|<< Previous lot||Next lot >>|
|Session US Coins, Lot 524|
An essentially perfect example of a medal presented to Native Americans in terms of its overall condition, one that shows its age and, perhaps more importantly, its history. However, in no way is it severely damaged or unattractive. It is exactly as it should be. Indeed, even the original copper suspension loop remains soldered to the edge, undoubtedly the most fragile part of any medal. The surfaces are a bit worn and have been lightly cleaned such that the pewter is mostly light gray, yet small areas darkened by gentle natural oxidation remain on both sides illustrating that any efforts to brighten it were merely well-intentioned efforts to take care of it by someone who valued it, though without benefit of a numismatic perspective. The few small areas of oxidation appear slightly rough but glossy and harmless under close inspection. A series of scratches in the right obverse field are noticed immediately and intensive study will reveal a few more smaller ones scattered about. Other marks consist of tiny nicks and bumps but there is nothing of a nature serious enough to mention. There is a bend in the flan near 10:00 relative to the obverse.
The designs of this medal were inspired directly by the United States government medals struck under each presidential administration for distribution to Native Americans who cooperated in some way with Euro-American interests of expansion, whether at signings of treaties or in recognition of some other perceived good deed. The obverse features a large, somewhat folksy rendering of George Washington facing right, styled loosely after the famous Houdon Bust. Around, within concentric rings of fine beads at the inside and tight segments at the outside, is the legend, THE FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY. around the top, and GEORGE WASHINGTON. below. A single six-petaled rosette is seen left of GEORGE and a pair of these is placed after WASHINGTON. On the reverse is PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP through the center. Above are a crossed tomahawk and peace pipe, with the all-seeing eye at 12:00. Below the legend is the prominent clasped hands motif with the date 1843 below and the mark of the maker below that, B. MEAD D.S. St. LOUIS.
Notably, the size of the medal is between the largest and second size Thomas Jefferson medals, but larger than those being distributed by the United States at the time this one was made. In addition, we note that both of the clasped hands are ornamented. Here, the left hand is cuffed and buttoned, while the Native American counterpart wears wrist bands. In the United States government series, only the Jefferson medals had ornaments on the Native American arm, while that arm was bare on all later issues.
By the 1840s, the tradition of Peace Medal distribution was well known to those on the frontier and it would seem that the recipients of such medals wore them with pride, feeling as though they had earned some degree of respect from the newcomers to their traditional lands. The sentiments surrounding the medals were very different on either side of the line between presenter and recipient, yet it was clear that such medals were found to be desirable among the indigenous peoples. In this, American fur traders saw opportunity.
John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company was the first to copy the style of the American government medals, producing its own for distribution in the 1830s. These medals, known both in silver and gilt copper are among the most prized of all private issues and are rarely ever seen.
In the early 1840s, three additional issues followed in the tradition of private enterprise Indian medals as inaugurated by Astor, yet the practice was very short-lived, prohibited by the Secretary of War in March 1844. It is unknown how many of these medals were produced and distributed, but they are all great rarities. As far as we are aware, it has been more than a decade since any Fur Trade medal has been sold in a major auction, the last appearances being the three examples in our John J. Ford, Jr. Collection Sale, Part XVI, in October 2006, all different variants, including two of the Astor types.
The medals of the 1843-1844 period are unique in that they were produced in St. Louis, by the firm identified on the medals themselves as "B. Mead D.S." There is virtually no information on Mead, that we have been able to find. In Kovel's American Silver Marks, there is an entry "B. MEAD / Massachusetts?" which clearly is uncertain as to location. This was taken from a 1917 listing, but it is intriguing at least that the name is presented in the same manner as that on these medals. In addition, there was a store card token sold in Lyman Low's May 1902 sale:504, described as having "B. Mead, the engraver's name, below bust." The token was "Good For One Loaf of Bread" and issued by "D. Woodman." It is apparently a great rarity. Low commented that he did not recall having seen another specimen, consigned it to the "earlier period," and proclaimed it "very rare." It does not appear in the Russell Rulau references on American token issues. Mead was anything but prolific. and it would seem that these medals were his greatest mark on the field of medallic engraving. As to the medals of the 1840s, there are three types, as follows.
The American Fur Company, successor to the Astor firm, now operated by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., issued medals bearing a portrait identified as Martin Van Buren, though he was no longer in office by 1843, the date on the medals. These medals bore the name of Chouteau's firm with prominence, PIERRE CHOUTEAU & Co. / UPPER MISSOURI OUTFIT around the portrait on the obverse. The maker's mark was below the portrait, in small letters, B. MEAD D.S.
Another medal was issued by the aggressively competing but short-lived Union Fur Company. Their medals were dated 1844 and featured the same portrait as the Chouteau medals. A different inscription included not only their firm name, UNION FUR COMPANY around the top, but a far more prominent identification as to the maker, "B. MEAD D.S." as part of the primary legend. This was perhaps a concession on the part of Union Fur Company to have Mead make the medals, considering that Mead's contract with the more established Chouteau firm came first and this greater prominence would allow him greater marketing visibility.
