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Auction Name: 2021 January 20 - 24 FUN US Coins Signature Auction
Lot Number: 3969
Shortcut to Lot: HA.com/1326-3969
Undated (1800) Washington Funeral Medal, Skull and Crossbones, Baker-165, GW-71A, Gold, R.8, MS63 NGC.
Plain edge, 203.2 grains. Dies 2-A.2. Holed at 12 o'clock for suspension as usual. This variety in gold has appeared in two of the great 20th century collections, Garrett and Norweb. Although a third example is rumored, no such piece has been seen, and the known population remains at only two examples of which this is the finer. The other medal, to be sold in a future Partrick offering, is AU Details, Cleaned, NGC. It is the Garrett example.
Based on George Fuld's earlier descriptions, Neil Musante identified the various obverse and reverse dies for Jacob Perkins' funeral medals. For the Skull and Crossbones design, Musante recorded the 2-A.2 die pair as GW-71A, the only variety struck in gold. (The Norweb cataloger noted the die pairing as 1-A.1, but that was a misattribution.)
This gorgeous example has fully reflective fields of medium greenish-gold color. Design details are strikingly bold on both obverse and reverse. Washington's profile stands out prominently amid the wreath motif and legend, HE IS IN HIS GLORY, THE WORLD IN TEARS. A four-line curving abbreviated notation of important dates from Washington's birth to his death appears on the reverse, with the Skull and Crossbones symbol in higher relief at the bottom. That well-known memento mori (remember that you must die) is also a Masonic emblem. Jacob Perkins, a Mason himself, honored Washington by striking these medals for mourners to wear during the February 11, 1800, funeral procession organized by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. The proceedings of that lodge recounts the ceremony in great detail, with the procession of over 1600 "Brethren" led by "Two Grand Pursuivants clad in sable robes and weeds, mounted on elegant white horses ..."
In his diary entry for that date, the officiating Reverend William Bentley of Salem discusses his post-funeral dinner with fellow lodge members Paul Revere, Isaiah Thomas, and Jacob Perkins, writing: "Mr. Perkins of Newburyport, so eminent for his Mechanic genius, & on this occasion so well known by his excellent medals, in a great variety, of our General Washington. He has also executed with great success, a Medallion on the same interesting occasion."
Each of the two known examples of this Perkins creation was probably struck over a circulating gold coin, likely a Spanish four escudos; no trace of the undertype is evident on the present piece. This gold Skull and Crossbones funeral medal is historically important, highly attractive, and extraordinarily rare.
In the April 1881 catalog of the L. F. Montanye sale, Sampson wrote: "An extremely rare, and probably unique funeral medal, which once sold for $105. Very beautiful impression."
This will be only the fourth public offering of Perkins' iconic medal since it was struck in 1800.Ex: L.F. Montanye (H.G. Sampson, 4/1881), lot 565; (H.G. Sampson, 6/1882), lot 388; Later, Liberty Holden; Emory May Norweb; Norweb Family Collection (Stack's, 11/2006), lot 2122; Donald G. Partrick.