World Coins

British lifesaving medal sells in Spink auction in New York City

An 1876 silver Board of Trade Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea was awarded for the rescue of a man who fell overboard in Penang, modern day Malaysia.

Images courtesy of Spink.

When a native Malay butler slipped off a ship docked in Penang the night of March 7, 1876, chief steward William Saffery sprung into action. 

Britain rewarded Saffery’s heroics in diving into the water after the man with a silver Board of Trade Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea.

The medal for this bravery sold during a June 26 auction in New York City by Spink, realizing a hammer price of $500, the lower end of the estimate of $500 to $600.

The medal was designed by Benjamin Wyon, second son of Thomas Wyon the elder. He received instruction from his older brother, Thomas Wyon the younger.

The obverse of the medal depicts the ruler of the British Empire in that time, Queen Victoria.

The reverse shows a scene of a typical water rescue, with allegorical figures shown representative of the rescued and the rescuer. 

The night of the rescue, steam transport Arabia was anchored off Penang, a state in northwest Malaysia. 

The weather was squally, with rain and a floodtide running. Afadjeo Peetoo, described as “a native butler,” fell overboard into the shark-infested waters, rendered unconscious from striking his head against the railing. 

In the time necessary to launch a boat, he could have drowned or been devoured, but Saffery jumped in after him, keeping Peetoo’s head above water until both were rescued by the ship’s cutter, according to the auction house.

The medal measures 58 millimeters in diameter and was offered in its original case. 
Though “once polished as is common for these medals,” the medal was described by the firm as Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated.

Lifesaving medals

The Spink auction offered nine other lifesaving medals, all of United States origin. 
Lifesaving medals are a popular medal type because they can be tied to specific acts of heroism and are generally unique or nearly so (except in the case of multiple rescuers each receiving examples for the same act). 

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