925 Silver cast, 112.5 millimeters. 5.4 millimeters to 4.9 millimeters thick at rims, 10 millimeters at thickest point. 347.3 grams. .925 fineness. By Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Philip Martiny.
Obv: half-length civil bust left, four buttonholes on the coat, meticulous features include a pointed nose and peruke ending in a prominent curl. At center is a two-line inscription divided by bust and fasces, PATER - PATY - RIAE / MDCCL - XX - XIX. Below the 39.4 millimeter wide truncation in minute letters is PHILIP MARTINY. DESIGN AND / COPYRIGHT BY AVGUSTVS SAINT GAVDENS.
Rev: low and indistinct outer rim encloses border of tiny stars around 13-line inscription of the Committee on Celebration, New York, April XXX MDCCCLXXXIX. A Federal eagle with spread wings and shield with raised E / PLURIBUS / UNUM appears near the top, a New York City shield without outline at lower left. This motto is the highest point on the reverse, where the weight of the medal rests and shows faint scuffing.
This medal is cast, reflecting Saint-Gaudens' love of the cast medal from his Renaissance studies. Like the two other known silver examples, it is composed of two silver shells joined and precisely edge-marked with incuse GORHAM MFG. CO STERLING.
Saint-Gaudens thought so highly of the Gorham firm’s capabilities that he used them to cast his classic Robert Gould Shaw Memorial Plaques. In 1905 he told President Theodore Roosevelt that no other American manufacturer was fit to cast his classic Saint Gaudens - A.A. Weinman Roosevelt Inaugural Medal.
The late Susan Douglas researched this medallion in her "George Washington Medals of 1889," in The Numismatist in May, June and July 1949. Russell Rulau and George Fuld updated her listing in their revisions of William S. Baker’s Medallic Portraits of Washington, first published in 1885, last revision appearing in 1998.
This medallion was hailed on its release and was the first artwork by Saint-Gaudens included in the collection of the youthful Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It also directed his attention toward improvement of American medallic sculpture, though his involvement in the abortive U.S. Mint’s 1890 attempt to attract new artists to the nation's silver coin designs proved unfortunate.
Worse was the wrangling with Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber over the reverse design of the official award medals for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892-1893. Saint-Gaudens was brought to the Inaugural Centennial project by former Secretary of State Hamilton Fish of New York, who served as President of the Committee on Celebration for this New York City-based event. Richard Watson Gilder, New York City social and artistic arbiter elegantiae of the era, rather excitedly hailed Saint-Gardens' Washington medallion as "the first medal of real artistic value made in this country."
Two were cast in gold, one now in the collection of the New York Historical Society, the other in the J.P. Morgan Collection, which passed to the Norweb Collection and was sold in our (Stack’s) November 2006 Norweb Collection Sale as lot 2129, which realized a record $391,000. The number cast in silver may have been 10, but only three are accounted for today; one in the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and two outside it, of which the present example is one. ANS also has two silver shells not joined together. An oddly assembled though related piece was lot 434 in our (Stack's) January 2002 sale, consisting of two shells joined by a 7.5 millimeter silver bezel.
The only silver example to appear at auction was lot 6835 in our (Stack’s) Americana Sale, January 2007, Choice About Uncirculated, which climbed to $52,900. It reappeared as lot 6215 in our (Stack's) September 2009 Philadelphia Americana Sale, where it sold for $46,000. This medal showed three edge hallmarks in addition to the maker’s identification seen on the present example.
One or two minor edge nicks may be sought out on the rim, invisible from either side, and the fields show the natural texture of cast metal. This important silver medal is a major rarity, important to collectors of Washingtoniana, to collectors of the work of great American sculptors and of historical Americana. No comparable piece may appear at public auction for decades.