Our upcoming April 27 – May 2 CSNS US Coins Signature Auction in Chicago features a numismatic dream – the Norse gold medal once owned by Harry Bass. This present piece is certified PR66 by PCGS and approved by CAC, ranking it among only five so graded. NGC reports four in PR66 and four finer. CAC reports four in PR66 and one finer.
The 1925 Norse Centennial medals struck (mostly) in silver with a small smattering in gold and bronze, managed to squeeze by the bureaucrats at the Treasury Department — and therefore be authorized for striking by the Philadelphia Mint — by forgoing the presence of a denomination on the pieces. They are technically medals, not coins, and are not legal tender in the United States.
By the early 1920s the U.S. commemorative coin program had seen various excesses of numerous kinds — although worse would follow — and it was getting increasingly difficult to obtain passage of enabling legislation within acceptable timeframes needed for many issues, which were coupled with physical observances — fairs, expositions, celebrations, and the like.
The Norse gold and silver medals neatly sidestepped such issues precisely by being medals, and today they are collected by many numismatists right alongside their “official” commemorative coin counterparts. Their slight “outlier” status (as well as beautiful design by James Earle Fraser, earlier the sculptor for the iconic Buffalo nickel design introduced in 1913 — note the OPUS FRASER legend on reverse), in fact, makes them hotly pursued in a way that many traditional commemorative silver and gold issues are not.
The gold Norse medals, moreover, are at the very top of the pack, struck in absolutely minuscule quantities. While the net distribution of the silver Thick Planchet medals was either 31,000-plus or 33,000-plus (depending on meltage) and the Thin Planchet pieces saw a net 6,000 distributed, the gold medals were struck to the extent of only 100 examples — and 53 were later melted, for a net distribution of 47 gold medals. Most collectors would consider the owning of a Norse gold medal to be the culmination of a numismatic dream.
While the silver Norse medals were struck from 900 fine Mint coin silver and have a typical frosted finish, the Norse gold medals were struck in a matte proof finish that further separates them from most of the “classic commemoratives” of the 1892-1954 era. The octagonal shape, picturesque theme, and attractive design combine with the gold medal’s low mintage to make it among the most desired U.S. commemorative gold items.
The surfaces of this majestic piece show a uniform, fine-grained matte proof surface throughout both sides, a beautiful deep caramel-gold color. There is no mentionable sign of contact, although a couple of brownish toning flecks just above the 1825 date can be used for pedigree purposes. This is a remarkably well-preserved and attractive example.