World Coins

Napoleonic medals offer variety of themes, designs

From the time of his coronation in 1804 (the scene depicted on this silver medal), French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was the subject of several thousand medallic memorials.

All images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most celebrated, vilified and intriguing figures in world history. He is also the subject of perhaps the largest number of medallic items.

Because King Louis XVIII, Napoleon’s successor and foe, erased records, the exact number of medals issued during Napoleon’s reign is unknown. However, the number is at least 2,000 and, if those issues from other countries are included, tops at least 2,300, as recorded by a collector named Ludwig Ernst Bramsen in three volumes in the early 1900s.

Classical Numismatic Group offered 30 lots of Napoleonic medals from the David J. Fleischmann Collection during its online sale ending July 15.

These medals in the CNG auction were mostly in bronze, but all celebrated varying aspects of his fascinating and historic reign.

Silver coronation scene sold

One of the rare silver medal offerings commemorates Napoleon’s coronation as French emperor. It realized $1,062, including the 18 percent buyer’s fee.

The 1804 medal shows a laureate bust of Napoleon on the obverse, facing right.

On the reverse a mantled figure of Napoléon stand facing, holding an eagle-tipped scepter, on a platform carried by a senator at left and a soldier at right. An open book inscribed with LOIS (laws) on both pages appears near the Senator; a plowshare appears near the soldier.

The inscription LE SENAT ET LE PEUPLE (meaning “the Senate and the people”) surrounds the scene.

The medal weighs 36.57 grams and measures 40 millimeters in diameter (about the size of an American Eagle silver dollar, but slightly lighter). CNG grades it Extremely Fine.

Joined by his wife in bronze

Napoleon’s first wife Josephine is sometimes found with him on his medals, as is the case with a bronze issue from 1804 honoring Coronation Celebrations at Paris City Hall.

Jugate (side-by-side) busts of the couple appear on the obverse.

The reverse is dominated by a laureate eagle standing left in its aerie (nest), head facing right, wings spread.

The medal, weighing 19.13 grams and measuring 35 millimeters in diameter, was graded EF by the auction firm and realized $189, including the buyer’s fee.

Crowned for Italy

Napoleon was crowned as King of Italy on May 26, 1805, and this coronation is the subject of another bronze medal.

Though “King of Italy,” the land under his rule was actually only Lombardy and the Emilia Romagna, regions in Northern Italy.

The crowned Napoleon graces the obverse, and the Iron Crown of Lombardy appears on the reverse.

The medal measures 41 millimeters in diameter, and weighs 32.31 grams.

In EF condition, according to the firm, it realized $238 with the buyer’s fee.

Invasion of England

Napoleon’s achieved military adventures are legion and famous.

A bronze medal for the Invasion of England, though, peculiarly celebrates an event that was ultimately scuttled.

Because the attack was called off, the planned medal was never struck. However, after the return of the Bourbon dynasty, a number of medal dies were acquired by Sir Edward Thomason, who made numerous restrikes.

Though dated 1804, this medal was struck by Thomason in 1820.

Restrikes, common for medals of Napoleon, take some discernment to detect, usually by edge markings.

Napoleon again appears on the obverse, with Hercules wrestling an anguiped monster (one with serpents for legs) on the reverse.

The medal measures 41 millimeters in diameter and weighs 33.88 grams. Graded EF by the firm, it realized $189 after the buyer’s fee.

These are just starting points for a collection of Napoleonic medals, the pursuit and collection of which could engage one for decades and provides hours of study of world and numismatic history, blending the best of both worlds.

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