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    Historic 1781 Libertas Americana Medal in Silver, MS64

    1781 Libertas Americana Medal MS64 PCGS. Silver. Betts-615. 47.5 mm. 57.22 gm. In a letter dated March 4, 1782, Benjamin Franklin wrote to the Honorable Robert Livingston, then the Secretary for Foreign Affairs for the recently victorious United States. In response to previous correspondence, Franklin mentioned a side project of his, as quoted in Joseph Loubat's The Medallic History of the United States of America: "This puts me in mind of a medal I have had a mind to strike ... representing the United States by the figure of an infant Hercules in his cradle, strangling the two serpents; and France by that of Minerva, sitting by as his nurse, with her spear and helmet, and her robe specked by a few 'fleurs-de-lis.'" That design would become the reverse of the Libertas Americana medal, justly famous for its beauty and one of the best-known medals among American numismatists.
    The design of the Libertas Americana underwent a number of minor changes between Franklin's early description and the medal as rendered by Augustin Dupre. Dupre was a French medallist whose sterling reputation was known all across Parisian society, and Franklin, then serving as Ambassador to France, commissioned the gifted artist. The medal's famous symbolism bears repeating here. The obverse has LIBERTAS AMERICANA (American Liberty) across the top. The center shows a striking bust of Liberty with flowing hair, Phrygian cap on a pole behind her. Below, in the exergue, appears the date 4 JUIL. 1776 (4 July 1776), slightly misspelled from the proper Latin form 4 JULI. 1776. The signature DUPRE appears at the truncation of the bust. The reverse center shows the infant Hercules, symbolic of the United States, strangling two snakes that represent the British armies of Saratoga and Yorktown. At left, Minerva with the fleurs-de-lis of France on her shield and a spear in hand, thwarts the attack of a lion representing Britain. Above the scene is the motto NON SINE DIIS ANIMOSUS INFANS, from Horace's ode "Descende coelo," variously translated "the infant is not bold without divine aid" (Betts), "the courageous child was aided by the gods" (Loubat), or similarly. In the exergue below, two dates with a common month, 17 OCT. 1777 and 19 OCT. 1781, signify the victories at Saratoga and Yorktown. The signature DUPRE F. appears at the lion's feet.
    While Betts dates the medal to 1781, further correspondence from Franklin clearly places the strikings of the Libertas Americana medals in 1783, demonstrated by selected quotes from Loubat. As cited in the first paragraph, the medal was still in planning in 1782, and while Franklin sent early examples of the medal with a letter dated April 15, 1783, a brief passage from a March 17 letter of that year notes that strikings "in hard metal" were not available. Franklin, however, did send a test piece along with that letter to Sir William Jones, who had supplied Franklin with the pertinent quote from Horace.
    The Libertas Americana in silver is much rarer than its counterpart in copper or bronze. In a letter of April 15, 1783 to Livingston, Benjamin Franklin reveals why: "I enclose one [medal] in silver for the President of Congress and one in copper for yourself. The impression on copper is thought to appear best; and you will soon receive a number for the members." Franklin continues in this vein, and mentions that a silver medal had been presented to each minister in the French court. Still, between the added expense of silver and the perceived aesthetic superiority of copper, it is little surprise that few examples were struck in silver, and more than two centuries of attrition have further limited the supply.
    This exquisite silver specimen has luminous surfaces and crisp, high-relief detail. The piece was struck from a late die state, as evidenced by the die break below the 4 in the date on the obverse. Both sides offer attractive patina, predominantly peach with areas of lavender, rose, magenta, amethyst, and azure at the margins. The tips of the devices on the reverse show slight evidence of cabinet contact and light hairlines are present in the fields, but these are minor concerns, and the overall visual appeal is extraordinary. While this Libertas Americana was not encapsulated by PCGS, a photocertificate accompanies the medal.
    The final letter in Loubat's chapter on the Libertas Americana was written by the Grand Master of Malta to Benjamin Franklin. Dated June 21, 1783, it reads in part: "I received with the most lively sensibility the medal which Your Excellency sent me, and the value I set upon this acquisition leaves my gratitude unbounded. This monument of American liberty has a distinguished place in my cabinet." For the winning bidder, this historic medal will similarly be a piece of the highest distinction and a prized addition to that numismatist's collection.

    Coin Index Numbers: (PCGS# 846)


    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2007
    8th-10th Wednesday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 14
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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