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    Description

    Circa 1817 Beaver Club of Montreal Medal
    Named to David David, First Jew Born in Canada
    Iconic Fur Trade Relic and Historic Rarity

    (C. 1817) Beaver Club (Montreal) Gold Medal Genuine NGC. 40.6 mm. 15.8 grams. The Beaver Club of Montreal was established in 1785 as a dining club for high-ranking members of the North West Company, and other prominent fur traders and wealthy merchants sympathetic to the company (as opposed to the rival Hudson Bay Company). Its mission statement was to "bring together at stated periods during the winter season, a set of men highly respectable in society, who had passed their best days in a savage country, and had encountered the difficulties and dangers incident to the pursuit of the fur trade of Canada."

    In 1979, Philip Eyler, Assistant Curator at the Manitoba Museum, called the Beaver Club "Probably one of the most exclusive and powerful social clubs the world has ever known ... " While that may be a slight exaggeration, Montreal was the center of commerce in Canada, a mercantile hub dependent on the fur trade and the export of raw materials to England. The city's business elite represented many of the most influential and well-connected men in Britain's North American colonies, and a good number of them were members of the Beaver Club. Their medals, uniform in design but individual in character, having each been hand engraved, are important relics of the bygone era and rank among the rarest, most sought-after treasures in Canadian numismatics.

    The Club
    The Beaver club's minute book (1807-1827) and contemporary accounts of members and guests form the basis of our understanding of the organization. They serve as the foundation for much of what has been written over the past 150 years, including Alfred Sandham's 1872 article in The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, Larry Gingras's The Beaver Club Jewels, published by the Canadian Numismatic Research Society in 1972, Warren Baker's June 1990 essay on David David in Jeffery Hoare's Auction Sale #16, and Carolyn Podruchny's 1998 paper, "Festivities, Fortitude, and Fraternalism: Fur Trade Masculinity and the Beaver Club, 1785-1827."

    We know that only about 100 individuals were made members of the Beaver Club during its entire 42 years of intermittent operation (1785-1804, 1807-1824, 1827). An original membership of 19 grew to include such illustrious names as McGill, Frobisher, McGillivray, and McTavish. Explorers Alexander Henry, Alexander Mackenzie, and Simon Fraser are members many will recognize. Club rules permitted no more than 55 members and 10 honorary members at any given time. Dinners were held every two weeks at various Montreal hotels and taverns from the first week of December through the second week of April and occasionally during the summer months. They began in the late afternoon, lasting through the early hours of the morning, and were famous for their opulent country meals and the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. Colonel G.T. Landmann, a guest of the club, described a December 1797 meeting:

    "In those days we dined at 4 o'clock and after taking a satisfactory quantity of wine, perhaps a bottle each, the married men ... and some others retired, leaving about a dozen to drink to their health. We now began in right earnest and true Highland style, and by 4 o'clock in the morning the whole of us had arrived at such a degree of perfection that we could all give the war-whoop as well as Mackenzie and McGillivray. We could all sing admirably, we could all drink like fishes, and we all thought we could dance on the table without disturbing a single decanter, glass, or plate by which it was profusely covered, but on making the experiment we discovered that it was a complete delusion, and ultimately, we broke all the plates, glasses, bottles, etc. and the table also ...

    "I was afterwards informed that 120 bottles of wine had been consumed at our convivial meeting, but I should think a great deal has been spilt and wasted."



    Despite its raucous reputation, the Beaver Club was an elite society defined by its rules and rituals. Meetings began by passing around the calumet--an Indigenous peace pipe--followed by speeches and formal toasts to "The Mother of all Saints," "The King," "The Fur Trade in all its Branches," "Voyageurs, Wives, and Children," and "Absent Members." Attendance at meetings, and the wearing of the club medal, was mandatory for members present in Montreal during the night of a meeting. Those who failed to abide by the rules were subject to fines and disciplinary action.

