US Coins

30-ounce gold Henry Clay medal in September sale

A nearly 30-ounce duplicate gold medal struck as a replacement for the medal originally presented in 1852 by citizens of New York to statesman Henry Clay but subsequently stolen will be offered at auction Sept. 17 in Dallas.

The committee of New York citizens commissioned the medal recognizing Clay’s achievements as “The Great Compromiser.”

The nearly half-inch-thick, 90-millimeter medal, struck by the U.S. Mint, is being offered in a “Lincoln and His Times” sale, a joint auction by Heritage Auctions and the journal The Rail Splitter in recognition of the 20th anniversary of The Rail Splitter’s May 18, 1996, sale in New York.

With gold closing on the London market July 14 at $1,323.60 per ounce, the intrinsic value of the gold medal, its precious metal value alone, is nearly $40,000.

The medal has been consigned to the Sept. 17 auction by a seventh generation grandson of Henry Clay. The Clay descendant, who wishes to remain anonymous, took possession of the items in 1974 upon the death of a great aunt.

The Clay family member who consigned the gold medal and accompanying items is the eighth to hold the items since Henry Clay was presented the original medal and accompanying items in 1852.

The medal, fabricated from pure California gold, is housed in what researchers conclude is a duplicate of the original engraved silver presentation case, which resembles a hinged pocket watch. The medal and case are stored inside a box that has on its lid a colorized drawing of the obverse of the gold medal as though housed in its silver case. Accompanying the medal is a letter announcing the reasoning for the presentation of the medal.

According to an article by Georgia S. Chamberlain in the January 1961 issue of the American Numismatic Association journal, The Numismatist, the gold for the medal cost $400, the silver casing $75, the cost of cutting the dies $1,600, and the cost of design and other “incidental” expenses, another $400.

Ohio sculptor Thomas Dow Jones is credited with executing the obverse design based on an 1850 bust of Clay by Mahlon Pruden, a sculptor from Lexington, Ky., from when Clay was 73 years old. Another Ohio sculptor, William Walcutt, rendered the reverse design for the gold medal.

The dies were cut at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia by Charles Cushing Wright.

The obverse medallic portrait is encircled by a wreath. The reverse design depicts a wreath with cotton on one side and corn on the other, within which are inscribed Clay’s achievements in public service, including the Compromise of 1850, a series of laws dealing with the issue of slavery which staved off the American Civil War for 10 years.

According to R.W. Julian in Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century 1792-1892, Wright petitioned the Treasury Department in December 1851 and was granted permission to have the Clay medal struck in gold at the Mint.

Permission was subsequently granted for the production of 150 bronze duplicates. A single example is known struck in tin.

Presented on Feb. 9, 1852, on behalf of the citizens of the City of New York, the gold medal was formally delivered by a committee of private citizens to the terminally ill Clay in his hotel rooms at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The hinged and engraved sterling silver presentation case features on its face ornate scrollwork and engravings of a Henry Clay monument and Clay’s Kentucky homestead, Ashland. The sandstone Cumberland Road Monument was erected in 1820 by Moses and Lydia Boggs Shepherd to honor Clay for his efforts to get the Cumberland Road, now known as National Road, built through what is now Wheeling, W.Va.

The back of the case depicts scrollwork with a rendering at center of the U.S. Capitol building.

Inside the face of the presentation case are engraved the names of the New York citizens’ committee members — Daniel Ullman, Charles M. Leupp, Joseph M. Price, Alfred G. Peckham and Smith F. Eastman.

After the presentation, Henry Clay entrusted the original medal and silver case to the care of New York socialite Anna Charlotte Lynch, accompanied by attorney Charles Butler, from whom the pieces were stolen shortly thereafter while enroute to New York.

Lynch had offered to take the medal and case to New York at the request of Wright, who had not been happy with the reverse lettering and had asked Clay to return it.

An individual allegedly responsible for the theft was eventually arrested in Hannover, Germany, with $2,000 face value in American coins as well as an undescribed, large gold medal believed to have been the original gold medal struck and presented to Clay.

In the 2016 tome, 1849: The Philadelphia Mint Strikes Gold by Michael F. Moran and Jeff Garrett, Moran cites a March 18, 1852, letter from New York committee member Ullman to Clay referencing the Philadelphia Mint’s production of a replacement gold medal for the stolen medal. The letter is part of the Daniel Ullman Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

Moran’s research did not determine whatever happened to the stolen Clay medal and its original silver presentation case.

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