Featured Junipero Serra National Medal

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by CoinCorgi, Aug 31, 2023.

  1. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

    Padre Junipero Serra 250th Anniversary National Commemorative Medal of the United States

    A bit of history in a medal.

    Over the past few years, I have been on a “mission” to visit all 21 of the Spanish Missions in California. As of August 2023, I have visited 13 of the 21. Here are pictures of my favorites so far (in terms of architecture, preservation, museum quality, etc.).

    Mission San Diego de Alcala (San Diego, CA):
    Mission San Diego de Alcala.jpg

    Mission San Antonio de Padua (Jolon, CA):
    Mission San Antonio de Padua.jpg

    Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad (Soledad, CA):
    Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad.jpg

    Several of the missions had the Padre Junipero Serra 250th Anniversary National Commemorative Medal on display in their museums. Having lived here in California for 35 years I can’t help but to have heard of Padre Junipero Serra and the California Missions. I had not, however, heard of or seen this medal before. I also did not know much at all about the National Commemorative Medals that the U.S. Mint has produced over the years (there are a lot!).

    National Commemorative Medals

    From PCGS:

    Commemorative medals released by the U.S. Mint were not meant for circulation but serve the same purpose as the circulating commemorative issues. The National commemorative medals are approved by a vote of Congress. The bill is then signed by the U.S. President. In many cases, the Mint was authorized to produce large numbers of these issues. However, the actual mintages of some are much lower, resulting in many issues being quite rare.

    The National commemorative medals were originally catalogued by Howard L. Turner. A more recent and comprehensive catalogue has been published by John T. Dean in his book, the National Commemorative Medals of the United States Mint.

    The following is a copy of the law that was passed by congress and signed into law by President Kennedy in October 1963:


    As you can see, the law authorizes the U.S. Mint to issue medals “of such size or sizes and of such metals as shall be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury”. Also, the cost was paid for by the “Padre Junipero Serra 250th Anniversary Association”, and no medals were to be made after Dec. 31, 1964.

    I contacted John T. Dean to see about purchasing one of the medals and he was able to send me the following page from his book along with a note.


    Note from John T. Dean in an email to me in August 2023:

    I have included a page from my book providing the information you had requested.
    I had one gentleman contact me that owned one of the Platinum pieces, but he would not sell it to me. The gold ones were struck, but I have not seen either a gold or platinum sell.

    John Dean

    It turns out that 25 platinum, 5 gold, 10K silver and 82K bronze medals were minted. The designer was Frank Gasparro (designer of the Kennedy Half Dollar).

    I am still researching how they were sold/packaged and am trying to get a clear copy of the documentation that was included with the medals. Below is the clearest copy I have found so far that indicates that the medals were all struck at the Philadelphia Mint between March and December 31, 1964.


    I also have this image of other documents that I took while visiting the Mission San Diego de Alcala, which contains partial views of the text. It also shows that some medals have been encased in lucite.


    The documents state that the reverse shows California with its first ten missions. I find this odd because Junipero Serra only founded the first nine missions in California. The 10th mission shown is Mission Santa Barbara, which was founded by Padre Fermin Lasuen in 1786, 2 years after Serra’s death.

    TPG (i.e., ANACS, PCGS, NGC) treatment of the medal varies in terms of the date they put on their labels. Also, it is not clear if there were any proofs struck or if some specimens are just proof-like. Some slabs I’ve seen show the date as 1963, some as 1964, some as proof and some as proof-like. A mystery at this point!

    Personal Collection

    I was able to purchase this silver medal off the internet and currently have a bronze medal on order from Mr. Dean.

    1963 Junipero Serra obv.jpg 1963 Junipero Serra rev.jpg

    Weight: 19.87g; Diameter: 34mm; Edge: Plain; Turn: Medal​

    For reference, from PCGS:

    PCGS Silver.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2023
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  3. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

    For reference, from PCGS:

    PCGS Bronze.jpg

    Historical Background

    Padre Junipero Serra…
    • was born in 1713 (Spain)
    • founded the first mission in Alta California at age 55 (1769)
    • died in 1784 (Carmel, CA)
    • was honored when in 1963 Congress passed the bill authorizing the minting of the National Commemorative Medal honoring the 250th anniversary of his birth; President Kennedy signed the bill into law in 1963, 1 month before his assassination; medals were minted in 1964
    • was beatified in 1988
    • was canonized in 2015
    In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Missions of Alta California (what is now the U.S. State of California) were established by the Franciscans during Spain’s conquest of the Americas (i.e., New Spain). Having already settled Mexican territories (including the establishment of many missions run by the Catholic Church - Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans), Spain made plans to expand into Alta California. These plans were made, in part, out of concern that the Russians were moving south along the Pacific coast as part of their colonization of America (i.e., Russian America). The English were no longer an issue by this time in part because Sir Francis Drake had already stopped raiding the Spanish ships and settlements along the Pacific coast of America. Another goal was to Christianize the extensive indigenous populations*.

