72.2 millimeters on y axis. 72.3 millimeters on x axis. 1.5 to 2.0 millimeters thick at edge. 991.7 grains. 92-93% silver, 3.9-4.1% copper, 2.6-4.0% iron (per a metallurgical analysis conducted by S&N Labs, a copy of which report is available to the winning bidder of this lot upon request to Stack's Bowers Galleries). Short portion of broken original integral hanger visible just left of 12 o'clock, holed during its useful life for suspension and display. Cast and carefully chased, likely by its designer, Robert Scot, working in either Richmond or Williamsburg in 1780. The original cast texture is still visible among the letters of the peripheral legend, while the fields are smooth and the devices show rounded relief. Deeply toned a dark silver-gray with some mottling, traces of raised corrosion and encrustation are visible on the reverse, particularly in the overhanging tree and the word HAPPY. Light surface scratches are visible on both sides, mostly running vertically. A piece of the rim is missing where the hanger broke off above S of IS on the obverse. A few little pit flaws are visible, typical of the method of manufacture, present and noted at the head of King George at base of the obverse and below the letters WH of WHILE on the reverse. The edge has been neatly finished with a file, roughest between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock relative to the obverse, the likely location of the casting gate.
An amazing relic of the American Revolution, personally ordered and overseen by Governor Thomas Jefferson and produced by a future engraver of the United States Mint. When we offered a bronze specimen in our 2009 Americana sale, no silver specimen was known in public or private hands, and no bronze specimen had been sold at an American auction since 1946. That piece, a mold pattern from which the silver examples were produced, realized $92,000 and is now permanently impounded in the collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. It may represent one of the auction specimens listed below. By 1781, a bronze piece like that one had made its way into the collection of Philadelphia numismatist Pierre Eugene du Simitiere. Other bronzes had been documented in the Appleton Collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society (now missing), the Bangor Public Library (destroyed by fire), the 1933 Charles Senter sale (not traced) and the Joseph B. Brenauer Estate specimen sold by Parke-Bernet Galleries in October 1946 (untraced). One other is known in a Connecticut collection, now the only bronze recorded in private hands.
No silver specimen had even been rumored to survive. According to John W. Adams article in American Journal of Numismatics Ser. II, nos. 3-4 (1991-92), pp. 123-134, "Scot's charges included...1,554 [pound sterling] for 37 Spanish silver dollars. Working from the known weight of a copper medal and adjusting for silver's greater specific gravity, 37 Spanish dollars would have provided enough silver to cast an even dozen medals." Other small batches may have also been produced after 1780, and Adams suggests the medals were still being distributed as late as 1787. Indian Peace medals have unusually low proportions of long-term survivorship, particularly those not issued by the United States: earlier medals were exchanged for Federal medals or, failing that, melted or converted for their metallic content. We would not be in the least bit surprised should this medal turn out to be the only surviving example. In the 230 years since a collector first obtained one, none have surfaced, despite academic inquiries into this piece that date back to the 1860s.
Adams describes the rarity of a silver piece, unknown at the time of his 1991 article: "Almost certainly, one or more silver medals have survived and will some day come to light. However, the reason that they are extremely scarce is straightforward: many if not most of the Virginia medals were exchange for Federal replacements." He specifically mentions Tuskegetchee’s 1787 talk at Chota, in modern-day Tennessee, when the chief noted, "I...have at this time one of their [the Virginians] meddles around my neck. I would be sorry to throw that off and put on a strange one." In 1792, Bloody Fellow returned two Virginia medals to Secretary of War Henry Knox, presumably in exchange for oval George Washington Indian Peace medals.
That trade raises a modern-day numismatic question: what is more desirable, a silver Virginia Happy While United medal, the only one known to have survived, a piece whose production was the brainchild of Jefferson himself, or an oval George Washington Indian Peace medal? Just one oval Washington Indian Peace medal has sold in the last decade, though they are measurably more common (though we hate to use such a word) than the Virginia medals. That piece, in our 2003 offering of the Ford Collection, Part II, sold for $276,000. Though the Washington medals are both beautiful and iconic, the Virginia Happy While United medals were the diplomatic ribbon around the relationship between Jefferson's Commonwealth and the major tribes of the South during the American Revolution. Their rarity is essentially unparalleled in the American medal series, and the story, ably told by Adams (and reprinted in our 2009 Americana sale catalog) is fascinating. This medal would be the absolute centerpiece of whatever American medal collection it graced, or could be a crowd-drawing display item for a major institution.