A rare silver ‘Sower’ Peace medal leads dazzling pack at upcoming Heritage sale

Early American Rarities in Heritage’s February Long Beach Expo auction
By , Coin World
Published : 02/03/17
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A selection of 18th century rarities highlight Heritage’s Long Beach Expo U.S. Coins auction, set for Feb. 16 to 19.

Dated 1796 in Roman numerals, the Washington “Seasons” silver Indian peace medal graded About Uncirculated Details, Tooled, by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. was actually struck two years later. It is one of three Indian peace medals popularly called the “Washington Seasons medals”; the three designs, depicting cattle raising, land cultivation, and spinning and weaving, actually were intended to promote a Western ideal of “civilized life” to Native Americans.

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The medals were commissioned by George Washington’s third secretary of war, James McHenry, and were the first Indian peace medals struck for the United States. The U.S. minister to Great Britain, Rufus King, commissioned American artist John Trumbull to produce drawings for three obverse designs — also known today as The Shepherd, The Farmer (aka The Sower), and The Family — and a common reverse bearing the legend SECOND / PRESIDENCY / OF / GEO. WASHINGTON / MDCCXCVI.

The land cultivation and farming design — perhaps best known as The Sower — was intended by McHenry to be “emblematic of the progressive states of man from the savage to the earliest arts of civilized life.”

Trumbull hoped that the combination of the sower and the man plowing in the background would depict the first steps in agriculture, describing his medal as “a man sowing wheat — in the distance another person ploughing — a small house and enclosures — characterize the first steps in agriculture.” 

Trumbull was an American artist and a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, known for his portraits and historic scenes related to the Revolution. His rendition of what is popularly known as The Signing of the Declaration of Independence is seen on the back of the $2 Federal Reserve note.

The medals were struck in 1798 in Birmingham, England, at Matthew Boulton’s mint with dies engraved by his employee Conrad Heinrich Küchler. The three “Seasons” Indian peace medals contrast with later tradition by not featuring a portrait of either Washington or his successor John Adams. They were actually distributed by Thomas Jefferson, though they do not seem to have enjoyed wide distribution, since Native Americans preferred medals with larger portraits of Western leaders. The supply that arrived in July 1798 remained available until at least 1803.

This absence of a large portrait makes them less immediately recognizable as Indian peace medals. As Stack’s Bowers Galleries noted in its offering of a copper Sower medal at its November 2015 Baltimore Expo auction, “The Seasons medals are not nearly as popular as the presidential portrait medals that commenced with the Jefferson administration. However, their official distribution was nonetheless an important part of the earliest efforts at establishing diplomacy between Native Americans and the infant United States.”

Heritage observes that The Sower design is rarely encountered in silver and just two have been offered in recent years, both from the collection of John Jay Ford Jr. In the offering of one of these two on Oct. 17, 2006, for $37,375, Stack’s recorded a mintage of 150 silver medals with a loop for suspension, 17 silver without loop, 60 bronzed copper with loop, and seven bronzed copper without loop (though the survival rate is low for these).

Of the offered example Heri­tage writes, “The surfaces are glossy from a long-ago wipe, and display two clusters of unobtrusive pinscratches near the farmer. Slight edge knocks are noted at 6 o’clock on the obverse and 11 o’clock on the reverse. Such problems are customary for silver Seasons medals, which are desirable as the first Indian Peace medals of our nation.”

Other standouts in Heritage’s upcoming Long Beach offering include a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar graded Very Fine Details, Rim Damage, by Professional Coin Grading Service. It can be traced back to the Samuel Hudson Chapman Collection, which was sold by Thomas L. Elder in 1929.

The early dollar would later be part of the Buffalo Historical Society holdings until it was deaccessioned in 2005. The next year it sold at Heritage’s 2006 American Numismatic Association National Money Show convention auction in Atlanta where it realized $69,000. It was offered last autumn at a Heritage auction in New York City — there graded Extremely Fine Details, Damaged Rim by ANACS — where it brought $85,187.50.  

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