, including the date numerals, seem to indicate
the dies for it were engraved by the same person who created the 1783
Nova Constellatio copper variety Crosby 1-A (Early Coins of America by
Sylvester S. Crosby). Struck at a private mint in Birmingham, England,
1783 and 1785 Nova Constellatio coppers were imported into the United
States in quantity, where they became a familiar sight in commerce.
Today, the Georgivs Triumpho token holds several mysteries. The
new Pollock idea about the hot air balloon seems to have merit.
America was indeed grateful to Marquis de Lafayette and other
Frenchmen who helped the Continental Army to victory. Paris was the
center of aerial activity, at first with tethered hot-air balloons,
and then on Dec. 14, 1783, the first free flight was made in a craft
constructed in 1782 by the Montgolfier brothers.
The first such flight in America took place on Jan. 10, 1793, when
Jean-Pierre Blanchard went aloft in Philadelphia as thousands watched,
including President George Washington. Blanchard reached a height of
about 5,800 feet and landed safely in Gloucester County, N.J.
Another mystery is the obverse portrait. It doesn’t resemble the
George Washington we know. That may be easily explained by the British
engraver lacking a portrait to work from, as Washington’s image was
not widely distributed until later.
The Voltaire medal of Washington, made in France in 1789, had a
fictitious portrait for the same reason. Depicted on the Georgivs
Triumpho token is a laureate victor who some have suggested resembles
George III of England as “George Triumphant.” However, as the British
George was not victorious in 1783 (the year the peace treaty was
signed), and as the reverse is not evocative of satire, I think we can
rest easy in the knowledge that our George was intended.
Another puzzle is the fact that no choice Mint State pieces exist,
or if they do, I haven’t seen one. The typical grade is apt to be Very
Fine or Extremely Fine.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.