US Coins

Gold medals in auction celebrate Lindbergh's flight

This article comes from our April 17, 2017, weekly issue of Coin World. Want to get all of our content, including special magazine exclusives? Subscribe today!

Two gold medals celebrating Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 transatlantic flight in his plane the Spirit of St. Louis will be offered at a Sotheby’s decorative art auction in New York on April 26. 

The medals are attached to silk tricolor ribbons and the obverse of each depicts the Spirit of St. Louis flying over choppy seas. Surrounding the design is the legend RAYMOND ORTEIG $25,000 PRIZE FUND and the medals are hand inscribed RAYMOND ORTEIG DONOR and JEAN ORTEIG ASSISTANT TREASURER. The reverse of each states, CAPTAIN CHARLES A. LINDBERGH MAY 20–21, 1927, surrounded by NON-STOP FLIGHT – NEW YORK TO PARIS. 

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The medals, which are offered as a pair, were struck for the donor himself as well as the assistant treasurer, his son Jean. The medals, measuring 1 7/16 inches and struck from 18-karat gold are offered as a pair with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. 

Flight innovation

Raymond Orteig (1870 to 1939) was a French-born, New York City hotel owner who created the Orteig Prize to award $25,000 for the first person of any Allied country to fly in one flight in either direction between New York City and Paris. 

Orteig hoped that the award would help in Franco-American relationships and would build on each country’s interest in aviation. He also hoped that the value of the prize itself would increase public interest in aviation and spur technological developments for safer aviation. 

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As Orteig wrote in a 1919 letter to the president of the Aero Club of America, “As a stimulus to the courageous aviators, I desire to offer, through the auspices and regulations of the Aero Club of America, a prize of $25,000 to the first aviator of any Allied Country crossing the Atlantic in one flight, from Paris to New York or New York to Paris, all other details in your care.” 

The offer was initially valid for five years but was reissued in 1925. While he was on vacation in Pau, France, Orteig was notified that Charles Lindbergh had left on his transatlantic flight. Orteig arrived in Paris just before Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, touched down. He would meet Lindbergh at the American Embassy on May 22, 1927. Several aviators unsuccessfully attempted the New York to Paris flight prior to Lindbergh, and at least six men died in three separate crashes. 

Orteig officially presented Lindbergh with his prize on June 16, 1927, at a ceremony at the Breevort Hotel in New York City. 

In today’s dollars the $25,000 award would be worth approximately $350,000. The prize would inspire the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight. 

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