US Coins

Newly discovered medals go to auction in Baltimore

A newly discovered silver Washington Before Boston medal struck at the Paris Mint circa 1789 brought $156,000 on May 24 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Baltimore Expo auction. 

Discovered in the estate of attorney New York attorney Alfred B. Carb, it is the 11th example recorded, with some of the others housed in the collections of major museums including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, tthe Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The 68.5-millimeter medal was graded Specimen 61 by Professional Coin Grading Service. The cataloger observed, “The fields are generously reflective, particularly so in the most protected areas close to the devices and through the legends,” further noting, “Close inspection reveals a bit of handling, including light cabinet friction on the highest points and scattered fine marks. However, the beautiful toning masks much of this and the overall eye appeal upon first inspection is probably on par with the finest of those in private hands.” 

The edge has the prior owner’s name ALFRED B. CARB neatly engraved, and the catalog entry states, “At 12 o’clock, a small area of file marks is seen, which we presume to be a result of this piece being held firm for the mentioned engraving directly opposite it,” adding, “Neither feature is visible from the obverse or reverse.”

The medal was part of a series of medals that documented American history. 

The dies were prepared by French engraver Pierre Simon Benjamin Duvivier. He relied on Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of Washington for the obverse portrait and the reverse portrays Washington and his troops overlooking Boston from a cannon emplacement on Dorchester Height. 

Although produced at the Paris Mint, it is collected among the Comitia Americana series of medals that was commissioned by the American Congress, with a gold example, now in the Boston Public library, presented to George Washington by Thomas Jefferson on March 21, 1790. Later restrikes were produced both at the U.S. Mint and the Paris Mint.

Jefferson wished that these medals would be included in the collections of “major centers of learning,” which explains why more than half are now in museum collections

Authors Q. David Bowers and Katherine Jaeger had the medal in the number two position in their 100 Greatest Medals and Tokens book, after another famous contemporary medal: the legendary Libertas Americana medal, which inspired the earliest U.S. coin designs. 

Roosevelt Inaugural medal

Another recently discovered medal featuring a famed U.S. president was another standout as a PCGS Specimen 62 bronze example of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Theodore Roosevelt undated (1905) inaugural medal brought $31,200. 

The 73-millimeter medal carries the Tiffany & Co. edge mark, and the reverse design — with its proud eagle — would later be adapted by Saint-Gaudens for the reverse of his 1907 Indian Head gold $10 eagle. Much of the modeling was done under Saint-Gaudens’ eye by Adolph Alexander Weinman, well-known to collectors as designer of both the Winged Liberty Head dime and Walking Liberty half dollar in 1916. 

Stack’s Bowers writes, “This beautiful specimen exhibits handsome deep brown patina with subtle rose and autumn-orange highlights evident as the surfaces dip into a light,” adding, “Trivial handling marks and a few swirls of light carbon over and behind Roosevelt’s portrait are noted solely for accuracy, the in hand appearance predominantly smooth and highly appealing.” 

Tiffany produced 150 bronze examples of the medal, but not all are marked on the edge with the Tiffany mark. The cataloger points out, “It is believed that some medals that were not considered completely up to the standards of the maker did not receive the mark, however, some of the unmarked medals appear just as nice as the marked ones.” 

It too was fresh to the market, having been found in a jewelry box of the consignor’s grandmother after her passing, though how it ended up in the family remains unknown. It ranks number 27 in the 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens, the placement making it the highest ranked 20th century medal in that book.

 

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