“Libertas Americana,” when invoked in numismatic circles, elicits a range of responses, from excitement to awe. Among the most notable and visually striking early American medals, Libertas Americana medals were conceived by Benjamin Franklin and issued in the 1780s to commemorate France’s support for American independence. We were pleased to offer a silver example in our Winter 2022 Auction where the medal realized $168,000.
Benjamin Franklin directed the medal and conceptualized its design, which was brought to life by Espirit-Antoine Gibelin and engraved by Augustin Dupre, an engraver whose work appeared on a range of 18th– and 19th-century French coins. Evoking classical imagery, the medal depicts the United States as an infant Hercules set upon by the lioness Britannia, protected by France as Athena. The serpents in Hercules’ hands represent the American victories at Saratoga and Yorktown. Liberty appears on the obverse, with a Phrygian Cap on a pole behind her. This depiction inspired the Liberty which would appear on the obverse of early American coinage.
Three dates, starting with July 4th, 1776, are featured on the medal – the other two correspond to end dates of the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown represented by the snakes. The medals were struck in 1783 with dies prepared the previous year.
Two gold examples were presented to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, while Franklin presented silver examples to French ministers, his social and diplomatic circle in Paris, and European institutions. Many known silver examples show signs of polishing and mishandling, making high-grade, problem-free pieces real prizes. Roughly 25 to 30 examples are thought to survive today. Bronze examples were also produced.
Charles Wyllys Betts listed this silver type as #615, while John W. Adams and Anne E. Bentley list it as #15 in their 2007 book Comitia Americana and Related Medals.
The example offered in our Winter Expo Auction is a visually appealing early die state and was graded MS-62 by PCGS, one of 16 examples reported in that grade in the service’s census. Our cataloger noted: “Blushes of delicate champagne-apricot iridescence appear to drift toward the borders on both sides. The surfaces are otherwise brilliant silver-gray, and they feature noticeable contrast between reflective fields and satiny motifs. The strike is bold with sharp to full definition for virtually all design elements. Nearly Choice in quality, with just wispy hairlines and a few minor marks.”
Many prominent American numismatists have waxed lyrical about the historicity and beauty of the Libertas Americana medals. It consistently occupies the front rank of any listing of major American medals and examples have occupied the cabinets of many prominent numismatists, American and otherwise. A Stack’s Bowers Galleries cataloger, writing about a copper example in the 2019 Baltimore auction, summed the Libertas Americana medal’s significance up well: “It is legendary beyond its rarity, historic beyond its celebrated creation narrative, and important far beyond the world of numismatics.”
To learn more and see other examples of this medal, visit: https://stacksbowers.com/what-are-libertas-americana-medals/