The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 33, August 19, 2007, Article 11


Earlier this year George Frederick Kolbe Publications issued "Comitia
Americana and Related Medals: Underappreciated Monuments to Our Heritage"
by John W. Adams and Anne E. Bentley.  True to Kolbe's high standards
of quality, the 304 page hardbound volume is bound in full linen with
a leather spine label, lettered in gilt.  The full color photos are of
the highest quality.  The book was printed by Meridian Printing using
offset.  Henry Morris of Bird & Bull Press, the modern master of the
craft, will do a very special edition using letterpress printing.

The press release for the book accurately describes it as follows:
"Extremely well-written by two highly respected, published scholars,
this work covers in great detail the "Comitia Americana" medals approved
by Congress to commemorate significant victories during the American
Revolutionary War and the officers who achieved them. Also covered
are the "Diplomatic Medals" created by Thomas Jefferson and the
celebrated "Libertas Americana" medal, the brainchild of Benjamin
Franklin. The volume is brim full of original research and documentary
evidence, and is written in an engaging manner."

The book is available directly from George Frederick Kolbe Publications
for $135.00 plus $10.00 shipping in the United States and $25.00
elsewhere.  Christopher Eimer reviewed the book in the Spring 2007
issue of our print journal, The Asylum.  I finally had the opportunity
to read the book on a recent transatlantic flight, and thought I'd
share some observations.

The Acknowledgements (p. vii) list an impressive array of individuals
and institutions.  Of particular note are Michael Hodder and Stack's;
Hodder's cataloging of the John J. Ford Comitia Americana medals make
this book and the recent Stack's sales of those medals ideal companions.

Fellow bibliophiles will appreciate the book's Introduction (p. xi)
which includes a review of the literature relating to these medals.
 Loubat's work provided the first published assemblage of original
documents relating to the medals, and Betts' work, while more
accessible and comprehensive is so large that the Comitia Americana
medals are somewhat lost within it.  In 1976 Vladimir and Elvira
Clain-Stefanelli published 'Medals Commemorating Battles of the
American Revolution', which provided excellent photos and some
related material, but "relatively little [new] numismatic substance.
Alan Stahl's 1995 COAC paper on the Comitia American series "provided
much of what was lacking in the Clain-Stefanelli's book."

One largely unrecognized source that the authors drew on for this
book is Volume 16 of 'The Papers of Thomas Jefferson' which "adds
rich details regarding the personalities and process involved in
the procurement of the medals."

For those like myself who aren't well versed in Latin, "Comitia
Americana' means "American Congress".  The medals are those authorized
by the American Congress, the first of the Congressional Gold Medals.
The very first one was awarded to George Washington, the famous
Washington Before Boston medal.  The original medal in gold,
presented to Washington himself, resides at the Boston Public
Library today.

Congress authorized a series of these medals and directed that 350
sets of them be produced.  Yet only two such (partial) sets exist
today.  The authors conclude that the will of Congress was not
carried out.  They believe that for many reasons, particularly the
inaction of Thomas Jefferson, most were never made.  This rarity
contributes to the relative obscurity of these important medals
over the centuries.  The Adams-Bentley book attempts to correct
this historical oversight and bring new attention to the once
nearly-forgotten series.  Combining previous scholarship with
surveys of collections, a review of sale catalogs and new research,
the authors have created a new and important work.

Chapter 1 dives directly into 'The Mystery of the Missing Sets'
and provides a great starting point for understanding the overall
series.  But here at the beginning of the book is where I fear its
greatest shortcoming lies, although it lies not with what is on
the pages but rather with what is left out.  As students of American
history the authors dive directly into their subject but without
providing much context for those less familiar with the era and
the personalities which populate it.

For example, references are made to John Jay and David Humphries
without explaining to the readers just who they were (Jay was
President of the Continental Congress and the first Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court, and Humphries was Washington's aide).  When
the authors note that "Jefferson purchased wooden boxes from Upton,
a local cabinetmaker" to house the sets no mention is made of where
Jefferson was located.  Philadelphia?  Virginia? No - a later
entry notes that the boxes were paid for in Livres; at the time
Jefferson was living in France.

Another welcome addition, I think, would be a short, gentle
introduction to the world of medals for the non-numismatist.
On p19 the authors discuss "R-8" and "R-7" without ever introducing
a numismatic rarity scale.  They also mention elsewhere the "Dreyfus
sale", but I could not find this catalog defined in the index,
bibliography or list of catalogs consulted.  I know what it is and
have a copy of the sale on my library shelf, but even many
numismatists would have trouble placing such a cryptic reference.

Together, these additions would make this wonderful book a bit
more accessible to those not already steeped in the realm of
numismatics and early American history.  But those are small nits
to pick and easily remedied by readers willing to look up those
things elsewhere.

The first three photos alone are staggering to view for anyone
aware of their historical and numismatic importance.  The frontispiece
is a color photo of a terra-cotta model for the reverse of Dupre's
Libertas Americana medal; facing the introduction is a color photo
of the original gold Washington Before Boston medal; on p12 is a photo
of the Washington-Webster set in the original Upton box at the
Massachusetts Historical Society.

Other absolutely fabulous images include Dupre's sketch for the
reverse of the Daniel Morgan medal (p133), the obverse die for
the John Eager Howard medal (p147), more Dupre sketches for the
Benjamin Franklin medal of 1784 (p176-177), and the die for the
Benjamin Franklin medal of 1776 (p181).

The authors correctly lament that many of the events commemorated
by these medals are little known today, despite the fact that they
were of such monumental importance to the new nation at the time:
"Few Americans have heard of the battle of the Cowpens.  Fewer
still appreciate its strategic significance and the intensity with
which it was fought." (p145)  Yet Congress awarded no fewer than
three medals for the battle. I'm grateful to have learned (or
relearned) a good bit of American history just by reading the
Adams-Bentley book.

Chapter 14, 'Benjamin Franklin, American' is the first of three
chapters on the 'Related Medals' of the book's title.  While these
medals were not authorized by Congress, they are very closely
intertwined with the Comitia Americana series.  Chapter 14 covers
three different Benjamin Franklin medals of 1777, 1784 and 1786.
Chapter 15 covers the legendary Libertas Americana medal, conceived
and financed by Franklin.  Chapter 16 addresses the Diplomatic Medal
of the United States.  A second nitpick would be to suggest dividing
the book onto two explicit sections to make this distinction more
clear - section one for the true Comitia Americana medals, section
two for the related medals.

As many of you know by now, I tend not to judge a book by its cover
but by the sources consulted by the authors. The Adams-Bentley book
does not disappoint.  There are 377 individual notes to the chapters,
and the nine page bibliography lists hundreds of books, articles,
auction catalogs, newspapers, magazines, manuscripts and published
correspondence. There is also an eight-page index.  Comitia Americana
and Related Medals is a wonderful book and highly recommended reading
for anyone with an interest in early U.S. medals and history.

For more information on the Comitia Americana book, see:
Full Story

[The story of the replacement of Morgan's gold medal (p138) reminded
me of a presentation John Kraljevich gave on the topic at a banquet
of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists.  He already knows
so much about the medals of this era - when he gets married will the
union be called "You, Me and Dupre"? -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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