By James McCartney – Senior Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
Our November 2019 Baltimore Auction offers a nearly unprecedented selection of rarities from the Numismatic Americana series. Among the more significant offerings in this group is one of the earliest gold Life Saving medals struck by the United States Mint. Measuring 67 mm in diameter and weighing in at over seven troy ounces, it is remarkably impressive and sure to attract advanced specialists in this series.
R.W. Julian notes that the earliest correspondence regarding these medals in August 1858 suggested a format the same size as the double eagle (around 34 mm). However, Mint Director James Ross Snowden desired that it should be much larger than that, resulting in the magnificent gilded canvas offered here. Julian reports that 19 gold, 10 silver, and 34 bronze examples were struck for official purposes from 1860 through 1874, with additional bronze examples struck for sale to the public beginning in late 1861.
This gold medal was awarded to British Captain Joseph Spear Wallis for his rescue of passengers from the American ship David Brown, which sunk in the Atlantic in January 1861. David Brown was a clipper based in San Francisco that was charted to transport wheat to Liverpool, England. On one trip, it started to take on water shortly after entering the Atlantic and was eventually abandoned by her crew in the open ocean on January 6, 1861, midway between South America and north western Africa. The occupants were split between two lifeboats and floundered for 10 days, suffering from exposure, hunger, and thirst, before being recovered by a pair of ships. These included the Spanish Observador and the British Sea Wave, which was under the command of Captain Joseph Spear Wallis. Sea Wave rescued the lifeboat containing four crew members and five male passengers and brought them to their original destination of Liverpool.
Visually impressive and historically significant, this specimen is among the most desirable US Mint medals of the 19th century. Graded MS-60 (NGC), it is one of just three known examples and represents our first offering of a gold LS-1 medal since our sale of the Ford Collection, Part V in October 2004. That piece, graded “Uncirculated prooflike” and awarded to Jose Pereira Pinto, sold for $43,125 and is now one of the two held in the Alan V. Weinberg Collection.
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This historic U.S. Life Saving medal in gold will be offered in lot 142 of 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.