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The Larry Ness Offering of Indian Peace Medals

Did you know Stack’s Bowers Galleries is presenting The Larry Ness Collection
of Indian Peace Medals in our November 2020 auction?  The Larry Ness Collection will cross the
block on November 10, 2020 in Newport Beach, California at the Balboa Bay
Resort beginning at 3:00PM PT.  Viewing
is going on this week by appointment only at the New York Office.  Viewing is also available in California by
appointment only. Call 800-458-4646 to schedule. Register and view the entire sale online, or download a free copy of the catalog to your computer or mobile
device.  To learn more about this
collection, continue reading below.

 

The practice of distributing Medals among Indians
is as old as the first intercourse of the French with these people. The British
continued the practice, and it has been followed by our own Government, and
under every succeeding Administration, beginning with General Washington’s
(with but one exception) to this time. So important is its continuance esteemed
to be that without Medals, any plan of operations among Indians, be it what it
may, is essentially enfeebled. This comes of the high value which the Indians
set upon these tokens of Friendship. They are, besides this indication of Government
Friendship, badges of power to them, and trophies of renown. They will not
consent to part from this ancient right, as they esteem it; and according to
the value they set upon medals is the importance to the Government in having
them to bestow.

—Thomas
L. McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Affairs,
to John H. Eaton, Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson

December
21, 1829

In this quote, Thomas
McKenney nicely sets the stage for an important sale of Peace medals. It is a
brief but ideal sketch of the history of these immensely historic objects,
expressing how these medals were used and how they were perceived by both
presenter and recipient. By the time the first medals were issued by a United
States authority, the distribution of such pieces was not only tradition, but
an expected part of what might have been initially termed diplomatic outreach.
Both the French and Spanish are known to have included medals as gifts to
Native peoples, but the practice became firmly entrenched by the British, who
were the first to create medals specifically for the purpose of distribution
among indigenous peoples in the New World. Their most intense effort came with
the growth of discontent in the American Colonies. This coincided with a marked
expansion of the distribution of such medals under the reign of George III. As
the American Revolution unfolded, native people who wore these badges of the
British King were understood to be his allies.

Once an American government was formed, the
Americans, recognizing their own need for a series of Indian medals,
followed in the steps of their predecessors. The first Peace medal issues of
the United States were issued under the authority of the first presidential
administration, in George Washington’s first term. But British medals continued
to circulate in the north and, during the War of 1812, the British and
Americans were in competition to distribute their medals as markers of useful
alliances. Anyone wearing the medal of the opposing party was encouraged to
trade it away for a new one, thus shifting allegiance. By the time McKenney
wrote to Secretary Eaton in 1829, Peace medals had essentially become a solely
American tradition, and what remained of the British medals on the frontier
continued in decline, as a fading memory.

The American series
continued through the administration of Benjamin Harrison, when the final
official medals were struck and distributed. Nearly every administration had
its own medals struck, with the notable exceptions of John Adams and William
Henry Harrison. The numbers produced and used during each administration
varied, with demand dictated mainly by American and Indian relations during any
given Presidential term. Even in cases where a standard number was initially
requested to be struck, often medals remained unused and were melted. As a
consequence, there are medals in the series that are fairly easy to find today,
while others are prohibitively rare. Some net issues were fewer than 10 medals.

Collector interest in this series likely began
right at the time American numismatics began to blossom in the 1850s. In 1844,
a listing of Peace medals struck for presentation to the Franklin Institute was
published in Niles’ Register, a national weekly newspaper, likely
expanding awareness of the series. By 1861, the Philadelphia Mint began
publishing a list of medals for sale to collectors, including Peace medals in
bronze. Naturally, as is the case today, astute collectors desired the original
silver medals, but as most in existence had been distributed to Native
Americans, these would prove a formidable challenge for early collectors.

As time passed, original awarded medals trickled
out of Native hands and into those of traders and, eventually, collectors. This
continues today, as the present writer can think of about 10 medals that we
have presented for sale for the first time over the last two decades. However,
there were early collectors who met with notable success. The Garrett family
assembled a fine collection, acquiring
pieces circa 1880-1930, that would not be dispersed until 1981. William Sumner
Appleton had a nice group that passed to the collections at the Massachusetts
Historical Society in 1905, where they still reside.