    The Spanish expansion into Alta California was achieved through the establishment of Pueblos (for civilian settlers), Presidios (for the Spanish armies) and Missions (for the Catholic church). Padre Junipero Serra of the Franciscan Order was put in charge of the Franciscan missionary team that was to go north into Alta California as part of the Portola Expedition, departing Mexico in early 1769. Along the way he established Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana de Velicata, in Baja California on May 14th, 1769. On July 16, 1769, he had made it into Alta California where he founded Mission San Diego de Alcala in what is now San Diego, CA. This was the first of 9 missions he was to establish in Alta California, and the first of 21 missions to be founded in total by the Franciscans in Alta California between 1796 and 1832. Mission San Diego de Alcala is the southernmost mission of the 21, with the northernmost mission being Mission San Francisco Solano, which was founded in 1832 in what is now Sonoma, CA.

    A map of the 21 Missions in Alta California:

    Spanish Missions in CA.jpg

    Meanwhile, the Russians made it as far south into what is now Sonoma County, establishing Fort Ross near present day Healdsburg, CA. The Russians sold the settlement to John Sutter in 1849 for $30,000. Some historians claim Sutter never actually made the payment and thus the settlement still belongs to the Russian people!

    Beginning in early 1800’s, Spain basically lost interest in Alta California (too costly). This along with such events as secularization, Mexican independence from Spain, discovery of gold in California, the Mexican-American War, and California Statehood led to a decline in the influence and relevance of the missions. The missions did, however, become the locals for many cities including some of California’s biggest, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Currently most of the missions are still (or once again) run by the Catholic Church.

    * Note: The effects (good and bad) that Spain’s colonization and the Catholic Missions’ presence had on the history and indigenous populations of Baja and Alta California is controversial and debatable. As is the appropriateness of the beatification and canonization of Junipero Serra. I will let the reader decide how much he wants to read about these issues, but please do not discuss them here on CoinTalk.

    Edited to add this annotated image of the reverse of the medal:

    Labels on Medal.jpg

    Remarkably, there is enough detail in each of the mission images to uniquely identify each of the 10 missions depicted.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2023
  4. Joshua Lemons

    Joshua Lemons Well-Known Member Supporter

    Very interesting write up, most deserving of "featured" recognition!
  5. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    I second this motion.
    Cheech9712, CoinCorgi and ddddd like this.
  6. eddiespin

    eddiespin Fast Eddie

    That's pretty awesome for a pup! I have to say, this thoroughbred is impressed!
  7. eddiespin

    eddiespin Fast Eddie

    And that's one honey of a medal, great detail and artistry!
  8. ddddd

    ddddd Member

    Thank you for sharing an interesting medal and adding a great deal of information!
  9. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    I was born in California. My parents took us to many of the Missions in northern, central, and southern California. A conservative estimate would be approximately 18 of the 21, as I recall. Beautiful, wonderful, and very historical. Thank you for the fond memories of family and our travels.
    green18, Cheech9712 and CoinCorgi like this.
  10. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

    Cool story. Hope you get a chance to see them all.
    Mr.Q and Randy Abercrombie like this.
  11. LakeEffect

    LakeEffect Average Circulated Supporter

    Thanks for posting, I wasn't aware of the medal (it's a nice one) nor Fort Ross. Always a good day when I learn something new. And I can see Lee Van Cleef hiding in the bell tower of that San Diego mission ;)
    CoinCorgi likes this.
  12. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

  13. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

  14. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    No, but I got hitched! (See story)
    CoinCorgi likes this.
  15. CoinMagic

    CoinMagic Member

    CoinCorgi, I really like the obverse design. It captures the evocative spirit of Padre's mission quite aptly. Well done to that particular designer.
    CoinCorgi likes this.
  16. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

    I agree, an excellent design. I really like both sides, which is why I was intrigued by the medal to begin with.

    Frank Gasparro was the designer, famous for his work on the Lincoln Memorial cent, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, the Eisenhower Dollar and the Kennedy Half Dollar. I assume since Kennedy was assassinated 1 month after the Junipero Serra medal was authorized, that Gasparro worked on the Kennedy Half before working on the medal. Indeed, the mint started striking the half dollar in January 1964 and the medal wasn't first struck until March 1964.
    lordmarcovan likes this.
  17. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    You did a good job representing this coin. This stuff is why I’m a CT member. Great pictures too
    lordmarcovan likes this.
  18. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    Now that American culture.
  19. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    You’re so lucky. Good family unit
  20. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

    Dug up another photo of the medal as it is displayed in Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana.

    Cheech9712 and fretboard like this.
  21. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Tell your dog I said hi!

    Thanks. It was fun putting it together.

    I've always wondered who decides.
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