An Introduction to the Comitia Americana Medals Series

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by johnmilton, Jul 20, 2019.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    I wrote this article for my local club last month, but things fell through the cracks, and it didn't get published. I decided that I will post here.

    Last month our “bonus door prize” was a set of “America’s First Medals” which came in an album and a booklet about the Comitia Americana medal series. The United States Mint issued the original medals during the Bicentennial Era Celebration, which was at its peak in 1975-6. The set commemorated a series of medals the American Continental Congress (“Comitia Americana” translated to “American Congress”) awarded to military heroes who served during the Revolutionary War. The set contains 11 medals in pewter, which includes 10 reproductions of the pieces that were awarded to the heroes plus a U.S. Treasury medal.

    These medals were offered in sets of two for $10 a set starting in the spring of 1974. The mint promised that the entire set of ten medals would be completed by July 4, 1976. After the first four medals had been issued, the mint noted a higher than expected demand. That prompted the agency to offer the album and a booklet, which covered the history of the medals, for $5. I believe that the Treasury medal was included for that price.

    After reviewing my records, I found that I had not covered the Comitia Americana medal series in detail during my time as vice president in charge of education. This month I have decided to give you an overview of the series. If there is sufficient interest, I will cover the medals and the history they represent in more detail. Those who learn the history of these pieces will also know much of the story of American Revolutionary War.

    A Series of Medals for Revolutionary War Heroes

    From 1776 until 1781 and in 1787, the American Continental Congress voted to award 11 medals to military figures who had contributed in significant ways toward the cause of American independence. Seven medals, struck in gold, were awarded to the senior officers. Four silver medals were awarded to subordinate officers. Although the medals were approved, the recipients had to wait for years to receive their award. In two cases, the recipients died, and the medals were given posthumously to their spouse or family.

    Among the 11 medals, French artists and the Paris Mint designed and executed ten of the pieces. At the time, the French made the most beautiful medals in the world. One medal, the piece awarded to General Henry Lee, was omitted due to an oversight. The fledgling United States Mint tried to produce that piece, but the obverse and reverse dies cracked during their preparation. It is not known if the Lee medal in gold was struck or if it was awarded to him. The broken obverse die survived and was used to strike medals in the 19th century, but the reverse die is known only from a few die trials.

    In addition to the medals that were awarded to the heroes, the French and American Mints have struck additional pieces over the past two centuries. The vast majority of these pieces were struck in bronze. An extremely small number of them have been struck in silver. These additional medals have been presented to museums, government officials or sold to collectors. Here is a list a of the medals:

    Recipient Approximate Diameter Award Medal Composition

    British Evacuation of Boston, March 4 and 5, 1776

    George Washington 68+ mm Gold

    Battle of Saratoga, October 17, 1777

    Horatio Gates 55+ mm Gold

    Assault on Stony Point, New York, July 15, 1779

    Anthony Wayne 54+ mm Gold

    Francois-Louis de Fleury 45+ mm Silver

    John Stewart 45+ mm Silver

    Sea Battle between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis, September 23, 1779

    John Paul Jones 56+ mm Gold

    Battle of Paulus Hook, New Jersey, August 19, 1779

    Henry Lee 45+ mm Gold *

    *It is not known if a medal for Lee was struck or awarded to him

    Battle of the Cowpens, South Carolina, January 17, 1781

    Daniel Morgan 55+ mm Gold

    William Washington 45+ mm Silver

    John Eager Howard 45+ mm Silver

    Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina, September 8, 1781

    Nathanael Greene 55+ mm Gold

    The following two medals were not issued in commemoration of Revolutionary War battles but were struck to honor Benjamin Franklin and celebrate American independence. That American and French military success was culminated by the Treaty of Paris, which granted the former British colonies their freedom. Many collectors who collect the Comitia Americana medals include these pieces in their sets, and they were included in the Massachusetts Historical Society set of silver medals, which I cover presently.

    Benjamin Franklin, American, for his contributions to the cause, especially as our Ambassador to France.

