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    Description

    1768 King's College Literary Society Award Medal
    Traced to Gouverneur Morris, Engraved by Elisha Gallaudet
    Earliest Known Civilian Award Issued in America
    Three Extant, Only One in Private Hands, AU55

    1768 King's College (Columbia University) Literary Society Prize Medal. Awarded to Gouverneur Morris. AU55 NGC. 64 mm. 536.4 grains. The King's College Literary Society prize medal represents the earliest civilian award issued in America for which examples still exist. The Kittanning Destroyed medals of 1756 (Betts-400) and the 1757 Society of Friends Indian peace medals (Betts-401) commemorate military engagements and the securing of diplomatic ties, and while the College and Academy of Philadelphia is known to have presented two gold medals in 1762, their whereabouts are unknown.

    We are aware of only three King's College Literary Society award medals: one in the Museum of the City of New York, one in the Columbiana Collection at Columbia University, and this example. Little was known about these medals until about 20 years ago, when the present example surfaced in 2001. Thanks to the diligent original research of Vicken Yegparian and others, we now have a much better understanding of the story behind these remarkable early American academic medals.

    King's College Literary Society and its Medals
    King George II of England granted King's College its royal charter in 1754. The college's first class, with eight students and the Reverend Samuel Johnson as their instructor, was held in July 1754 in a small schoolhouse on the grounds of the Trinity church at the end of Wall Street, facing the Hudson River. King's College was one of nine such institutions founded prior to the Declaration of Independence. Renamed Columbia University in 1784, it is now one of eight Ivy League universities and ranks among the top research facilities in the world.

    The June 12, 1766, edition of the New-York Gazette published an article on the formation of a Literary Society at King's College:

    May 26, 1766.
    Several Gentlemen having thought proper to form themselves into a Society, under the Denomination of the Literary Society, for the Encouragement of Learning, and the Excitement of Emulation and Attendance among the Students of this College, have raised a Fund sufficient for their Purpose; and in Pursuance of their intended Plan, propose to distribute the following Premiums, either Medals, or Books, at the next Examination before the Governors and President, and to continue the same twice a year for the future.



    The article listed the "premiums" or awards for the various subjects and classes, and continued: "Until Medals can be struck, the Premiums will be in Books... ." Included was a proposed design for the medal.

    According to the Minutes of the Literary Society in New York, the society's first meeting was held at the King's Arms tavern on November 9, 1766. It resolved "that Premiums be distributed agreeable to the proposed scheme" and that "if medals chosen they shall be either Gold or Silver according to the proposed design." In support of the society and its awards, members subscribed to pay £3 annually for five years, from November 9, 1766, to November 9, 1771.


    Elisha Gallaudet and Richard Rugg: Makers in New York and London
    The society's minute book includes two entries, one for May 17 and another for November 3, 1767, each showing orders for four silver medals at a cost of £8 per order placed with New York silversmith Elisha Gallaudet. Two years later, a June 2, 1769 entry shows an order placed by Mr. Charles McEvers for "20 Silver Medals engraved in London." More on the English medals below.

    Elisha Gallaudet's name is synonymous with colonial American coinage. Gallaudet (c. 1730-1779 or 1805) was born in New Rochelle, New York. He worked as an engraver and silversmith in New York City, and in 1752 produced a bookplate for the New York Society Library. The engraving is pictured in Eric P. Newman's August 1959 Numismatist article, "The Continental Dollar of 1776 Meets its Maker." It bears a striking similarity to the medals for the King's College Literary Society, which, although unsigned, are clearly the work of Gallaudet.

    The obverse features the college seal, designed by Reverend Samuel Johnson, with a maternal figure, Alma Mater, seated in a throne at center surrounded by young children or babies, whom she teaches - a reference to the biblical passage 1 Peter 2:2-3, as noted in the exergue. An open book is in her outstretched right arm. The sun rises in the background. At 12 o'clock, the Hebrew word for God appears within a circle of rays. On a scroll to the figure's left is a Hebrew phrase meaning "God's Light." The Latin motto above the maternal figure, IN LUMINE TUO VIDEBIMUS LUMEN is translated as "In your light we see the light." Around the border is the legend COLLEGI REGLAIS NOVA EBORACI IN AMERICA PRAEMIUM LITERARIUM or "King's College New York in America Literary Prize." The reverse bears an even greater resemblance to Gallaudet's 1752 bookplate. It features Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, left, presenting a medal to a student in academic robes, right, with the motto EXIMIO JUVENI PROPTER IN INSIGNES IN ARTIBUS PROGRESSUS ("To an outstanding youth on account of notable progress in the arts").

    The two known examples engraved by Elisha Gallaudet are very similar, but not identical given their handmade nature. The recipient's name, BENJAMINO MOORE (Benjamin Moore), appears on the example in the Museum of the City of New York; we believe it may have been added after the fact since the present medal has a blank space corresponding to the placement of Moore's name. One surviving King's College Literary Society award medal was produced in London by Richard Rugg (twenty were originally ordered). It resides in the Columbiana Collection at Columbia University. Aside from the expected stylistic differences in medals engraved by two silversmiths on different sides of the Atlantic, the Rugg medal is largely distinguished from those by Gallaudet by the presence of a hallmark at the lower obverse border, with "R.R." left and the standard sterling mark right.

    Gouverneur Morris' King's College Medal
    It is reported that this medal "was discovered in England in association with documents and a silver spoon tracing their origins to Gouverneur Morris and his descendants," according to Vicken Yegparian, writing in the June 2004 issue of the Medal Collectors of America Advisory. The medal was handled privately by Stack's in late 2001. The facts support the Morris association.

    Gouverneur Morris is best known as a Founding Father, an author of and signatory to the Constitution of the United States, and a United States senator from New York. Numismatists will recognize Morris' involvement in the effort to establish a mint and system of coinage for the nascent United States, including the Nova Constellatio patterns of 1783. Morris was a gifted student at King's College. Admitted in 1764 at the age of 12, he was chosen to deliver the commencement address at his 1768 graduation. It was at that ceremony on May 23, 1768, as noted in the New-York Gazette, that "two Silver Medals, were publicly presented to Messrs. Moore and Morris, by the LITERARY SOCIETY."

    Gouverneur Morris' King's College Literary Society medal, hand engraved by Elisha Gallaudet, survives in exceptional condition. The design is strong and the surfaces generally smooth with few marks. Both sides are lightly toned in pale blue and golden patina. As far as we can tell, this is only the second public offering of one of these ultra-rare early American medals. Collectors are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity.
    Ex: Ancient, English and World Coins and Historical Medals (Glendining's, 9/2001), lot 420; Stack's (late 2001) via private treaty; Donald G. Partrick.


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