US Coins

Women’s Auxiliary of the Massachusetts Civil medal

The Stack’s Bowers Baltimore sales are well-known for their offerings of more esoteric U.S. numismatic material and the November offering continues that tradition.

Among the most impressive lots in the Nov. 8 Numismatic Americana session is a large 125.6-millimeter 1905 Women’s Auxiliary of the Massachusetts Civil Service Reform Association bronze presentation medal by Frances Grimes and Augustus Saint-Gaudens graded MS-64 by NGC.

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The medal was long thought to be designed by Saint-Gaudens, who took the commission as a favor to his niece, an officer in the association, and executed with the assistance of Frances Grimes, who assisted the sculptor in his studio. It was viewed as a relative outlier among Saint-Gaudens medals, with a description of a comparable medal in the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University noting the differences when it wrote, “Saint-Gaudens executed this medal later in his life, and it has a classical simplicity, openness, and dignity that are very different from his earlier work in this format.”

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Recent research now favors it as a work of Grimes working under Saint-Gaudens.

The obverse depicts a standing female figure representing Justice holding the shield of state in her left hand, with her right holding the standard and scales of justice. The reverse depicts a pine branch wreath. Examples were made with a blank rectangular band for insertion of the medal recipient’s name.

The plaster model for the medal was cast by the Gorham Company in Providence, Rhode Island, and the edge of the offered bronze medal is marked GORHAM CO.

The medals were awarded to eighth grade students, rewarding their essays on Civil Service Reform. The present medal is engraved to Charles Holt Gould. 

The description concludes, “A rare medal that is more difficult to find than its academic award nature might indicate, as it is collected by Saint-Gaudens, art medal and Massachusetts buffs alike; its rarity has been verified by price realizations as much as $10,000 for top quality pieces.”

Among the offerings in the sale that were donated by Stanley De Forest Scott, with proceeds designated to benefit the American Numismatic Society’s campaign to endow its executive director position, is a bronze 59-millimeter undated Washington Letter to Hamilton medal by John Adams Bolen. The circa 1864 medal is graded MS-63 red and brown by NGC.

The obverse depicts Washington’s profile looking left. The reverse contains text of a 1792 letter from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, stating: “I hope, that liberal allowance will be made, for the political opinions of each other. Without these I do not see how the Reins of Government are to be managed, or how the Union of the States can be much longer preserved.”

It is among Bolen’s largest and most accomplished works. The description explains, “Among the most well known of Bolen’s medals, this piece has long been considered an essential entry into specialized collections of George Washington medals, in addition. It is arguably one of the finest products within this specialty from the Civil War era, a period in which collecting such pieces was fevered.” The popular medal was struck in various metals including silver, copper and white metal.

This one has a provenance that dates back to June 1882 when it sold at S.H. & H. Chapman’s sale of the Bushnell Collection and then went to T. Harrison Garrett, where Bowers and Ruddy offered it at its March 1981 Garrett Collection sale.

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