|Lot 576. Historic and Important Jefferson SILVER Shell Indian Peace Medal, 1801.
Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace Medal, a Silver Shell. Julian IP-4, Belden 17, Prucha 39b, 39.56gm, 55mm wide. AUTHENTICATED BY NGC.
With original top loop (found separately and replaced), excavated on private property some years ago and new to the market. Probably one of the medals presented by Lewis and Clark on their expedition.
The Jefferson silver medals have long been widely collected and appreciated as the finest work of the new US Mint in the Indian Peace medal series. They were fashioned by striking thin silver medals from dies made by John Reich, then paired together with a German-silver band or collar around the rim. Joseph Richardson Jr., Mint assayer and silversmith would have done the work to produce these important medals for presentation to Indian Chiefs, at the time of treaty signing and by Lewis and Clark as important gifts to symbolize the peaceful intentions of the expedition. Lewis and Clark carried three of the large Jefferson medals, 13 of the middle, and either 15 or 16 of this, the smallest sized Jefferson medal (accounts are not fully clear), as well as 55 of the Washington Seasons peace medals. Interestingly, Gunselman and Sprague, in an account of the discovery of one of these Jefferson medals in an Indian grave in 1964, account for the dispersal of each sized medal by the expedition, by date. They also report there were minor differences in the outer edge of the Jefferson medals, and in the type of top loop. Traditionally the Jefferson Peace medals as silver shells have been explained by the report that the Mint did not have presses large enough to stamp them as solid medals at that time. The silver shells were placed back to back with a German silver band holding the two halves, with the attachment of a pillar and ring at the top.
Little known by most numismatists is the variation in the attachment of the pillar, fob and ring. The type of top loop and alignment of the loop are inconsistent on known examples, indicating hand finishing, repairs or different lots. This example, when excavated, was found nearby the pillar and ring, and were reunited by the finder with glue. Many of the known examples of these medals are found missing the pillar and have been punched with a hole, for a ring or string. There are three basic tops, a pillar and ring such as on this example, and heavy and light top rings, attached either parallel to or at a right angle to the medal. Sprague reports "...a strong relationship, not necessarily one to one, between medals with the square pillar and the medals carried by Lewis and Clark", and "Those medals, for which there is strong evidence for a genuine American Indian context, show a strong tendency to be of the heavy, square pillar type". That, and the reported location of this find, indicate strongly this is one of the Lewis and Clark examples, an important historical find. At this late date it is not possible to point to a specific Indian who got this, unfortunately!
And, while Julian reports that the late Byron Johnson stated at least one of the Jefferson shell medals was excavated with a wooden core, none are currently known with any material inside the silver shells. This example has the well machined pillar, however as noted above, the original alignment may have been different. Julian pictures the two smaller sized medals without any loop or pillar. Belden pictures the large size medal with a similar shaped pillar to this, but slightly larger. Prucha pictures the 105 and 55mm sizes with a simple loop. The ANS specimen of the 103mm example (1923.52.11) shows a similar pillar and loop to this example, while the ANS 54.5mm example has only a simple loop.
One of the most important of all Indian Peace medals, the Jefferson is the first struck medal in the Mint series, and is in the rare shell format. Probably awarded to an Indian by Lewis and Clark in their expedition. Under Jefferson, the United States grew by its largest purchase, and these medals played an important part as gifts to Indians in the new territory. They were highly prized by the recipients, handed down through generations, or buried with the owners. Peace medals were a badge of honor to the Indians, and a sign to all that the wearer was a friend to the Americans.
This medal was excavated on private property many years ago and was cleaned and brushed, and is now toning nicely to a rich, golden tan. Very choice and excellent Extremely Fine with just some minor wear. A small rim ding obverse above "T" in "The", and two trivial rim dings reverse at the right hand, and at "I" will serve to identify this example to future researchers. Some minor scratches to the right of Jefferson's head. With some very mild surface dents, as are very usual to these thin shell medals. The joined edges of the rim meet 3mm to the left of the center of the pillar. This has been authenticated by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the only recommended authenticator of Peace medals (1844151-001). $40000.00-45000.00+
COMMENT: Gunselman and Sprague also list all then-known examples of all three sizes of the Jefferson medal in collections, with just three examples of this 55mm size with the same pillar: Nex Perce National Historical Park, American Museum of Natural History, Oklahoma Historical Society. Other medals are reported, but not with the pillar and ring.
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