The presently offered type is the third of this group, (though dated 1843 and likely the second in chronology). While it was also made by Mead and bears similarities in size, fabric and design, it also differs markedly from the others in terms of the featured portrait and legend. The most significant divergence is that it bears no identification of the issuing authority. This fact suggests that it was not distributed by either the American Fur Company or Union Fur Company, entities which both used their names prominently on their medals. Perhaps another smaller competing firm was behind this one, a firm less interested in drawing the competitive ire of the more established American Fur Company, in particular. The answer, if it exists, might well be found in contemporary documents, but it has yet to come to light.
The earliest appearance of the Washington Head type we are aware of was in the June 1869 Edward Cogan sale of the Mortimer MacKenzie Collection, where Cogan simply commented that it was the "only one seen." Unfortunately, it did not appear on the famous catalogue plate.
We have been able to confirm seven distinct specimens, including this newly discovered one. Four are permanently impounded in institutional collections. The examples are as follows:
1. Robert Hewitt Collection; Thomas Elder, March 1914:555 "AU"; Plated in Volume 27 of The Numismatist, page 300, where it was being announced as "…a new variety as far as can be ascertained." W.W.C. Wilson Collection; Wayte Raymond's sale of the Wilson Collection, November 1925:973; Plated in Bauman Belden's Indian Peace Medals Issued in the United States, 1927; Gifted to the ANS by Henry Walters and George Clapp.
2. Sotheby's London, July 1969 to John J. Ford, Jr.; Stack's sale of the John J. Ford Collection, Part XVI:184; private collection.
3. William Sumner Appleton to Massachusetts Historical Society, in 1905 (signature of Mead tooled off)
4. Smithsonian Institution, Plated in Prucha.
5. Gilcrease Museum
6. Private Maryland Collection
7. Archibald McDonald (the Present Specimen)
Other appearances or reports are as follows:
1. Edward Cogan's Mortimer MacKenzie sale, 1869:759 to Levick at $16. Called "Fine."
2. Charles P. Senter Collection, Wayte Raymond, October 1933:89 (sold to Wayte Raymond, called "Poor")
3. J.C. Morgenthau's sale of February 1934:172 (signed and called Very Fair) [Likely the same as above]
4. J.C. Morgenthau's sale of December 1935:189 (called Fairly Good). [Likely the same as the above two]
5. University of North Dakota, (per Michael Hodder, Stack's, October 2006, however they cannot locate a specimen at present)
6. Western Reserve Historical Society, per Belden, (they have not been able to confirm as of the date of this writing)
It is worth noting the great institutions and collections of the past that we have confirmed did not include an example of this medal. They include that of Captain Andrew Zabriskie, the Garrett Family, David Dreyfuss, Chris Schenkel, the Schermer Collection (National Portrait Gallery), The Glenbow Foundation holdings in Calgary (per internet search of collections, which appears reliable), The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (The Gateway Arch in St. Louis), The Crane Collection at the Denver Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska.
Of the three that are known in private hands, this one is arguably the most desirable. In terms of condition, it is the only one with its intact original hanger. Both of the others are missing theirs, and the generally quite rough Maryland Collection specimen is holed. All three of these seem to have been issued (which is very important considering the lacking identification of an issuing authority) and this one comes with an interesting provenance.
This medal has descended through the family of Archibald McDonald (1836-1915), the last acting Chief Factor of Hudson's Bay Company. McDonald was born in Scotland, and arrived in Canada in 1854, on a Hudson's Bay Company ship, apparently already in their employ. After apprenticeships and lesser positions within the firm, he was appointed a Chief Trader at Fort Qu'Appelle in 1869, and a District Factor in at Fort Ellice in 1873 before returning to Fort Qu'Appelle as Chief Factor in 1879 where he lived out the remainder of his life, even after retirement. During his time at Fort Ellice, he was met by one Andrew Browning Baird, who wrote this account of him, published by the Manitoba Historical Society, February 2007:
"It was in 1854 that McDonald came by way of Hudson Bay to York Factory on the annual trip from London, and was assigned to the Swan River District, within whose bounds he spent his life, doing his work at Manitoba coast, Shoal River, Lake Winnipegosis, Fort Pelly, Touchwood Hills, Fort Ellice, and Fort Qu'Appelle. In his earlier experience he made contacts with the Indians of the woods who, in the main, were peaceful and tractable, and not difficult to manage, and he had the good fortune to be trained in the service by unusually capable men, Messrs. A. H. Murray, W. J. Christie when they were in succession in command of the district. This apprenticeship in the north qualified him for the more arduous tasks which he encountered when he was assigned to Fort Ellice and Fort Qu'Appelle where he had to deal with the warring tribes of the Buffalo Plains. He was naturally a high spirited and courageous man, and his fearlessness made him friends with the brave Crees of the plains with whom he maintained a friendship, and established an influence which prevailed through thick and thin through two rebellions, till his death."
It is uncertain precisely how the the family came into possession of this medal, but clearly McDonald's respected position with the Hudson's Bay Company, and his apparently long-standing good rapport with at least some of the local Native peoples set the stage for such an acquisition. One can easily imagine such a piece being an object worthy of gifting to a respected official or even having been traded back out of Native hands along the way, decades after its original presentation. It is a good fortune of history that it was valued and saved, being one of an extremely rare class of artifacts that played an important part in American frontier history.