Indian peace medals sale highlights
- Published: Apr 8, 2016, 8 AM
Two Indian peace medals, including one from the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., were highlights of Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ official auctions during the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Expo in Baltimore, March 30 to April 1, with online sessions held after.
The Strong’s coin collection was primarily collected a century ago by John Woodbury (1859 to 1937). Woodbury was president of the Woodbury Whip Co., one of the largest buggy whip manufacturers and he was one of the earliest investors in Eastman Kodak. Among the most active collectors of his time, he retired in 1910 and would serve as the ninth president of the Rochester Numismatic Association.
The museum deaccessioned 4,900 coins several decades ago and the latest deaccession focused on historic medals. Funds from the deaccessioned medals will be devoted to new acquisitions and the care and preservation of objects in the museum’s collection.
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The tradition of the Indian peace medal is largely rooted in French and English practices of handing out medals to tribal chiefs and was adopted by George Washington. Subsequent presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Harrison, would present peace medals to Native American leaders at treaty signings and other ceremonies.
Among the most impressive items from the Strong consignment was a silver 1837 Martin Van Buren Indian peace medal, graded by Stack’s Bowers as Very Fine. As often seen on these medals, it was holed for suspension at 12 o’clock relative to the obverse and later plugged. Wear seen on both sides is consistent with its use as a wearable medal.
Stack’s Bowers observed, “The wear is ideal, presenting the paradigmatic image of an awarded medal, peppered with tiny marks but damaged by none of them.” On the plug, the description states, “The plug, as it were, may pop out with enough encouragement, but is clearly quite old. Either way, it neither harms the piece nor measurably affects its appeal,” adding, “Some light file marks on the edge above 12 o’clock suggest the placement and removal of a later mount, and this plug may have been placed during the useful life of the medal as part of that replacement suspension.”
The silver medal, attributed as Julian IP-18, as cataloged in R.W. Julian’s Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century 1792-1892, measured 62.4 millimeters in diameter and sold for $18,800.
Van Buren Indian peace medals were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in a bronze 51-millimeter version, as well as 76-millimeter and 62-millimeter silver and bronze versions. The medals were delivered to the office of the commissioner of Indian Affairs between 1837 and 1839 for presentation to Indian chiefs as diplomatic gifts, with the size of the medal corresponding to a chief’s importance within his tribe.
The reverse, showing clasped hands below crossed peace pipe and tomahawk with the legend PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP, was revisited by the U.S. Mint in 2004, when the motif was used on the reverse of the Jefferson, Louisiana Purchase 5-cent piece.
The next lot, which came from a Canadian family where it had been for generations, was a large silver 1857 James Buchanan Indian peace medal, measuring 75.8 millimeters in diameter, graded Very Fine by the auctioneer, and realized $19,975. It is also neatly pierced for suspension at 12 o’clock.
On its provenance, the catalog states, “It is believed to have become family property by way of a homesteader ancestor who settled in the area around Fort Garry during the early 1860s, located in what is now central Winnipeg. This area was also home to some members of the Sioux who fled to Manitoba after the 1862 Dakota War, and also Ojibway, Cree, Chipewyan and Assiniboine peoples.”
Marks on the reverse suggest that the piece may have been engraved with a name, sometimes seen on these medals, but the marks are indecipherable. The auction house noted the recipient could not be identified “even after comparing it with names of Native Americans who served as delegates to treaty signings in the time period that the Buchanan medals would likely have been distributed. As with most of these great medals, the recipient is likely lost to history.”
The periphery of the reverse shows two Indians fighting, weapons of war, an Indian maiden and a peace pipe. Interestingly, the central scene shows a Native American in full headdress behind a plow, while settlers play the game of baseball in the background. On the reverse’s unusual iconography, Major League Baseball historian John Thorn wrote, “The message of the medal’s border was one of primitive violence without the calming hand of civilization; that of the vignette, the possible taming of the wild through American ways in religion, tilling the soil ... and adoption of its favorite game. All that was lacking was a steaming apple pie.”
At least one of these medals has the weapons removed (after striking) from the reverse, suggesting that some took offense to weapons of war adorning a medal meant to promote peace. The traditional reverse proved lasting and would be used on Indian peace medals of Abraham Lincoln’s administration.
U.S. Coin Highlights
Among the U.S. coin lots was an original roll of 50 1935-D Winged Liberty Head dimes that sold for $28,200. This roll was unusual for this Denver Mint issue, which is typically seen with a below average strike. Most of the coins in the roll were certified full bands by Professional Coin Grading Service, with two grading Mint State 67, two at MS-66+ full bands, one MS-66, 20 at MS-66 full bands, six in MS-66, one MS-65+, six in MS-65 full bands, nine in MS-65 and three graded MS-64 full bands. The cataloger noted that this was the first original roll of 1935-D dimes the auctioneer had seen, concluding, “Clearly these coins are from the minority of 1935-D dimes that were well produced, and they have been originally and carefully preserved since the time of striking.”
The highlight of the U.S. coins was certainly a 1799 Capped Bust, Heraldic Eagle gold $10 eagle graded MS-66 by PCGS with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, housed in an older green label PCGS holder.
It is the single finest 1799 eagle of any die variety (this one is Bass-Dannreuther 10). On its quality Stack’s Bowers writes: “Radiant yellow gold patina dominates the outward appearance, while closer inspection reveals tinges of faint reddish-rose iridescence here and there along the denticles. Boldly, if not sharply struck throughout, with virtually pristine features that are simply a delight to behold.” It sold for $493,500.
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