Indian peace medals sale highlights of Baltimore Expo auction

Stack’s Bowers auction features items from New York’s Strong Museum, finest known 1799 gold eagle
By , Coin World
Published : 04/08/16
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Two Indian peace medals, including one from the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., were highlights of Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ official auctions during the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Expo in Baltimore, March 30 to April 1, with online sessions held after.

The Strong’s coin collection was primarily collected a century ago by John Woodbury (1859 to 1937). Woodbury was president of the Woodbury Whip Co., one of the largest buggy whip manufacturers and he was one of the earliest investors in Eastman Kodak. Among the most active collectors of his time, he retired in 1910 and would serve as the ninth president of the Rochester Numismatic Association. 

The museum deaccessioned 4,900 coins several decades ago and the latest deaccession focused on historic medals. Funds from the deaccessioned medals will be devoted to new acquisitions and the care and preservation of objects in the museum’s collection. 

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The tradition of the Indian peace medal is largely rooted in French and English practices of handing out medals to tribal chiefs and was adopted by George Washington. Subsequent presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Harrison, would present peace medals to Native American leaders at treaty signings and other ceremonies. 

Among the most impressive items from the Strong consignment was a silver 1837 Martin Van Buren Indian peace medal, graded by Stack’s Bowers as Very Fine. As often seen on these medals, it was holed for suspension at 12 o’clock relative to the obverse and later plugged. Wear seen on both sides is consistent with its use as a wearable medal. 

Stack’s Bowers observed, “The wear is ideal, presenting the paradigmatic image of an awarded medal, peppered with tiny marks but damaged by none of them.” On the plug, the description states, “The plug, as it were, may pop out with enough encouragement, but is clearly quite old. Either way, it neither harms the piece nor measurably affects its appeal,” adding, “Some light file marks on the edge above 12 o’clock suggest the placement and removal of a later mount, and this plug may have been placed during the useful life of the medal as part of that replacement suspension.”

The silver medal, attributed as Julian IP-18, as cataloged in R.W. Julian’s Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century 1792-1892, measured 62.4 millimeters in diameter and sold for $18,800. 

Van Buren Indian peace medals were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in a bronze 51-millimeter version, as well as 76-millimeter and 62-millimeter silver and bronze versions. The medals were delivered to the office of the commissioner of Indian Affairs between 1837 and 1839 for presentation to Indian chiefs as diplomatic gifts, with the size of the medal corresponding to a chief’s importance within his tribe.

The reverse, showing clasped hands below crossed peace pipe and tomahawk with the legend PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP, was revisited by the U.S. Mint in 2004, when the motif was used on the reverse of the Jefferson, Louisiana Purchase 5-cent piece. 

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