Oceanographic Exonumia: Dr. Anton F. Bruun and the Alexander Agassiz Award

The world of exonumia offers many exciting opportunities to collectors. The greater size (in general) of medals allows for a grander canvas for an engraver’s design. Additionally,  widely varied subject matter creates increased emphasis upon the message. One such medal that presents just that is an incredibly rare award medal in bronze that will be appearing in our upcoming February World Coins, Banknotes and Ancients Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction.

The Alexander Agassiz award was named in honor of the famous American engineer who made significant contributions to the study of marine biology and oceanography. Having assisted with aquatic expeditions in South America and Australia, he wrote extensively in the field, and later served as president of the National Academy of Sciences. Following his death in 1910, the academy endowed this award to recognize some of the most outstanding oceanographers in all related fields. The award was first presentation in 1913 and was then given intermittently due to the two world wars. Eventually, the academy decided to bestow the honor every five years, with the most recent being in 2018—the 48th such awarding of the honor. In addition to the recognition garnered, the prize also includes a medal and a purse currently listed as $20,000.

In 1960, it was Danish oceanographer and ichthyologist Dr. Anton F. Bruun who received this distinction. Dr. Bruun served as the scientific leader of the Atlantide expedition and the Galathea deep-sea expedition in the decade-and-a-half before this recognition. Sadly, he passed away just a year later in 1961 at the age of only 59. His award medal, however, still remains, commemorating this very rare and noteworthy achievement. Featuring the bust Agassiz on its obverse, the medal presents a rather unusual reverse. While one can discover numerous members of the animal kingdom on coins and medals, it is this award that features a jellyfish—incredibly unusual and an exciting opportunity for the collectors of exotic fauna motifs or designs featuring the high seas. Around the tentacled, gelatinous sea creature is a wreath composed of marine flora and mollusks, reinforcing the oceanographic nature of the award. Below, there is a small plaque conveying the recipient’s name and date of the award: ANTON FREDERIK BRUUN / 1960. The original box of issue is also included with the medal, featuring Bruun’s name embossed a gilt foiling along with the date.

In an interesting twist, because of Bruun’s great contributions to the field, an award is now named and presented in his name. In 1970, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO created the Anton Bruun Memorial Lecture. The Anton Bruun Medal followed in 2005, intended for presentation to all future lecturers in the series.

For more information on the Agassiz award, please follow this link:

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our June Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auction as well as our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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