Lot #1. 1781 Libertas Americana Medal. Betts-615. Silver. AU-53 (NGC).
The April 2008 Chicago Rarities Sale - 4/15/2008
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47.6 millimeters. 791.8 grains. This classic type is universally regarded as the most beautiful of the medals issued to commemorate peace between the American Colonies and Great Britain and, by extension, the birth of the United States. The dies were engraved in Paris in 1782 by goldsmith and medallist Augustin Dupre. The design is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who at that time was serving as United States commissioner to France. The obverse design features a left-facing head of Liberty with a liberty cap and pole behind. The inscription LIBERTAS. AMERICANA. is above, while the date 4 JULI. 1776. is in exergue below the portrait. The reverse is highly symbolic and shows the infant Hercules (meant to portray America) strangling two serpents (the British armies at Saratoga and Yorktown). Minerva, depicting France with three fleur-de-lis on her shield, keeps the British lion at bay.
Franklin presented two gold impressions of the Libertas Americana medal to the king and queen of France in honor of the debt that the United States owed France in its struggle for independence from Great Britain. Both of those pieces have since been lost. Approximately 25 silver impressions remain, however, most of which were originally gifted to the king's ministers. The copper pieces are most common with perhaps as many as 125 distinct examples known.
In addition to its beauty, the Libertas Americana medal is renowned for the endurance of its design. Not only has the Paris Mint continued to issue restrikes, but the fledgling United States Mint adopted the Liberty Cap motif for use on the Half Cent from 1793-1797 and the Cent from 1793-1796.
One of the rare silver impressions, this original specimen displays rich olive-russet outlines to the devices that interrupts an otherwise silver-gray sheen. The overall detail remains very bold, and there is only a bit of light highpoint rub that is perhaps most noticeable over Liberty's hair. Small contact marks are scattered about on both sides, but most are singularly inconspicuous, and none are out of context for the assigned grade. Highly desirable both from the standpoint of historical significance and eye appeal, this medal would serve as a centerpiece in any advanced collection.