USA, large bronze medal, Washington / Declaration of Independence (struck in the 1850s), by Charles

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USA, large bronze medal, Washington / Declaration of Independence (struck in the 1850s), by Charles
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This item SOLD at 2023 May 04 @ 17:57UTC-4 : AST/EDT
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USA, large bronze medal, Washington / Declaration of Independence (struck in the 1850s), by Charles Cushing Wright, PCGS SP65, finest known, ex-Adams, Musante Plate, Baker Plate. Musante-GW-181 (this piece); Baker-53 (this piece). 379.9 grams; 91mm. see separate writeup Pedigreed to the John Adams Collection, with prior pedigrees to the Cardinal Collection (Stack's Bowers auction of August 2018, lot 45), Anthony Terranova, and the Charles A. Wharton Collection (Stack's Bowers auction of March 2014, lot 2074), also the plate piece on page 250 of Medallic Washington, Vol 1: 1777-1860 (2016), by Neil Musante, and the plate piece on page 62 of Medallic Portraits of Washington, 2nd ed (1999), by Rulau and Fuld based on the 1885 work of the same name by William Spohn Baker. Please use this link to verify the certification number

This highly prized medal is considered the greatest masterpiece of celebrated engraver Charles Cushing Wright, reportedly taking two years to complete (1852 to 1854), just a few years before his death in 1857, and struck in what can only be considered a sample run of ten specimens, nine of which can be traced today. It is a monumental combination of skill and simplicity: The obverse shows a lone, high-relief image of George Washington, after the famous bust sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1785, with Wright’s signature on the truncation, vertically flanked by GEORGE and WASHINGTON and nothing else; while the reverse is an exquisitely detailed scene in perfect perspective of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence, based on the 1818 painting by John Trumbull that hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and graces the back of our $2 bill, depicting in lifelike detail no less than 47 men associated with the event. This scene, which is often mistakenly described as the signing of the Declaration, shows the five-man drafting committee consisting of John Adams, Richard Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin presenting their draft to a seated John Hancock and the Continental Congress inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on June 28, 1776. Each man pictured was a real person, 42 of whom were actual signers of the Declaration (fourteen signers were not depicted, as Trumbull could not find accurate likenesses of them), the remaining five being luminaries who were present for the debates but not for the signing. The scenario itself is a fantasy, as these 47 men were never all together in Independence Hall. It is a testament to Wright’s skill how well he converted the massive 12’ x 18’ painting to a 91mm medal format, the depth of perspective and finely detailed portraits faithfully rendered down to minute detail, even showing the right foot of the preternaturally tall Jefferson almost stepping on the left foot of the comparatively short Adams, once believed to have been symbolic of their legendary post-Independence rivalry. Above the scene is DECLARATION / OF and below is INDEPENDENCE and the date of the signing, July 4, 1776.

It must have been heartbreaking, then, when Wright no doubt noticed a die-crack developing right in the middle of his pictorial tour de force, likely the reason for its extremely limited production. It is manifest as a raised diagonal line running from the flags at top left to the book in front of Hancock at bottom right. While the present specimen clearly shows this die-crack, it is interesting to note that a silver medal with the same reverse that we sold for a record price in Sedwick Auction 32 does not.

In any case, it seems the first public offering of this bronze medal was in Norton’s Literary Letter in 1857, followed a few years later by its first auction appearance in the February 1859 sale of the Henry Bogert Collection by Augustus B. Sage, who asserted it was “the finest medal ever cut in this country.” Clearly this medal was treasured from the beginning, always selling for strong prices at auction. All nine examples known today (confidential list available upon request) found prestigious homes over the next several decades, leading to long and distinguished pedigrees and in several cases permanent residence in public institutions. Famous numismatic names like Norweb and F.C.C. Boyd are on this list, but several significant others, like Garrett and Brand, are not. The present specimen, arguably the finest of all, can be traced back to the Charles A. Wharton Collection, sold by Stack’s Bowers in March 2014; its latest home was in the much-esteemed collection of John Adams.

Here is why we think it is the finest, apart from the circumstantial fact that it was chosen for the plate piece in both standard references (Musante and the Baker reprint by Rulau and Fuld) and achieved a record price the last time it sold in 2018 (that price superseded by a lesser piece in 2022): Its entire surface is practically pristine, all in the loveliest reddish chocolate brown, uninterrupted in shade and satin smoothness, with hardly a bare-eye blemish to note, its only departure from perfection being a faint rub on the highest part of the hair and no more than four or five very light carbon spots and tiny marks, remarkably without a single ding or nick in the vulnerable rims (amazing for such a big slab of copper), clearly indicative of pampered and loving custody for its entire 170-year existence. The fact that it is the single-finest SP65 above two SP64’s and one SP63 at PCGS—with none at NGC—is also no trivial matter.