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Jacob Perkins and the Washington Funeral Medals

Washington funeral medals were produced in several varieties in Newburyport, Massachusetts by well-known engraver Jacob Perkins and are believed to have been distributed at or for the civic funeral procession held in Boston. However, there were numerous civic processions arranged for nearby cities, and these medals might well have figured into more than one official event, as numerous die combinations are known suggestive of a fairly large output. Most were made in silver, holed for suspension. Gold strikes are extremely rare.

Born in Newburyport in 1766, Perkins showed an early aptitude for art and mechanics, and apprenticed to a goldsmith and jeweler in 1779. In business on his own account by 1783, he engraved dies for Massachusetts copper one-cent pieces in 1788. In the next decade he created innovations in the manufacturing of nails and the printing of bank notes, among other activities. In 1792 he sought but failed to get a position at the new United States Mint.

In Newburyport in 1800, Perkins created the Washington funeral medals and other issues that are not as well documented. A few years later he introduced the Patent Stereotype Steel Plate, which became widely used to print bank notes, and the siderographic process of transferring bank note vignettes to printing plates. His other inventions ranged from ship navigation devices to a steam-powered gun, to fire engines.

Perkins moved to England in 1818, where he remained for the rest of his life. There he printed the first postage stamps in the world, the British “penny black” issues, with plates made by the siderographic process. After his death in London in 1849, the U.S. Patent Office devoted three pages of their annual report to his memory.

In our October 27-28 sale of the Sydney F. Martin Collection Part II at the Whitman Winter Expo in Baltimore, we are pleased to be offering Washington Funeral medals, including lot 2082, an About Uncirculated-53 gold medal. Be sure to check out the offering of Washingtoniana from the Martin Collection at StacksBowers.com.

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