    The Medals
    Article 6 of the Beaver Club rules stated: "Each member to wear his medal on club days with a ribbon of sky blue or forfeit one dollar." The rules did not stipulate what should appear on the medal, but all known examples follow the same basic design, with minor exceptions. The obverse features a beaver gnawing on a tree with the motto INDUSTRY & PERSEVERANCE above and BEAVER CLUB INSTITUTED MONTREAL 1785 around the border. The reverse usually shows three voyageurs and an Indigenous trading partner in a canoe approaching rapids or a waterfall with the motto Fortitude in Distress above. The member's name appears at the upper reverse and the year of his first winter in the bush appears below. French-speaking members had their medals engraved in French.

    All medals are hand engraved on what are believed to be planed-down gold coins that would have been found in the colonies at the time, like the Spanish eight escudos. Robert W. McLachlan suggested in 1918 that prominent Montreal silversmiths Robert Cruickshank and John Lumsden were responsible for the engraving, though we suspect they were not the only ones involved. Additional possible makers include Peter Bohle, members of the Arnoldi family, Charles Irish, Benjamin Comens, Narcisse Roy, or others.

    Larry Gingras's 1972 census lists 17 medals for 18 different members (Jules Quesnel's medal previously belonged to deceased founding member Maurice Blondeau). He was aware of only five in private hands at the time of publication. The present medal surfaced in 1986 and is excluded from Gingras's census. Perhaps four to six additional pieces unrecorded by Gingras have transacted privately over the last 50 years.

    David David
    Warren Baker of Montreal published an essay on David David as part of the June 1990 appearance of this medal. It was republished in the September-October 1990 issue of The Shekel, and we encourage all interested parties to access it through the Newman Numismatic Portal.

    David David (1764-1824) is reported to be the first Jew born in Canada. The son of Lazarus David, a Welsh immigrant who came to Canada with General Amherst's army, he was involved in the wholesale and retail trade of dry goods, hardware, and groceries, eventually establishing connections with James McGill, Sir John Johnson, and other prominent members of the Montreal business community. By the early 1800s, David enjoyed considerable success in business and real estate. He was involved politically, and during the War of 1812 served as Captain in Montreal's 1st Battalion (Montreal British Militia), later being promoted to Major. David's family was involved in the founding of Canada's first synagogue, and he later played a role in the rebuilding of the Christ Church, in the establishment of the Montreal General Hospital, and was among the first backers of the Lachine Canal. In 1818, David David became Director of the Bank of Montreal, which had been founded the year before.

    The explorer Alexander Mackenzie nominated David for membership in the Beaver Club in January 1817. He was approved by unanimous consent shortly thereafter, unsurprising given his financial clout as a creditor for many club members and as a prominent merchant and philanthropist in the city. According to Baker, "From 1793 to 1795 David was in partnership with his brother-in-law Myers Michaels of the Michilimackinac Company, and it is possible that David wintered at Michilimackinac in 1807 at which time he may have become eligible for membership in the illustrious Beaver Club of Montreal."

    Final Thoughts
    As rare as the Beaver Club medals are, auction appearances are even rarer. We believe this is the first appearance of any Beaver Club medal in three decades. Public sales prior to 1990 are similarly scant. Archibald McLellan's medal was sold by Edward Cogan in April 1871 (now held by the Canadian Public Archives). Cogan sold the Henry Mackenzie medal in 1876 and again in 1878. It reappeared as part of the W.W.C. Wilson Collection in 1925 and again as part of the Robert Reford holdings in a 1971 Jacoby's auction in Montreal. The 1920 W.H. Hunter Collection included William McGillivray's medal. That piece now resides with the Glenbow Museum, having been donated by J. Douglas Ferguson. In all, we count eight appearances of four different medals, including this one, over the past 150 years, two of which have found their way into institutional collections.

    The David David medal is beautifully preserved with its captivating design strongly engraved. It is looped for suspension, as made, with a modern blue ribbon evocative of the one that would originally have been used, per the club rules. The small ring measures 9 mm., the large ring 21 mm., and the blue ribbon is 32 x 41 mm. We are honored to handle this iconic and historic rarity and to present bidders with a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
    Ex: David Spink Collection (Spink, 3/1986); Torex Numismatic Auction / Sale #16 (Jeffrey Hoare Auctions, 6/1990), lot 1206.


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