Captain Andrew Zabriskie had a superb collection
that was nicely plated in the 1909 sale of his collection by Henry Chapman. It
was called “the finest collection ever offered at auction” and included just 12
of the American series in silver. The collection of W.H. Hunter, sold in 1920,
included an impressive selection with 21 American medals in silver. The cabinet
of W.W.C. Wilson, sold by Wayte Raymond in 1925, offered 19 American medals in
silver. As collectors, both Hunter and Wilson benefited from the Zabriskie
sale, acquiring some of his pieces. Virgil M. Brand let little slip by in his
heyday and absorbed several of these medals. In the 1930s, two important
collections came to light. That of Charles P. Senter in 1933 included more than
30 American medals in silver, while a collection offered by Charles H. Fisher
in March 1936 had about a dozen. Both of these sales included specimens from
the sales mentioned above, and some in the 1936 sale had been bought in 1933.
In each major auction offering over these years, known medals were included,
but there were always a few new ones, too.

At this point, the dynamic
changed a bit. Somewhat quietly, many of the known privately held medals
drifted into two major holdings, those of F.C.C. Boyd and Wayte Raymond. Also
without fanfare, these two collections later passed into the now legendary
hands of John J. Ford, Jr., who added to his extensive collection at every
opportunity. He was well known to desire these medals and, as a result, they
were virtually delivered to his doorstep by eager sellers, allowing him to
vacuum up a generation’s worth of appearances of new Peace medals.

By 1981 when the Garrett sale of Peace medals,
including 17 American medals in silver, was conducted, Ford’s holdings were
extensive and he had likely become accustomed to buying at dealer prices. The
Garrett sale did not allow for that, so new collectors had their first
meaningful chance in many years to acquire nice silver medals. Gilbert
Steinberg stepped to the plate and, at roughly the same time, Chris Schenkel,
David Dreyfuss and Lucien LaRiviere became active seekers of these medals. Each
formed an important collection within the confines of what was possible at a
time when Ford held so many specimens. None of these collectors were able to
assemble more than 20 silver examples from the American series. Still, credit
must be granted to each of them for their accomplishments. Though they were far
from complete, when their various collections were sold, each was counted as a
landmark offering of this series and have been referenced by auction catalogers
for years.

When the Ford Collection of Peace medals was sold
by us in two parts, in 2006 and 2007, the landscape changed in a remarkable
way. The entire market had become accustomed to offerings of single random
medals, and only very occasionally five or more in any given sale. The Ford
Collection revealed about 120 silver American Peace medals, and brought this
series to light in a manner that had never before been possible. For the first
time in a generation, serious collectors had a real chance to aim for completion
to whatever degree they desired, whether that be one per administration or one
of each size—a truly complete representation of the series. This said, even
Ford did not manage a complete set, as he was missing the large-size Monroe and
second-size Taylor; the latter is present in the Ness Collection.

Just as time allowed for greater numbers of
medals to enter the collecting sphere, there have also been collectors who
assembled important holdings and then donated them to institutions, effectively
removing them from the market. Already mentioned is the famous William Sumner
Appleton Collection at MHS, but there were others. Collectors J.G. Braecklein
and Richard S. Hawes, III had important holdings that went to the Jefferson
National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis (the Gateway Arch). Walter C. Wyman’s
collection went to the ANS, Betty and Lloyd Schermer’s collection was donated
to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian (taking several of the
Schenkel pieces off the market), and Joseph Lasser donated his fine collection
to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The only sale of a significant collection since
Ford was our presentation of the Charles Wharton Collection in August 2013.
While Ford’s medals were now in the public sphere, this collection had been
assembled prior to its dispersal and it contained just 14 silver American
medals, following the pattern developed by other prominent collectors while
Ford held his vast trove.

Larry Ness was inspired by the remarkable degree
of completion revealed in the Ford holdings. He set out to complete the series
for himself, acquiring specimens from many sources. Some were pieces that had
speckled past offerings, while others were medals he found off the beaten path,
so to speak. While this collection is not complete as to silver originals
(which would require 45 medals, including the Seasons Medals and a Washington
oval), there are remarkably 36 examples included. Aside from Ford, we are aware
of only one other collection that contained so many. That was the Senter
Collection in 1933, which included some duplicates, a situation not seen in the
present offering.

