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The E-Sylum: Volume 4, Number 8, February 18, 2001, Article 11


Don Groves writes:

Jan Monroe’s suggestion of McKenney-Hall “Portrait Gallery of American Indians” is a splendid recommendation for numismatists interested in medals. Indian Peace Medals, particularly those beginning with the Washington administration are of tremendous interest for the numismatist.

When Indians first received these medals they far out-classed anything the British or French had been presenting them to encourage their loyalty to the King. With an expression of friendship and gifts, these medals were used by our forefathers to assuage Indian chiefs and great warriors that their loyalty to the new found United States of America was paramount in their best interest.

The McKenney-Hall books come in two sizes - very, very large and large. Each set is in three volumes with 50 plates in each for a total of 150 outstanding copies of the portraits of significant Indians at that time. Some of the Indians were captured on canvas in the field but most were invited to the White House for an audience with the great white father and thence sat for their portrait. The portraits were later hung on the walls of the War Department Building.

Unfortunately, most of these great paintings have not survived because of a fire, but to possess the volumes with the colored print is indeed an outstanding accomplishment. The small, three-volume set now sells at auction for about $30,000. The large volume set, $125,000 to $150,000. So, the practicality of acquiring them is not attainable for most of us. However, most of the great libraries in our country do possess the volumes.

Many years ago I visited the New York Public Library and had the pleasure of reviewing the plates. They are absolutely fantastic. Of the 150 portraits, 49 of them feature Indians wearing their medal or medals. The most prominent medal is worn by Red Jacket, Chief and leader of the Six Nations, who played a paramount part in the American Revolutionary War. His medal is the large size 1792 Washington piece.

Sometimes these prints become available at auction or through print shop dealers. Philadelphia Print Shop is one in particular. There are others. In the case of Red Jacket, that print can usually be acquired in the $500 to $1,000 range. Since the books have now skyrocketed in value, dealers no longer break them up to sell the prints individually so they will become scarcer in the future. See the books at your nearest large city library or watch the antique publications for sales of the individual prints."

[Editor's note: While the original McKenney-Hall books are indeed quite rare, Jan Monroe was recommending an affordable substitute: "McKenney-Hall Portrait Gallery of American Indians by James D. Horan, Crown Publishers, 1972. The Horan book contains the biography of Col. Thomas L. McKenney and his efforts to collect Indian Peace Medals.]

Wayne Homren, Editor

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