First Zachary Taylor congressional gold medal makes its first auction appearance

First congressional gold medal voted by Congress for a military action after the War of 1812.
By , Coin World
Published : 07/29/16
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Several notable gold medals are crossing the auction block at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Aug. 9 evening session at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Anaheim, Calif. 

Perhaps the most visually impressive and historically significant is a congressional gold medal awarded to Gen. Zachary Taylor (1784 to 1850) by a unanimous vote of Congress on July 16, 1846, for defeating the Mexican army at Brownsville, Texas, during the 1846 battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. The offering represents the first time that it has been offered at auction. 

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The medal measures 64.7 millimeters in diameter and was the first congressional gold medal voted by Congress for a military action after the War of 1812. 

The lot description states: “Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson communicated with William L. Marcy, the Secretary of War, in December 1846, dictating the designs and size of the medal to be struck. Patterson calculated the expense of ‘8 oz fine gold,’ as close to pure as technology then allowed, at $165.36. The dies would cost an addition $600, plus $5 for an appropriate case and some other minor expenses.” 

The obverse portrait is by John Gadsby Chapman, and the reverse design and its inscription was suggested by Patterson.

As Coin World’s Paul Gilkes wrote in his article on congressional gold medals struck at the U.S. Mint that appeared in the May monthly issue, “Zachary Taylor holds the distinction of being the only individual awarded three congressional gold medals that recognize his military exploits on the battlefield, all citing his accomplishments during the War with Mexico.” 

Gilkes adds, “On the secondary market or at auction, collectors may encounter examples in silver or bronze composition of each of the three medals.” 

Taylor would go on to become the 12th president of the United States. He would die on July 9, 1850, after suffering briefly from an intestinal ailment. Millard Fillmore, his vice president, would complete his term. 

Stack’s offered the 1848 gold medal given to Taylor for actions at the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War for $460,000 at a Nov. 8, 2006, auction. That 89.5-millimeter medal was made from the first deposit at the Mint from the California Gold Rush and its price represented a record for an American medal at auction that stands today.

The lot description notes that congressionally awarded gold medals are extraordinarily rare, concluding, “Possessing richness that only fine gold displays, gravity that only a large medal carries, and history that only Congressionally awarded military medals can boast, this medal is one of the most important ever offered for auction.” 

The description includes a survey of the location of 20 surviving pre-1900 congressional gold medals, of which few remain in private hands. 

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