The Richard Margolis Collection Part I

Normally, this U.S. Coin of the Week space is reserved for a specific highlight; this week is different, as I take the time to do a walk through of the Richard Margolis Collection, Part I. By the time you peruse the 243 lots crossing the auction block in this session, you will note that this is something truly spectacular. The term “once in a lifetime” is such a cliché, that in many cases, it has no meaning at all. However, an offering like the Richard Margolis Collection, which took a lifetime to create, is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity for serious numismatists and historians.

While I was contemplating what angle to take with this blog article, I sat down with Vicken Yegparian, and he told me to think of the Margolis Collection in circles. For those who did not know Mr. Margolis, he was a longtime dealer of world coins and medals. A Francophile, his area of specialty centered around the era of the French Revolution. Stack’s Bowers Galleries will be offering the extensive collections of coins, medals, patterns, essays, and other French numismatic items spanning the final years of the Ancien Régime, the Constitutional Monarchy, the Directory, Napoleon, and the Restoration. Like many collectors who are also serious historians of the era they collect, Mr. Margolis’ collection expanded outward to the medals of the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the personalities that inspired revolution in both America and France. Famed politicians, philosophers of the Enlightenment, and military leaders. These rings radiating outward from the core of French coinage. Our first offering of the Richard Margolis Collection is the American spiral if you will.

In the first ring of the spiral are the medals associated with the French and Indian War and American Revolutionary eras – namely Betts and Comitia Americana medals. Many of these have associations to the coins and medals of the French Revolutionary era that began less than a decade after end of the American Revolution. The most iconic of these is the silver Libertas Americana medal, graded MS-62 by PCGS. It is among the finest of this historically important creation, personally handled by Benjamin Franklin. However, this is not the most significant Comitia Americana or related medal offered here; that honor goes to the John Stewart at Stony Point medal, the only example confirmed to exist in private hands, and thus the key to the entire series. Of all the important Comitia Americana medals that have crossed the Stack’s Bowers Galleries (and predecessor firms’) auction block, this is the only fully formed example (the Ford Collection contained an obverse cliché in white metal that we sold in Ford XIV and then again in our November 2019 sale of the John Adams Collection, as lot 2028). There was another obverse cliché we sold in our 1991 Alto II sale, which is now a part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Drawing another circle out we come to the famed portrait medallions of Jean-Batptiste Nini, who in American numismatics is best known for his terracotta portraits of Benajmin Franklin. This was a subject of significance for Mr. Margolis, and in 2015, Kolbe and Fanning published his beautifully illustrated opus Benjamin Franklin in Terra Cotta. However, Margolis’s interest included portrait medallions of other late 18th-century notables, and these are also included in this auction.

But Jean-Baptiste Nini was not the only artist at the time working on portrait medallions, and Benjamin Franklin, being a particularly popular subject for such portraiture is well represented.

Many of these were executed by Wedgwood. The Wedgwood Company, though based in England, had a liberal spirit, and supported the cause of American Liberty, creating a series of their famed blue and white portrait medallions of American patriots such as Franklin and George Washington. Taking the Wedgwood “circle” even further, you have portrait medallions in Wedgwood style of other patriots, as well as portraits that share subject matter with the Betts and Comitia Americana medals series, including William Pitt, Washington Before Boston, Johan Derk Van Der Capellen, William Penn, John Paul Jones, Captain James Cook, Admiral Keppel, and Admiral Rodney.

I hope this article has inspired you to take a closer look at the Margolis Collection, and perhaps pursue some items that otherwise would not have been on your radar. This is an incredibly significant opportunity for collectors to investigate the depth, breadth, and scope of numismatic and related historic artifacts related to the founding of the American republic.

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