Did You Know that Augustus B. Sage’s Name First Appeared on a Medal Honoring Cyrus W. Field in 1858?

Augustus B. Sage is an important name in U.S. numismatic history. A cofounder of the American Numismatic Society, coin dealer, medal publisher, and veteran who worked in a variety of fields through his short life, Sage was one of the first prominent American numismatists in an era when the hobby was catching on in the country. He published medal series bearing his name beginning in the late 1850s through the 1870s. The first medallic appearance of his name came in 1858 when he published a medal, designed by George Hampden Lovett, honoring Cyrus W. Field, an American paper merchant and financier who spearheaded efforts to lay a transatlantic telegraph cable in the mid-19th century.

Cyrus Field joined the efforts to create a transatlantic telegraph in 1853, and on August 16, 1858 he sent the first official message across the wire. Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan exchanged transatlantic telegraph messages the same day.

Augustus B. Sage, 17 years old when those telegraphs were sent in 1858, was already making a name of himself in the burgeoning New York City numismatic community of the mid-19th century. He commissioned medals celebrating Field and the completion of the transatlantic cable. George Hampden Lovett, a New York City-based diesinker (who would have a long association with Sage and the ANS), prepared an obverse die depicting Field in classical garb encircled by an oak wreath and a simple reverse with text commemorating the completion of the cable encircled by a laurel wreath on its reverse. Two reverse dies were employed, differentiated by the Latin motto surrounding the reverse wreath. Silver and coppered bronze medals were produced.  

The Transatlantic Cable only operated for a month before failing; the successful laying of a second cable in 1866 inspired more commemorative medals.

Q. David Bowers’ 1998 book American Numismatics Before the Civil War, 1760-1860: Emphasizing the Story of Augustus B. Sage paints a helpful picture of the nascent coin hobby at midcentury and offers valuable details about Sage’s life.

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