109.4 millimeters x 109.5 millimeters. 4.7 millimeters to 4.2 millimeters at rims, 8.3 millimeters at thickest point. 306.8 grams. By Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Philip Martiny. The design of this important medal differs in several important aspects from the scarce production issue. The great American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens had long since achieved international fame for sculpture in the round: public monuments, statuary, mortuary art. He was a profound admirer of the Renaissance medal, and this Washington commemorative was his first medal commission, created in the general style of the father of the Renaissance medal, Antonio Pisano, called Pisanello.
Washington had taken the oath office at Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789 as the first president under the Constitution, a truly formative event in our nation’s history. Former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Committee on Celebration Hamilton Fish only decided to have a medal at the end of 1888, leaving Saint-Gaudens and his associate Philip Martiny about four months to design, model and cast the required large-diameter medals. Saint-Gaudens preferred casting to medals struck from steel dies, especially in such ample size.
The medal would present a half-length civil bust of the first President facing left in a border of 13 widely spaced stars, GEORGE WASHINGTON above, a Roman Fasces at right with divided inscription PATER - PAT - RIAE / MDCCL - XX - XIX at center. The reverse presented a border of close-set stars around a spread eagle, TO COMMEMORATE above, 12-line inscription below identifies the cause of celebration, and a small Arms of New York City appears at lower left.
While generally similar to the adopted production design, this pattern shows significant differences. The obverse is surrounded by a high outer rim. The bust flares widely at base to 43.3 millimeters, and the four buttonholes in Washington’s coat are absent altogether. The two-line inscription appearing on the adopted design, identifying Saint-Gaudens and Philip Martiny is wholly absent.
Washington's facial features are very different, presenting a large, almost bulbous nose, more jutting chin and peruke whose end is obscured by its ribbon tie. Details of the fasces are more sharply delineated and all reverse lettering is larger, more closely set and more sharply squared throughout. The city arms is outlined at its borders and the raised outer rim is boldly toothed or dentillated.
This exciting prototype or pattern was unknown to Washingtonia catalogers Susan Douglas, Russell Rulau and Dr. George Fuld. The first example to appear at public auction was a highlight of our (Stack's) January 2007 Americana Sale (lot 6834), where it climbed to a record realization of $63,250. The present example may be the third known, a trifle sharper than the first and boasting a harmonious light brown patina. This medal is certain to become the star attraction of some great collection.