Did You Know That Medals Were Made from the Armor of the Ironclad Virginia/Merrimack?

Many numismatic items, including Civil War tokens and medals, honor the Battle of Hampton Roads, the 1862 naval battle that saw the first direct engagement between ironclad warships. Among the most interesting are “relic medals” produced with metal recovered from the wreck of the C.S.S. Virginia (formerly the U.S.S. Merrimack, named for a river that runs from central New Hampshire into northern Massachusetts). We’re offering one such medal in lot 2220 of our upcoming Spring 2023 Expo Auction. 

The Confederacy scuttled the Virginia, an ironclad ram built on the hull of the U.S.S. Merrimack, months after Hampden Roads to prevent its capture by Union forces. Extensive salvage operations began in the 1860s and continued into the 1870s. By 1876, much of the wreck had been recovered, according to the National Underwater and Marine Agency’s website ( ). From the armor plating a number of medals were struck.

The type offered in our Spring Expo Auction, cataloged as ME-1 in David Schenkman’s Tokens & Medals Commemorating the Battle Between the Monitor and Merrimac, bears simple designs, depicting on its obverse the Virginia/Merrimack surrounded by text reading “THE FIRST IRONCLAD” with the date below. The reverse is even less adorned, with simple text reading “MADE FROM THE ARMOUR PLATE OF THE MERRIMAC[sic]”

This Merrimack medal was listed as a Civil War token in early editions of the Fuld reference, though it was delisted decades ago. In a brief email interview, Schenkman described the medal as “a popular token, even though it is no longer considered a Civil War token.” Schenkman also explained that medals were produced from the Virginia/Merrimack’s armor from the mid-19th century to the 1920s.

We’re offering this medal in Session 2 of our Spring 2023 Auction, which is dedicated to Numismatic Americana and Early American Coins. Additional Numismatic Americana can be found in our Internet-Only Session 10. To view this lot and the rest of our upcoming Whitman Expo Auction please visit

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