US Coins

Specialized collection of Washington medals in Stack’s Bowers auction

An extensive collection of Washingtoniana from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania assembled by famed 19th century numismatist William Spohn Baker will close out Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ auctions at the Whitman Baltimore Expo on Nov. 16 with additional pieces offered in a Nov. 18 online session. 

The specialized collection was donated to the society by the lifelong Philadelphian in 1897, and Baker is well known in numismatics as the author of the 1885 book Medallic Portraits of Washington, which continues to be a standard reference to the series. 

The medals relating to George Washington are a surprisingly diverse group, first produced by Washington’s contemporaries, with later issues produced as tributes to him by following generations. As Baker wrote, “It needs but a glance at the titles of the different groups, to reveal how the name of Washington is associated in the minds of a people, with all their diversified interests, pursuits and enterprises,” and his research created a road map for making these objects collectible for future collectors. Baker organized his medals largely by theme in his reference book.

In returning these items back to private collectors, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania plans to use the proceeds to care for its collection of more than 21 million manuscripts, books and images, as well as for funding future acquisitions. 

Among the most popular of the Washington pieces are the famous silver Skull and Crossbones 1800 Washington Funeral medals, of which the collection includes two. The finer is graded About Uncirculated 55 by Professional Coin Grading Service and is neatly holed at 12:00 relative to the obverse for suspension, as issued. 

The cataloger observes, “The obverse is somewhat deeply toned and appears a little dark at first glance. However, close inspection reveals polychrome mottling of gold, green, rose, violet and blue. The recesses are perhaps a bit darker, but this is at least partly due to light natural handling deposits that have settled therein.” The reverse is lighter, as expected, since these medals were stored obverse-up in a cabinet. 

Many different types of these Washington Funeral medals were produced after Washington’s death Dec. 14, 1799, as personal mementos of the beloved first president. These were produced by Jacob Perkins, a member of the Masonic Brotherhood, for the Masonic funeral procession in Boston on Feb. 11, 1800. The second, graded AU-53 by PCGS follows, leading the cataloger to note, “A single Skull and Crossbones medal sets any collection of Washington medals apart, but the inclusion of two is really only seen in the greatest collections.”

Landmark series

Demand was plentiful in the early 19th century for impressive commemorative medals celebrating Washington. To meet that demand, Joseph Sansom planned a series celebrating the history of the American Revolution. He completed four in the series, the first being the 1805 C.C.A.U.S. (Commander in Chief, Armies of the United States) medal, listed as Baker 57 and GW-90 in Neil Musante’s two-volume 2016 opus, Medallic Washington. Samson presented one to President Thomas Jefferson on Dec. 28, 1805, and soon offered examples struck in silver for $5 and gold for $50. The obverse die broke early, which limited production. 

Stack’s Bowers writes, “The C.C.A.U.S. medal has long been considered a landmark of the Washington series, one that typically only appears in truly remarkable cabinets.” 

The dies were engraved by John Reich, familiar to collectors as the designer of the Capped Bust series of U.S. silver coins, among other things, and his mark “R.” is seen at Washington’s shoulder. 

The catalog lists the provenance of 10 known examples, and notes several additional examples which may be tied to the 10 listed. 

The offered medal is graded Specimen 58 by PCGS. 

The auction also offers two examples of the fourth and final issue of Sansom’s series, called the “Peace of 1783” medal, dating from circa 1805 and graded Specimen 62 and Specimen 64 by PCGS. 

Temperance medal

Among the more charming items in the sale is a circa 1847 House of Temperance medal, cataloged in the standard references as Baker 329 and Musante’s GW-174, graded Mint State 63 brown by PCGS. These were designed by Robert Lovett Sr. and issued by the Washington Temperance Society of Baltimore. 

These societies followed what is known as “The Washington Pledge,” stating, “We, whose names are annexed, desirous of forming a society for our natural benefit, and to guard against a pernicious practice, which is injurious to our health, standing and families — we do pledge ourselves as gentlemen, not to drink any spirituous or malt liquors, wine or cider.”

The reverse design depicts a HOUSE OF TEMPERANCE, as stated, showing a family scene of a man reading to an attentive woman seated at a table in a room near an open window. A child stands near the woman, and evidence of a learned, well-heeled household includes books, a floral-print carpet, and a globe. Teacups, a loaf of bread, and possibly fruits on the table provide healthy sustenance for this temperate household. 

Examples struck in brass (PCGS MS-65) and white metal (PCGS MS-63) follow in the auction. These three were initially purchased as a three-piece set by Baker from S.H. and H. Chapman’s June 1882 Charles I. Bushnell sale. here

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