47 millimeters. 47.6 grams. Obv: a beautiful head of Liberty with flowing hair faces left with a liberty pole behind the portrait, the inscription LIBERTAS. AMERICANA. above and the date 4 JUIL. 1776. below in exergue. Rev: the young United States as the infant Hercules strangling two serpents and being protected from the British lion by France, depicted as Minerva, the inscription NON SINE DIIS ANIMOSUS INFANS. (The infant is not bold without divine aid.) is above and the dates 17 OCT. 1777. and 19 OCT. 1781. are below in exergue.
The present specimen offers inspirational beauty. The metal is an exquisite deep chocolate brown, glossy and stunning. Slight reflectivity in the fields is accented by mottled blue and rose toning smoothly dispersed across the surfaces. The highest points of the design show trivial abrasion, which is typical of even the nicest examples as the high relief of the design offers no protection to those areas. A pattern of dark toning spots is seen before Liberty's throat, which would identify this specimen in the future.
Struck in Paris to commemorate peace following the American victory over Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, the Libertas Americana is the most beautiful and important of the peace medals. The concept and mottos displayed by this medal are attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who at the time was serving as U.S. commissioner to France. While in France, Franklin set about the production of a medal to give to a select few he deemed instrumental in securing American independence. The Libertas Americana medal was to be symbolic of the winning of American liberty, not only on the battlefields of the New World but also in the courts of Europe, most particularly that of France. For without French support American victory over Great Britain would not have been possible. And since it was Franklin who secured the support of the king and queen of France, he was as indispensable to the political victory of the American Colonies as George Washington was to their military victory.
The dies for the Libertas Americana medal were cut in Paris in 1782 by Augustin Dupre. The obverse portrait would later influence the first renditions of Liberty to appear on United States coinage, specifically those of the Liberty Cap copper coinage and the Flowing Hair silver coinage. The reverse design is highly symbolic, the two serpents representing the American victory over the British at the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, but Minerva keeping the British lion at bay confirming that ultimate American independence would not have been possible without French aid. The dates in exergue on the reverse are the dates of the victories over General John Burgoyne at Saratoga and General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown.
All original Libertas Americana medals are scarce-to-rare pieces (Paris Mint restrikes of later years have minimal value) with most examples encountered in today's market being copper impressions, of which approximately 100-125 medals are known. Far rarer are the silver strikings that Franklin himself presented to French ministers, "as a monumental acknowledgement, which may go down to future ages, of the obligations [the United States is] under to [the French] nation." We believe that only 25-30 original Libertas Americana Medals in silver are extant. (Two gold strikings that Franklin presented to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France are not traced.)
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
A few years ago when Katie Jaeger and I wrote The 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens, later published as a best seller by Whitman, we surveyed dealers, collectors, historians, and others to rank tokens and medals in order of combined fame and desirability. Number one, right at the top of the list, was the Libertas Americana medal. Today, this aura of desirability holds true. The trouble is that finding truly high-grade examples can be a challenge. The presently offered piece, consigned by a gentleman who has been a specialist in numismatics, a researcher, and a fine friend for perhaps 50 years or more, will be a treasure for its next owner.