Unique Cowpens gold medal on exhibit at Philadelphia museum
- Published: Jun 29, 2023, 9 AM
A unique gold medal celebrating the Revolutionary War victory by Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan over British Army forces in the 1781 Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina is going on exhibit at a Philadelphia museum in its first public appearance since it sold at auction for $960,000 in April 2022.
This exhibit, apparently, also is the first time the piece is available for general public viewing since its creation in 1839, according to the auction house that sold the medal in 2022.
The winning bidder in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction, Brian Hendelson, president of Classic Coin Company in Bridgewater, New Jersey, has loaned the historic Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal and its original red leather and purple velvet presentation case to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.
Insured now for more than $1 million, it is a featured part of an exhibit titled “At War with a South Carolina Regiment, 1779–1782” that is now on display at the museum.
“I’ve collected early Americana for many years, including historical treasures from the Revolutionary War period. Adding the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens gold medal to my collection certainly is a tremendous honor. It commemorates an important event in early American history and honors a Revolutionary War hero who often is overlooked today,” said Hendelson.
“After 182 years hidden away with previous owners, I’m delighted to loan this national treasure to the museum so it now can be seen and appreciated by many people,” he explained.
The medal is cataloged as Betts 593, Julian MI-7, Loubat 8.
Morgan led his Continental troops in a decisive victory over British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton on Jan. 17, 1781, at what is now the Cowpens National Battlefield in Gaffney, South Carolina.
The museum’s description of the battle states: “The Battle of Cowpens turned the tide of the war in the South. While British forces still held the coastal cities of Charleston and Savannah, the Revolutionaries gradually reclaimed control of the countryside.”
In March 1781, Congress authorized the creation of a large gold medal to honor Morgan. Struck in Paris by the French engraver Augustin Dupre, it measured 56 millimeters in diameter and weighed 4.8 troy ounces.
Morgan received the medal in 1790. He died in 1802, and his one-of-a-kind gold medal was among the items stolen in a burglary at the Pittsburgh Farmers and Mechanics Bank in 1818. It was never recovered.
Morgan’s grandson, Morgan Lafayette Neville, was an executive of the bank. In 1819, he began efforts to get a replacement medal, including writing to former President Thomas Jefferson who carried the original medal with him when he returned from Paris in 1789 to become the first U.S. secretary of state.
Eventually, in July 1836, Congress approved “An Act to renew the gold medal struck and presented to General Morgan, by order of Congress, in honor of the battle of Cowpens.” But the grandson died three years later in March 1839 before the medal was created.
Finally, in December 1839, based on the design from Paris used to create the stolen and missing medal, the Philadelphia Mint struck a single Morgan at Cowpens medal weighing 4.79 ounces of fine gold. It was subsequently presented in 1841 to Morgan’s great-grandson Morgan Lafayette Neville Jr. and it remained in the family until 1914. Since then, it has been privately owned by others, including the family of banker, financier, and philanthropist John Pierpont Morgan Jr.
Known as the Comitia Americana (Latin for American Congress) series, only seven gold medals were authorized by Congress for heroes of the American Revolution. However, apparently only six were actually made for individual recipients, and the Morgan medal is the only one now privately owned.
The six who received medals were Gen. George Washington, Gen. Horatio Gates, Gen. Anthony Wayne, Gen. Nathanael Greene, Capt. John Paul Jones (whose original medal has not been seen since his death in 1792 and may have been melted), and Gen. Daniel Morgan. A medal authorized for Gen. Henry Lee apparently was never stuck.
About the medal’s sale
When offered at auction in 2022, the medal was graded Specimen 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service and was accompanied by its original red leather with crushed purple velvet interior U.S. Mint case of issue that protected the medal over the years.
Stack’s Bowers numismatist John Kraljevich said after the sale, “The last time a Congressional Gold Medal struck for valor in the Revolutionary War was sold at public auction was 1978, when Gen. Anthony Wayne’s medal for the Battle of Stony Point brought a world record $51,000.”
That medal is now at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, on loan from the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution.
“Not only is this market performing at a record-breaking pace, but the competition to own the best of the best continues to grow,” Kraljevich added.
Writing in their 2007 book Comitia Americana and Related Medals, John W. Adams and Anne E. Bentley said that while the medal’s designer, Augustin Dupre, is best-known for the Libertas Americana medal that inspired the early coin designs of the Philadelphia Mint, his Morgan medal can be considered a close second in terms of quality. They praised the battle scene at Cowpens as being “charged with energy and replete with details,” explaining, “The illusion of depth is a tribute to his technical virtuosity.”
The side intended to be the obverse shows Morgan on horseback leading an infantry charge toward the retreating British cavalry on the left, another cavalry charge in the background. The authors write, “There is a wealth of details in this medal — bodies and equipment strewn about; panic in the faces of the fleeing British; and in a touch of poetic license, an Indian poised to dispatch a fallen British soldier.”
Adams and Bentley describe the reverse: “A semi-nude Indian female, an allegorical figure used by Europeans to represent America, reaches from the left to place a crown of laurels on the head of Morgan in uniform standing on the right.”
They comment, “The hero strikes a modest pose, bowing slightly to receive his accolade and leaning on a grounded sword held in his right hand, with implements of war in the background.”
A silver example of the Morgan medal struck at the Paris Mint sold for $115,000 at a November 2019 Stack’s Bowers auction, and it had once held the world record price for an American historical medal, realizing $80,500 in May 2001.
The nonprofit Museum of the American Revolution is located at 101 S. Third St. near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission tickets can be purchased by calling 215-253-6731, obtained for a $3 discount online at www.AmRevMuseum.org, or purchased at the museum’s front desk.
For information about Classic Coin Company, visit www.ClassicCoinCompany.com or call 908-725-5600.
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