US Coins

V.D. Brenner medal for patriots group soars during sale

This rare medal by Victor David Brenner for The Society of the Cincinnati sold for $5,400 at a Sept. 30 Alex Cooper auction.

Images courtesy of Vivian M. Doering.

On the heels of the American Numismatic Society’s Coinage of the Americas Conference focused on Victor David Brenner, best-known for his 1909 design for the Lincoln cent, Baltimore’s Alex Cooper Galleries offered the first half of a major collection of Brenner medals at its Sept. 30 auction.

Leading the offering was a circa 1895 bronze medal for The Society of the Cincinnati that soared past its high estimate of $1,500 on its way to $5,400 (inclusive of the buyer’s fee).

The Society of the Cincinnati was founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army who served together in the American Revolution and is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization. Its website states, “Its mission is to promote knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of American independence and to foster fellowship among its members. Now a nonprofit educational organization devoted to the principles and ideals of its founders, the modern Society maintains its headquarters, library, and museum at Anderson House in Washington, D.C.”

Mike Atkins, Alex Cooper’s numismatist, said he reached out to Emily Parsons, deputy director of Anderson House, after discovering the museum lacked an example of the medal. Parsons expressed an interest in bringing the medal “home.” Atkins said the museum was successful in its bidding. “They report being excited and relieved to finally have a copy of Brenner’s Society medal,” he said.

The catalog entry noted the selective nature of the society initially: “Membership would be limited to the eldest male in direct line of descent from the original officer. This adoption of the primogeniture system was very controversial in its day and seen by critics as the creation of a hereditary elite.”

The medal’s design is largely the work of Pierre L’Enfant, who created a proposed design for the society’s founding in 1783, and it was used on some certificates awarded to original members. Brenner revived the design, producing some trial strikes in bronze, silver and white metal or lead, but these did not go into widespread production and all examples are rare today.

As explained by The Society of the Cincinnati Archives online, “The obverse of L’Enfant’s ink-and-wash design for a Society medal depicts the organization’s namesake, Cincinnatus, receiving a sword from Roman senators. The reverse (not shown) depicts Cincinnatus having returned victorious to his plow, with the figure of Fame overhead.”

Atkins called it “an exceptionally rare medal that does not come up for public auction very often.” He praised the example in the auction for its “nice dark tan patina”; the firm graded it Gem Uncirculated. Another example is in the collection of the American Numismatic Society, who added it to its holdings in 1898. None appeared at Brenner’s 1907 Grolier Club exhibition from March 7 to 23 in New York.

John Kraljevich presented another example of the Brenner medal on his website, calling it “an obscure medallic rarity by one of America’s most famed medallists produced in homage to one of America’s most revered organizations.”

Many of the medals presented at Alex Cooper were offered at Kagin’s 2021 National Money Show auction on March 11 as a single lot that included 61 pieces plus news clippings, catalogs, and brooks on Brenner that realized $6,000. Atkins said that Alex Cooper plans to offer more Brenner lots from this collection at auction later this year.

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