World Coins

Napoleonic medal connected to California Gold Rush

A gold medal of Napoleon III was issued by a French organization that sponsored French settlers to the California Gold Rush in the 1850s. MDC Monnaies de Collection Monaco will offer the large gold medal in an auction on May 20.

Images courtesy of MDC Monaco.

A “Napoleonic” medal scheduled for sale in Monaco has an American connection.

The large gold medal was struck in 1856 for a French company that sponsored a gold ingot lottery.

The Société des lingots d’or, which means “gold ingot company,” was created on Aug. 3, 1850. Its purpose was to send 5,000 unemployed Frenchmen to the gold mines of California, according to MDC Monnaies de Collection  Monaco, the firm auctioning the medal on May 20. 

The men were former soldiers or individuals suspected of having revolutionary opinions, so there may have been a political element to the support for their removal from the country. 

A lottery was set to choose the future settlers and registered applicants were selected randomly by the prefecture. The lucky winners received a sum of money with a ticket to the United States. 

The jackpot was a gold ingot worth 400,000 francs. The ingot was placed on exhibit in Paris at Montmartre.

The medal in the auction was issued by the society, but the auction house does not describe its purpose.

Depicts Napoleon III

The obverse features a left-facing bust of Napoleon III, and the reverse is inscribed with the names of society officials.

The enormous medal weighs 265.7 grams (8.5 ounces) and measures 68 millimeters in diameter, and is accompanied by its original red leather case.

The medal is graded Specimen 66 by Professional Coin Grading Service, and has an estimate of €30,000 ($31,822 in U.S. funds).

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The medal is one of many highlights in the auction dedicated to the numismatic legacy of Napoleon III. The sale includes a set of coins, patterns, and medals of the French Second Empire.

With more than 100 patterns, the auction offers “perhaps the largest collection of Napoléon III patterns, including an exceptional set of uniface patterns from the 1 centime to the 100 francs” that were struck in 1855 and framed immediately after striking. 

Other highlights include a range of top-graded circulation coins with private provenances, and a rare collection of medals recalling the architectural, urban and industrial achievements carried on by Napoleon III.

Full details of the sale are available at the firm's website

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