Reverse bears ink inscription U.S. / DIPLOMATIC / MEDAL OBVERSE / GREAT SEAL OF U.S. / 1776 / ARTIST’S PROOF / WITH BRONZE MEDAL / OWNED BY / S.H. CHAPMAN / 1881-1919. A singularly important artifact, an impression from the adopted obverse of this first medal conceived by the United States after the American Revolution. Designed by Thomas Jefferson, personally approved by George Washington as president, and engraved by Augustin Dupre, the Diplomatic Medal is as central to our early diplomatic history as it is damnably forgotten by modern scholars and numismatists.
Conceived in 1790 by Jefferson, George Washington described it in his diary as, "’the present which (according to the custom of other nations) should be made to Diplomatic characters when they return from that employment in this country, and this was a gold Medal, suspended to a gold chain -- in ordinary to be of a value of about 120 or 130 guineas." This large gold medal was inspired by similarly lavish and high value gifts then given by European rulers to visiting diplomats, a habit Jefferson may have learned about from John Adams, who received a similar large gold medal from the Netherlands, today in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Though four of the original gold medals appear to have been struck in Paris in 1792, none are known to have survived, and none has ever been documented by numismatists in this century or any previous. Three bronze pieces have survived, one impounded in the collection of Princeton University, another in a well-known New England collection, and a final piece that we offered in 2004 as part of the John J. Ford, Jr. Collection.
The last of the three bronze pieces, ex: Ford, was earlier in the cabinets of Charles I. Bushnell (dispersed via auction in 1882), Philadelphia coin dealer Samuel Hudson Chapman, and Baltimore collector John Work Garrett. The presently offered obverse cliche boasts the precise same provenance, sold in the 1882 Bushnell auction to S.H. Chapman, who kept it with the bronze specimen until he sold both to Garrett. When the multi-generational Garrett collection was sold, this piece was sold in the same lot as the bronze example; both were offered in the Ford sale.
Though two obverse dies were made, impressions are only known from the obverse die exemplified here; the other is known solely from the cracked die now in the collection of the Boston Public Library. Aside from the three bronze pieces, the Adams-Bentley work on Comitia Americana medals (the most complete source for information on the Diplomatic Medal) enumerates eight known splashers from this die. Three of those are ex: Ford (including this one), and one other is in private hands, for a total of four collectible specimens. The others are in the collections of the American Numismatic Society, the American Philosophical Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Smithsonian Institution.
Of the four collectible specimens, this boasts the most august provenance. The three in Ford were all in fairly similar condition. This piece shows pleasant light gray surfaces, still fairly lively and showing muted luster and subtle toning. The impression is complete and sharp. Some natural metal flow striations are seen at the left rim, along with a few very light old scratches hidden near the rim. The rims are nice with only minor flaws. The reverse inscription in the hand of S.H. Chapman is charming and legible.
So rare as to be essentially non-collectible, the Diplomatic Medal's fame suffers from its low population. Were this more common, like a Libertas Americana medal, it would undoubtedly if anti-intuitively be worth more. Now that the Ford hoard of these has been well dispersed, we cannot foresee when another opportunity to own a specimen will come along.
From the Dorchester Heights Collection. Earlier from S.H. and H. Chapman's sale of the Charles I Bushnell Collection, June 1882, lot 314; S.H. Chapman Collection to John Work Garrett on December 19, 1919; our (Bowers and Ruddy's) sale of the Garrett Collection, Part IV, March 1981, part of lot 1959; and our (Stack's) sale of the John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, Part V, October 2004, lot 200.