By James McCartney – Senior Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
Rare Harding Inaugural Medal in Silver
United States Presidential Inaugural medals have been issued officially since William McKinley took the oath of office in 1901. For the past 118 years, these medals have marked the change of administrations and can conjure nostalgia or bitterness depending on the events of the four years in-between. Among the rarest issues from this series are those from the 1921 inauguration of Warren G. Harding. Just two were struck in gold and fewer than 10 each are known in silver and bronze. We are thrilled to present an exceptional silver example graded Specimen-63 (PCGS) in our November 2019 Baltimore Auction, where it is being offered as part of the Edmund W. Dreyfuss Collection of Presidential Inaugural Medals.
It is a gorgeous example with glossy surfaces and original patina throughout. The lavender-gray surfaces display colorful iridescence blending golden and violet shades. The strike is very sharp and perfectly centered. File marks at the rim are as-issued and most obvious at the right reverse border. This piece is an exceptional rarity among United States medals and is certainly the holy grail of the Presidential Inaugural series.
The November 1920 victory of Republican Warren G. Harding over Democratic contenders James M. Cox and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to have been celebrated with “the most dazzling celebration in the memory of the present generation.” This event was to be directed by Washington Post publisher Edward “Ned” McLean and his heiress spouse Evalyn. Campaign denunciations of Woodrow Wilson’s supposed governmental extravagance, surviving asceticism from the First World War and the sudden lurch of the nation’s economy into a vicious post-war economic depression derailed the planned extravaganza. Nevertheless, the McCleans offered their own lavish private hospitality, which extended to the striking of this Inaugural Medal in very small quantities by R. Harris & Co. of Washington.
While not as famous as the 1905 Roosevelt inaugural medal by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the medals of Warren G. Harding’s 1921 inauguration are exponentially rarer, and each appearance is a significant numismatic event. Of the fewer than 10 thought to survive in silver, most are held tightly in private collections or institutions. We have not handled a silver example since April 1986 when we sold the collection of David W. Dreyfuss, the present collector’s brother. More recently, we offered a bronze example in our March 2011 Baltimore sale that brought $17,250 USD. We expect even stronger interest in this silver piece.
Historic Gold Telford Medal
The Telford Medal is the pinnacle of awards in the field of engineering and this particular example has strong ties to a major development in a major American city. We are delighted to be offering it in our November 2019 Baltimore Auction, where it will be accompanied by several significant gold medals.
It was first announced by the British Institution of Civil Engineers in 1835 following a bequest from Thomas Telford, who was the organization’s first president. The award medal was intended to recognize innovation in the field of engineering and is open to engineers from all over the world. While the medal was first awarded in 1837, all of the medals are dated 1828 in exergue, marking the year the Institution received a royal charter from King George IV.
Initially, the medals were struck in gold, silver, and bronze, and it is the silver and bronze versions that are most often encountered. However, it has been almost exclusively presented in gold since 1901. The gold examples are highly coveted and rarely come to market. We are aware of just one other specimen that has been offered publicly over the past decade.
The specimen to be presented in our November auction was awarded in 1910 to British engineer Charles Mattathias Jacobs for his construction of the North River Tunnels linking New Jersey and Manhattan beneath the Hudson River. These tunnels were commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to establish for the first time uninterrupted rail service between Philadelphia and Manhattan.
Chief Engineer Jacobs began working on the designs for the project in 1902 and started construction in 1904. Excavation of the bedrock began simultaneously on each side of the Hudson, with two teams working toward each other building tubes of iron and concrete beneath the river. When the first tubes were united in September 1906, they formed the longest underwater tunnel in the world. The North River Tunnels were officially opened in November 1910, shuttling trains between Weehawken, NJ and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
Over a century later, these tunnels are still being used by today’s commuters. They currently allow a maximum of 24 one-way train trips per hour, for a total of 48 trains between the two tunnels. Traffic reached a peak in the late 2000s, when over 430 trains were making the commute per day. The tunnels were flooded and extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy in November 2012, and as a result, increased delays have frustrated commuters ever since. The tunnels are scheduled to be refurbished as part of the $20 billion Gateway Program that is planned to be completed in 2026.
This is an extremely impressive medal that marks a historic milestone in New York City history. Weighing nearly four troy ounces, it is struck in dramatic high-relief with considerable swirling die polish on the obverse bust of Thomas Telford. The surfaces show vibrant yellow-gold coloration with honey shades around the truncation and apricot patina at the edges. The rims feature subtle engine-turning, which produces a lovely rippled texture. Also included is the original leatherette case lined in purple velvet with an intact, functioning clasp. The case is lightly worn with a portion of delamination at the lower right edge.
* * *
Both the rare silver Harding inaugural medal and the highly desirable gold Telford medal will be featured in our Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Winter Expo available for viewing and bidding on our website www.StacksBowers.com. You may also contact our offices to secure a printed catalog. To feature your collection in one of our auctions, speak with a numismatic representative today at 800-566-2580 or email Info@StacksBowers.com. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.