Statesmen and soldiers, philosophers and ordinary folk have debated
the merits of war and peace for millennia. Philosophers and medallic
sculptors have generally come down on the side of peace. By
comparison, expressions extolling the value of war are few and far
between and are today viewed as abhorrent.
One recalls the sneering declaration of German Gen. Hans von Seeckt
in the disastrous aftermath of World War I, “Eternal peace? A fine
inscription for a cemetery!” Soon after, a fast-rising, hot-eyed
former Austrian living in Germany named Adolf Hitler exclaimed, “War
is mankind’s finest state!”
A century earlier, Napoleon Bonaparte, a soldier who rose from an
artillery cadet to first consul of the republic and Emperor of the
French, answered critics of the high death rates in his victorious
campaigns with the statement, “The lives of a million men are nothing
Napoleon left a rich medallic legacy from his earliest campaigns in
Italy and Egypt through his roster of victories and ultimate defeat
and exile. Most medals celebrate military conquests. Nonetheless, a
55-millimeter medal celebrating the 1801 Peace of Lunéville describes
peace as “The Good Fortune of Europe.”
A youthful, short-haired bust of the First Consul dominates the
obverse, with a tiny signature of Jean Pierre Droz, the engraver and
innovator in coinage production whom U.S. Envoy Thomas Jefferson tried
to recruit to head the infant Philadelphia Mint. Bonaparte wears an
ornate high-collared uniform without medals or decorations, as his
Legion d’Honneur would not be founded until 1802.
The reverse presents a brilliant sunburst at left over a half-globe
crowned with the olive branch of peace, showing France and England
with legend BONHEUR AU CONTINENT, Good Fortune to the Continent. One
wonders what the First Consul thought of the equation Peace = Good Fortune.
The Paris Mint continues to strike this and many other Napoleonic
medals. Only since 1966 has the year of striking appeared on such
medals. Examine the edge. Plain edges can indicate pre-1832 strikes.
Later medals may bear a metal designation and a minute symbol: Antique
Lamp (1832 to 1841); Anchor-C (1841 to 1842); Antique Prow (1842 to
1845); Pointing Hand (1845 to 1860); Bee (1860 to 1879); Cornucopia
This Lunéville medal’s edge bears the incuse post-1880 Cornucopia
and BRONZE; surfaces show no artificial patination, the obverse
prooflike gleaming coppery red, the reverse green-blue.
It is known that this piece was part of a special order placed by
the prominent Baird family of Maryland in the early 1880s. The medal
came to a New York auction in the early 2000s.