48.1 millimeters. 191.3 grains. An extremely rare witness to the final stages before the production of the famed Libertas Americana medal, a relic which likely passed through the hands of the medal’s sponsor, Benjamin Franklin. Dark gray surfaces show some handling in the fields and some raised detritus, the plain back is laid down on paper, apparently a part-printed document in French, with “dates de lettres d’avis” or “dates of letters of notification” visible. The rim is broken from about 2:00 to 5:00, still attached at the 5:00 point but separated for the arc of its length from the main body of the medal. It is no great surprise that this piece is not in perfect condition; what is a surprise is that it exists. Splashers like this were a temporary form, an 18th century photocopy of sorts, a quick and easy way to show what a die looked like in a soft metal that could be melted back down and used again. Most did not survive, instead, they were examined and destroyed. This one, somehow, lasted 230 years.
On March 17, 1783, Franklin sent an épreuve, the French word for “proof,” to Sir William Jones while noting "the engraving of my medal, which you know was projected before the peace, is but just finished. None are yet struck in hard metal, but will be in a few days." Ready for hardening, the dies of the Libertas Americana medal were by that point complete. It was at this time that the present specimen was produced; indeed, it could be the very piece Franklin sent to Jones. Few were made. Jones, who helped Franklin conceive the legends, was essentially given a preview copy.
Other Libertas Americana splashers exist. A single specimen with the misspelling INTANS instead of INFANS survives, ex Ford, and a specimen with the legends hand-engraved in by Dupre also exists, the latter selling for $63,250 in our 2009 Philadelphia Americana sale after bringing $57,500 just over a year earlier. This tin impression from the finished reverse die, despite its imperfect condition, represents one of a very small number of production artifacts from America’s most famous and historic medal. Probably personally pressed into molten tin by Dupre himself, this splasher would have most likely been made to Franklin’s eyes. As noted, this could be the exact piece sent to Jones, who proposed the reverse legend to Franklin in the first place. Its precise history shrouded, its rarity is of the utmost. It would be the centerpiece of any cabinet focused on early medallic Americana.
From the estate of Ted Craige, October 4, 1982, to John J. Ford Jr.; our sale of the John J. Ford Jr. Collection, Part XIV, May 2006, Lot 288.