Collector's Reaction to 'Utterly Unique' Medal: 'Holy [Expletive]'

Only gold Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal, minted in 1839, could go at auction for up to $500K
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2022 12:09 PM CDT
On the Auction Block, an 'Utterly Unique' Gold Medal
Stock photo of South Carolina's Cowpens National Battlefield.   (Getty Images/zrfphoto)

In 1839, the Philadelphia Mint created a single gold medal in tribute to the courage shown by Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan at 1781's Battle of Cowpens. The medal was minted to replace the original given to Morgan, after that one was stolen in an 1818 robbery at a Pittsburgh bank, where it had been kept in a vault. The newly minted medal, based on the original design by French engraver Augustin Dupre, stayed in Morgan's family until 1885 but then vanished, and many speculated it had either been lost or melted down. That is, until a South Carolina coin and medal collector recently was asked to authenticate a gold medal brought to him by an auction house. When he opened the medal's case, he was stunned. "My reaction was somewhere along the lines of 'holy [expletive],'" Kraljevich said, per a CBS News/AP report. "As soon as I laid my eyes on it, I knew what it was."

Replicas and copies of the medal were made in the years since the 1839 version disappeared, resulting in what Kraljevich calls "red herring" finds of the Morgan medal. But the medal that showed up at his shop was different, snug in its original red leather case with a "crushed purple velvet interior," per Stack's Bowers Galleries, which is now putting the medal on the auction block. The gold front of the medal shows Morgan leading his troops on horseback against the British, while the back depicts a Native American woman bestowing a crown of laurels to Morgan. Kraljevich said the medal—which was awarded to Morgan for his Jan. 17, 1781, battle win, a large factor in "the eventual defeat of the British at the siege of Yorktown," per CBS—was authenticated by a third party and is in "immaculate" condition.

He notes the medal—one of 133 medals in the Comitia Americana series created between 1776 and the early 19th century to showcase turning points in the Revolutionary War—turned up after being consigned anonymously to the auction house. Stack's lists the current bid for the "utterly unique" medal" at $150,000 as of early Monday afternoon, though auction organizers predict it could end up going for anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000. "It is offered, here, at auction for the very first time, a majestic testament in gold to the debt owed this nation's first military heroes and the efforts to honor their legacy," the site notes. Kraljevich says of the medal, per CBS: "Its appearance represents the most shocking and important discovery in American numismatics in years." (More Revolutionary War stories.)

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