US Coins

Cowpens medal realizes $264,000 in Stack’s Bowers sale

A rare original bronze striking of the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens bronze medal graded Specimen 64 by PCGS sold for $264,000 and led bidding at Stack’s Bowers’ Part V offering of the Sydney F. Martin Collection Nov. 13

All images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

Stack’s Bowers Galleries continued to build on its successful offering of the Sydney F. Martin Collection, presenting Part V on Nov. 13, which added significantly to the $15 million total achieved in the first four sessions.

The top lot was an original 1781 Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal — one of just three original bronze examples in private hands and graded Specimen 64 brown by Professional Coin Grading Service — that realized $264,000.

An original striking, it was produced in Paris around 1789 and hand-carried by Thomas Jefferson to the United States.

The surfaces show two tiny flecks of gold embedded in the obverse, likely the remainders of the now-lost gold example that was struck from the same dies previously.

The catalog entry added, “As if this medal’s reflective surfaces, its die markers, and the scattered tiny lint marks from careful polishing of the die faces don’t cinch this piece’s status as a dramatically early die state, the gold left behind by the single medal whose existence caused these dies to be made is the ultimate exclamation point.”

The lost gold example was replaced in 1840, and that one realized $960,000 at an April 2022 Stack’s Bowers auction; the cataloger suspects the now-missing original gold example “is likely somewhere in the muck beneath the Monongahela River, stolen in a Pittsburgh bank robbery in 1818 and dispatched to permanent oblivion by the thieves.”

The consignor here acquired this example for a modest $21,850 at the Stack’s May 2006 offering of the John J. Ford Jr. Collection, Part XIV, where the auctioneer had conservatively graded it as “About Uncirculated and somewhat scarce. Good bronze color on both sides.”

The 2007 publication of Comitia Americana and Related Medals by John W. Adams and Anne Bentley helped collectors understand the rarity of these bronze strikes from the original dies, and helped separate the original medals that Jefferson carried home from later restrikes. The Comitia Americana medals were authorized by Congress and celebrate significant victories during the Revolutionary War, honoring the officers who achieved them. The Libertas Americana medal that influenced the first U.S. coin designs is the best-known of these, with the offered medal being a close second.

Medals and popular music

John Kraljevich, the cataloger of the medal, related these two medals to popular music, writing, “If the Libertas Americana medal is like Radiohead’s The Bends, the accessible composition that made you fall in love with Dupre’s art, the Morgan at Cowpens is his Kid A, the staggering masterwork that yields a new appreciation on every encounter.”

The Battle of Cowpens was a turning point in the American Revolution, where Daniel Morgan and his troops claimed a victory over the British army.

The dies are the work of French engraver Augustin Dupre and his depiction of the battle scene is both detailed and energetic.

One side depicts Morgan on horseback leading from the right an infantry charge toward the retreating British calvary on the left. The design was prescribed by Congress who, in authorizing the gold medal for Morgan, said that the design should emphasize, “his numbers, the numbers of the enemy, the numbers of killed, wounded and prisoners, and his trophies.”

The other side shows, as described by Adams and Bentley, “A semi-nude Indian female, an allegorical figure used by Europeans to represent America” presenting a laurel crown on Morgan who “strikes a modest pose, bowing slightly to receive his accolade and leaning on a grounded sword held in his right hand.”

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