About VAMs column from the May 23, 2016, Weekly issue of
On March 2, 1877, only three days before the presidential
inauguration, Rutherford B. Hayes won the disputed election by
a single electoral vote after several months of wrangling by the
Electoral Commission of 1877. Hayes had lost the popular vote in
November 1876 to Samuel Tilden by more than 250,000 votes.
For numismatists, one of the most significant legacies of the Hayes
administration was the passage of the Bland-Allison Act over the
president’s veto. The law mandated creation of a new standard dollar —
the coin we now know as the Morgan dollar. In the fall of 1876, a then
30-year-old George T. Morgan immigrated to the United States
from England to take a position as the assistant engraver at the
Philadelphia Mint. He immediately set to work on several projects,
including variations on designs that would become the dollar and the
inaugural medal for the new president.
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I recently had the opportunity to closely examine an original
example of the Hayes medal. Morgan captured a bold and flattering
image of Hayes, rendered in very high relief. The base of the portrait
had plenty of room for the artist-engraver to discreetly fit his
entire last name as a signature on his work, as opposed to his typical
M initial found on most of his creations. The reverse is in a lower
relief, with the title PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES encircling the
exterior. A laurel wreath surrounds the date of the inauguration.
One of the more remarkable features of an original example is
revealed when the lettering is closely examined. While some of the
lettering was set into the die from punches, other lettering is
clearly engraved directly into the die. Hundreds of graver strokes
from Morgan’s own hand are visible. This personal touch only adds to
the appeal of his first American medal.