    Benjamin Franklin ** 45+ mm White Metal, Bronze & Silver

    **There are two varieties of this medal.

    Libertas Americana Medal issued in celebration of American and French victory over the British and the key battles of Saratoga and Yorktown

    Lady Liberty with Cap *** 47+ mm Bronze, Silver and Gold****

    *** The obverse design of this medal is popular among collectors of early U.S. copper because the bust of Liberty with a cap hung on the end of a pole behind her head was the inspiration for the the design that appears on the early cents and half cents.

    ****The Gold Libertas Americana medals were given King Louis XLI and his queen, Marie Antoinette. Both pieces were probably lost during the French Revolution.

    A Collectors’ Guide to the Comitia Americana Medals

    Cover 1st medals.jpg

    Interior 1st medal.jpg

    The Bicentennial Set in Pewter

    Any collector can build a set of Comitia Americana Medals in one form or another. A collector on a modest budget can afford a set of the pewter medals that were issued during the Bicentennial. These sets range in price on the Internet from about $25 to $40. It includes one and a half inch reproductions of ten of the eleven medals that the Continental Congress authorized. The missing medal, for John Stewart, is missing from almost all collections. That medal was only produced by the Paris Mint in the 18th century and very few examples are known today. The U.S. Mint personnel made electrotypes of the John Stewart medal in the 19th century, which are rare in their own right, but the facility has never struck an example of the Stewart piece in the solid metal format.

    Mod J P Jones O.jpg

    The 20th Century Medals in Sandblasted Bronze

    The Philadelphia Mint offered these medals from the early part of the 20th century to the late 1970s. They are in high relief, similar to the original medals, but have a sand blasted bronze finish. Today these medals are occasionally seen at coin shows. The asking price is often $39, which is the price the mint charges for the limited number of larger medals it offers today. Given the fact that these medals are not tremendously popular, there probably is some room to haggle on the price.

    The Paris Mint has also restruck examples of these medals in the sandblasted format. They are distinguished from the American pieces by the edge markings (to be covered below) the Paris Mint places on its products.

    The Older Medals

    The goal for many advanced collectors is the acquire as many of the Comitia Americana medals as possible that were struck with the original dies. Some original die pair medals can be found with a limited amount of effort, but it is virtually impossible to locate some issues.

    DeFleury O.JPG

    19th Century U.S. Mint Medals and Later Paris Mint Restrikes

    During the 19th century, the Paris and U.S. Mint made restrikes of the Comitia Medals. Prior to 1831, the Paris Mint left the edges of their medals plain. After that date, the mint marked the side of the medals with the metallic composition of the piece, “OR” for gold, “ARGENT” for silver and “CUIVRE” for bronze. In addition, the following symbols were added, which provides an era for when the medal was struck:

    French Edge Stamps

    Symbol Date Interval

    Antique Lamp 1832 - 41

    Anchor intertwined with a C 1841 - 2

    Galley Plow 1842 - 5

    Pointing Hand 1845 - 60

    Bee 1860 - 79

    Cornucopia 1880 - Present

    In addition to Paris restrikes, the Philadelphia Mint also issued examples of the Comitia Americana medals. The Horatio Gates medals were stuck from the original Paris Mint dies because the French Mint shipped those tools to the U.S. in the early 19th Century. Other medals were made from “gun metal” copy dies that the Philadelphia Mint made from the original medals.

    Later in the century, Charles Barber made new dies as the older dies wore out. Barber added the word “REPRODUCTION” with the date, 1880 or 1881, to the design for some of the dies that he made. The Barber dies that are marked “REPRODUCTION” are less desirable that the pieces without that feature. In one case, the de Fleury medal, that is the only variety that is available to most collectors. Original de Fleury medals are quite rare.

    George Washington O.JPG

    Paris Mint Medals from the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries.

    Paris Mint medals from earliest era are the most desirable collectors’ items. Some of these pieces can be found with some patience, but most varieties are beyond the reach of most collectors. They all have plain edges.

    The original medals that were awarded to the Revolutionary War heroes are now either lost or held in museum or historical society collections. Silver medals are rarely seen, and the bronze medals are the most often available. The John Howard and William Washington medals from the Battle of the Cowpens are the most common bronze medals from this era.

