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Rare Large Size Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

By Andrew W. Pollock III, Numismatic Consultant. Based on the lot description by John Kraljevich, Numismatic Consultant

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Friday, June 21, 2013 / Categories: United States Coin of the Week
Stack’s-Bowers Galleries is pleased to offer at the upcoming 2013 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money a rare large-size (101.3 mm) Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace medal. This piece was most recently offered in our (Stack’s) Philadelphia Americana Sale of September 2009, and prior to that in our (Stack’s) sale of the John J. Ford Collection, Part XVI, October 2006.

Some of these large-size medals were intended as gifts to Indians that were met with during the course of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. The tribes that were to be recipients of the three large size medals presented during the course of the Expedition (for which Prucha gives the diameter of 105 mm) were designated ahead of time to be the Omahas, Arikaras, and Mandans.

Presumably Lewis and Clark had discretion to determine which leader (chief) within a specific tribe would receive the presentation.
Also presented to Indians in connection with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, were 13 Indian Peace medals of the 75 mm size and 16 medals of the 55 mm size; some of these had recipients that were designated ahead of time (records name tribes rather than specific leaders). Other medals were undesignated regarding recipients, and presumably were presented at the discretion of Lewis and Clark.

In addition to the medals presented in connection with the Lewis and Clark Expedition (and other similar expeditions to the western frontier during the same era), Indian Peace medals were likely presented to delegations that traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Jefferson or other governmental officials. Prucha’s book includes a profile portrait of the Osage chief Payouska who was part of a delegation in 1804; his portrait shows him wearing what appears to be an Indian Peace medal. After the Jefferson presidency, William Clark is said to have overseen the distribution of remaining Jefferson Indian Peace medals from his post in St. Louis.
Of the three sizes of Jefferson Peace medals, this largest size is the most avidly sought; the total number in private hands is estimated to be less than a dozen, although others exist in institutional collections; at least one has been buried by the natives to whom it was repatriated after its discovery in a disturbed grave. Jefferson Peace medals have come to light throughout much of the Western United States.

The particular specimen offered in the upcoming ANA Sale is described in part as follows:

"Shells joined with silver rim, as issued, original hanger and loop intact at 12 o'clock.

"This example shows an all over near-black patina, suggestive of burial at some time. The highest points of the design elements and the rim show a lighter silver shade. The surfaces are faintly granular but free of marks or dents, a triumph of a large, hollow medal such as this that was worn in adverse circumstance. Fine double striking is seen on both sides. Even though it was struck as very thin shells, then joined to a common rim by Joseph Richardson the Younger, the diameter of this medal still forced multiple strikes. A solid medal of this diameter was beyond the abilities of the Philadelphia Mint in 1801 -- and perhaps most mints of the world at [that] time. On most worn specimens, the shells have separated from the rims in at least some areas. On this example, they remain firm with only microscopic gaps seen under a glass. This is an excellent quality example among those that were used, not retained as presentation pieces.”

The LaRiviere specimen of the large size Jefferson medal was the first American medal to ever break the $100,000 barrier. Though that standard [is] now eclipsed regularly, the Jefferson medal still remains atop many lists of desiderata of American numismatists or collectors of historical Americana in general. This example would be an enviable one for any lover of history to own and enjoy.

Ranked #3 in the book The 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens.
Tags: ANA Medal Peace