World Coins

Despite ‘distraction’ in USA, Brits defend Gibraltar

A 1783 silver medal honors the successful British defense of Gibraltar against French and Spanish fleets. The medal is offered in Fritz Rudolph Künker’s Feb. 1 auction in Berlin.

Medal images courtesy of Fritz Rudolph Künker.

While the fight for American independence raged in North America, enemies of Britain plotted to take back land in Europe.

The resulting Great Siege of Gibraltar, however, ended with a successful British defense of the island against the French and Spanish fleets. 

An artifact of that moment in time is a silver medal issued in 1783 to celebrate the victorious defense of Gibraltar.

The medal is one of many items offered in Fritz Rudolph Künker’s Feb. 1 marathon of auctions during the World Money Fair in Berlin. 

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The medal, designed by Johann Christian Reich, depicts Gen. George August Elliott Lord Heathfield, commander of the fortress, in uniform on the obverse. The reverse shows the bombardment of Gibraltar by numerous ships.

The Spanish-owned city, port and fortress of Gibraltar on the peninsula of the same name at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula was sieged by the imperial Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt and his 1,800-man army. 

In the peace of Utrecht in 1717, Gibraltar had been awarded to the Kingdom of Great Britain. Several times the Spaniards tried to recapture the strategically very important rock. 

Spain’s final attempt to take Gibraltar with arms was in the course of the long siege from 1779 to 1782. The besiegers initially counted 14,000 men, facing about 5,000 soldiers commanded by Gen. Elliot, before he received reinforcements in March 1782. 

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During a massive artillery attack lasting from April to the end of May 1782, the city was almost completely destroyed, but the fortifications were only mildly affected. 

Although the Spaniards received reinforcements from France and thus had a fleet of 47 ships and 10 floating batteries and landed over 40,000 soldiers with 200 heavy guns in front of Gibraltar, they did not succeed in making the 7,000 defenders wilt under pressure or capitulate power. 

After the arrival of other British supply ships and heavy losses, the attackers ended the siege at the end of October 1782. In the Peace of 1783, the Spanish crown confirmed the possession of Gibraltar to the British.

The medal is “very rare” in silver, according to the auction house. 

It measures 43.2 millimeters, weighs 31.45 grams and is About Uncirculated with a “splendid patina,” the firm said. 

It has an estimate of €2,000 (approximately $2,447 U.S.).

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