    The most desirable piece among the accessible medals is the 1776 Washington Before Boston (British Evacuation of Boston) piece. There is an estimated 25 to 40 bronze examples of the Washington before Boston medal known that were struck from the original die pair in various states of preservation. This medal has been reproduced with replacement dies many times. The Washington medals that are stuck from the newer dies command much lower prices. Collectors who are committed to owning a piece from the original die pair are urged to seek professional assistance.

    Mass silver set Mass.png

    The Ultimate Comitia Americana Medal Set

    The most impressive set of Comitia Americana medals is now in the Massachusetts Historical Society Collection. This set includes ten of the eleven military hero medals plus the Franklin and Libertas Americas pieces. The missing piece is the John Paul Jones medal. Congress authorized that piece in 1787, and there was insufficient time to have that piece made before Thomas Jefferson sailed to America. The list of past owners is impressive as well as the stories of how this set might have been lost to future generations.

    Thomas Jefferson brought the set with him when he returned from France in 1789 after serving as our ambassador. In 1790 he awarded the set to George Washington. Washington held the set until his death in 1799. It passed to Martha Washington until her death in 1802. The executors of her estate sold the set to a “Rev. Lewis” for $141. The “Rev. Lewis” appears to have been Lawrence Lewis who left the set to his son. The son, who had a low paying job in the Treasury Department, pawned the set.

    In 1827 a pawn broker was offering the set for sale. Congress considered buying it for the Library of Congress, but declined citing constitutional concerns. Senator Daniel Webster stepped in and bought the set. Webster held the set until his death in 1852. Webster left it to his seven-year-old son, Daniel Webster Appleton. Appleton, who died in 1872, turned the set over to coin dealer, Elliot Woodward, as collateral for a loan. Woodward stored the set in the vault of his local bank.

    After a burglary at the bank nearly resulted in the theft of the set, Peter Harvey redeemed the set from Woodward. He donated it to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1874. At the time, Harvey noted that the set should not be left “to the changes and chances of individual ownership.” Although I have had my reservations about the ownership of national treasures by museums, in this case I have to agree with him.
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  3. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    Fascinating overview! Thanks!

    I don't collect medals, but the Libertas Americana is one of my dream coins. Do you own an original?
  4. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Yes. I have owned this for many years. This is actually one of the easier medals to locate in this series. It's just quite expensive.

    Libertas Americana O.jpg Libertas Americana R.jpg

    Here is text from an exhibit it had at one of the Winter FUN shows.

    The Libertas Americana Medal

    Original Dies and Design by Augustin Dupre.

    Obverse: Lady Liberty with a Phrygian Liberty cap on a pole behind her head. Translation from Latin: “American Liberty, July 4, 1776.”

    Reverse: Minerva (France) fending off the British lion while the infant Hercules (America) handles two snakes. Translation from Latin: “The fearless child is not without the help of gods. October 17, 1777” (date of the Battle of Saratoga), “October 19, 1781” (date of the Battle of Yorktown)

    The Libertas Americana Medal was a private project of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin devised the design after consultations with French and English scholars. He commissioned his friend, Augustin Dupre, to make the dies. Franklin ordered pieces in copper, silver and gold and gave the medals to recipients according of their rank. For example a gold medal was given to the French King and a silver piece was awarded to George Washington. Members of Congress received copper pieces. The obverse design was the inspiration for the Liberty Cap design that appeared on some early U.S. half cents and cents.

    Here are a couple of the U.S. coins that were inspired by the obverse design.

    1793 Half Cent O 3.jpg

    1795 cent O.jpg
  5. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    Fantastic example! Yes, the expense is the big reason I haven't gotten one yet.
  6. cpm9ball

    cpm9ball CANNOT RE-MEMBER

    All I can afford are the pewter restrikes and, of course, the 2006 Paris Mint restrikes of the Libertas Americana in silver and bronze.
  7. halfcent1793

    halfcent1793 Well-Known Member

    Very nicely done piece. I'll share two that I owned until recently. Jones merged.jpg Wqshington Before Boston merged.jpg
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