With a goal of completing the silver series, it
was only natural that various bronze issues should be included, as they have
virtually always been part of major collections. Meanwhile, some silver medals
are so rare as to be virtually impossible, so these are useful fillers. The
Ness Collection of bronzes is impressive, indeed, with many superb pieces
including the important rarities of the later Oval series. He also assembled a
representative collection of French, Canadian, and most notably, British
medals. The latter group includes a remarkable pair of prized Lion and
Wolf medals. We are delighted to be able to present this incredible collection
of Peace medals, easily among the finest ever assembled.

The Catalog Listings

Within the various listings will be found
commentary on the number of pieces known. For the British issues, we utilized
the research of John W. Adams as presented in his 1999 reference, Indian
Peace Medals—a fine and scholarly study of that series. For the issued
silver medals of the United States, we relied upon three sources. The first is
the research of Carl W.A. Carlson who published in 1986 a survey of auction
appearances for the silver and bronze medals. This information is useful in
terms of frequency of offerings, but for the most part, Carlson did not
endeavor to identify the number of different specimens known. Though the work
is now more than three decades old, it remains a useful study.

The second source is our pair of sales featuring
the Peace medals from the extensive John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, Parts XVI and
XVIII. Those medals were thoughtfully cataloged by Michael Hodder with the
benefit of Mr. Ford’s notes, as well as his own research. Naturally, the
opportunity to study so many pieces at once yielded important observations.

The third and most heavily
relied upon source is the writer’s own efforts to determine the numbers of
distinct specimens surviving today, a project that, to the best of our
knowledge, no one else has attempted. Due to the time span between the initial
idea to embark on this research project and the deadline requirements of the
present sale, this work is not to be taken as the final word on the number of
specimens extant overall. There are institutional collections that were not
examined in person, presumably numerous private holdings of one or more medals,
and various single medals likely in the smallest of historical societies across
the Midwest that would require both luck and extensive time to identify and add
to the data. What has been directly consulted is very extensive, however, and
will provide the reader an excellent relative understanding of the rarity of
any given issue in private hands. The data collected has illuminated this
series to a degree, allowing for better technical understanding of the series.

The writer (John M. Pack)
invites anyone interested to share images, provenances and, ideally, weights
for any specimens they may have in their own collections in the hope that this
body of data might be expanded to an ever greater degree of completion and
usefulness. Of greatest interest are the silver and bronze Seasons Medals, the
silver medals of the United States Mint series, and any fur trade or private
issue medals. The writer can be reached by email at: jpack@stacksbowers.com.

While writing this catalog, observations have
been made on the various bronze issues, but a detailed study of them has not
been undertaken by the writer. It seems to have been somewhat accepted as fact
that the bronze restrikes of the American series were struck for collectors
after 1861. That is the year that they were made widely available to the public
via U.S. Mint lists of medals for sale, but there was certainly some degree of
collector demand and Mint interaction with collectors prior to this date.
Undoubtedly, the issuance of the list was spawned, in part, by said
interactions and increasing requests for impressions from various dies, but it
also came conveniently after the establishment of the Washington Cabinet at the
Mint (the beginning of the National Numismatic
Collection, for which missing pieces were increasingly desired). The list of
medals thus likely served two purposes for the Mint. It was probably an effort
to streamline and control incoming requests for a degree of ease on the
production side, but it also likely encouraged interactions with dealers and
collectors who might be well-positioned to assist in locating needed specimens
for the national collection. There are cases where it is fairly clear (based on
die states) that some of the bronzes were produced earlier than 1861. Any
suggested approximation of the date of manufacture for any particular piece in
this sale is only that, an approximation, informed as much as possible by what
the medal itself can tell us. We are working directly from these medals prior
to their third-party grading, and therefore have the benefit of close study.

Appreciations

The introductory material
for the various Presidential administrations is largely taken directly from our
John J. Ford, Jr. sales of 2006 and 2007, written by Michael Hodder. We have
made minor edits only to fit these to the present offerings. The research on
individual medals and their descriptions are by John M. Pack who would like to
thank the following for valuable assistance along the way: Anne Bentley of the
Massachusetts Historical Society, Q. David Bowers, Jennifer Clark of the
Gateway Arch National Park, Kay Coates of the Iowa State Historical Museum,
Erik Goldstein of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Joseph E. Kapler of the
Wisconsin Historical Society, John Kraljevich, Christopher McDowell, Jennifer
Meers, Neil Musante, Richard Pohrt, Jr., Julia Purdy, Mary Ross, Katy Schmidt
at the Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society, Barry Tayman,
Ashley Wallace, and Vicken Yegparian.

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