1781 (ca. 1789) Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal. Betts-593. Bronze, 56.0 mm. Original dies. SP-64 BN (PCGS).1044.8 grains. Plain edge. An original striking from Dupres most exquisitely executed dies, struck in Paris in 1789 and hand carried to this continent by Thomas Jefferson himself. A medal of exquisite majesty, with finely detailed medium brown devices rising from lightly reflective gold and rose shaded fields. Some obverse hairlines are seen, but they are trivial. Aside from an old spot below TIS of LIBERTATIS, were hard pressed to identify a flaw of consequence. The rims are perfect and only the most minuscule contact marks are seen. Both sides are struck in high relief, and evidence of double striking is seen around the legends of the reverse periphery. The visual appeal is superb. The die break below M of the date in the lower reverse exergue, definitive for a piece struck from the original dies, is present here.
The most exciting aspect of this particular specimen is also easy to miss: two tiny flecks of gold embedded in the obverse, seen within the standing flag above 9 oclock and the lowered flag below 9 oclock. We have encountered this phenomenon before, where a substantial gold medal has left a bit of golden debris in the intricacies of a die after striking; in fact, each of the other known bronze original Morgan at Cowpens medals show similar golden residue of the now-lost medal that preceded them in the coining chamber. A few smaller flecks are seen on the reverse, below VI of VINDEX and in the field between Morgans flag and the rim near 2 oclock. As if this medals reflective surfaces, its die markers, and the scattered tiny lint marks from careful polishing of the die faces dont cinch this pieces status as a dramatically early die state, the gold left behind by the single medal whose existence caused these dies to be made is the ultimate exclamation point.
John W. Adams owned two of these in bronze. John Ford owned one. Those three, along with the silver original that Adams bought from the LaRiviere Collection, represent all the original strikes from Dupres dies that reside in private collections. A small number of splashers also exist, with each side as rare as the other. Washingtons original silver striking is at the Massachusetts Historical Society, along with the rest of his set in the box Jefferson specially ordered for him in Paris. The Boston Public Library has a bronze example they acquired nearly a century and a half ago from Dupres son Narcisse. Others are known in the British Museum, the Hermitage (!), and Bostons Museum of Fine Arts. A third and final silver original is in the collection of the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. The original 1789 striking in gold (replaced in 1840 by the magnificent piece that brought $960,000 in our sale of April 2022) is likely somewhere in the muck beneath the Monongahela River, stolen in a Pittsburgh bank robbery in 1818 and dispatched to permanent oblivion by the thieves.
We have been fortunate to offer every important single original striking of the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal in private hands. (This is something of a feat, considering its been 195 years since the first American numismatic auction catalog was written and only Presidential Coin and Antique Company has verifiably offered an example on this side of the Atlantic. John Haseltine has the only other potential claim to these bragging rights.) When we offered the silver LaRiviere-Adams medal that was featured on the cover of the May 2001 LaRiviere III sale, its realization of $80,500 set a record for any American medal sold at auction, passing the $51,000 mark set by the original gold Wayne at Stony Point in 1978. When the gold 1839 Morgan at Cowpens medal sold last spring, it set a world record for any American historical medal and became a national news phenomenon, dominating print and online headlines the week of its sale owing to its high sales price and the dramatic story of its creation and survival.
Syd Martin, though blessed with nearly unimaginable resources to acquire pieces for his collection, also knew a good deal when he saw one. Just three lots after a silver Henry Lee restrike brought $21,850 in the May 2006 Ford XIV sale, Syd snagged this original Morgan at Cowpens for just $13,800. It was cataloged tersely: "About Uncirculated and somewhat scarce. Good bronze color on both sides." As we noted in 2019, when we sold the two examples John W. Adams acquired, "The relatively numerous copper strikings from the 1839 copy dies have cast a shadow of inattention upon the extremely rare bronze originals. They are rare, rarer than bronze original Nathanael Greene or De Fleury medals, for instance, and rarer even than silver original Washington Before Bostons." Calling this medal "somewhat scarce" is an understatement of dramatic proportions, though admittedly until Adams and Anne Bentley did the legwork on a real census of Comitia Americana medals for their 2007 masterwork <em>Comitia Americana and Related Medals</em>, even most specialists did not understand just how rare these were. Better modern scholarship on differentiating original Comitia Americana medals from later restrikes has also clarified the dramatic elusiveness of the medals Jefferson hand-carried home.
Though Dupres Libertas Americana is the medal that propelled his name to its status among Americas most favorite medallists, the dramatic battle scene and exquisitely proportioned obverse of this medal make it the favorite of many specialists. If the Libertas Americana medal is like Radioheads The Bends, the accessible composition that made you fall in love with Dupres art, the Morgan at Cowpens is his Kid A, the staggering masterwork that yields a new appreciation on every encounter. Few will ever own an original striking. The three privately owned bronze examples are all, by pure basis of condition, finer than the silver one, but theyre within a kittens whisker of each other in terms of physical quality. In the 2019 Adams sale, when two were offered, the first (lot 2056) brought $55,200 while competition drove the second (lot 2057) to $78,000. It would be just to see this rarity bring more than a purely average silver striking of the Libertas Americana, despite the cult of desirability that medals fame has rightly brought it.PCGS# 925860.<strong>To view supplemental information and all items from the Sydney F. Martin Collection, click<a href="https://stacksbowers.com/sydney-f-martin-collection/"target=’_blank’> here.</a></strong>.From the Sydney F. Martin Collection. Earlier ex Maison Florange, May 1967; our (Stacks) sale of the John J. Ford Jr. Collection; Part XIV, May 2006, Lot 210.