The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 1, January 6, 2019, Article 11


Last week Gene Anderson asked about conflicting statements as to the place and time of the ship Columbia's construction as part of his research into the Columbia & Washington medal. First, here's some background on the medal from the Massachusetts Historical Society web site. -Editor

Columbia and Washington medal obverse Columbia and Washington medal reverse

Inspired by the British Royal Society's medals commemorating explorer James Cook's voyages, Boston merchant Joseph Barrell commissioned the Columbia and Washington medal to be sent to the Pacific on the Columbia and Lady Washington in 1787. The bill of lading for the voyage lists 300 medals "to be distributed amongst the Natives on the North West Coast of America, and to commemorate the first American Adventure on the Pacific Ocean." Considered the first die-struck medal issued after American independence, the Columbia and Washington token received considerable attention in contemporary newspaper accounts.

In spite of this notoriety, the origin of the medal remains obscure. While Joseph Barrell probably was solely responsible for its production, neither he nor the newspapers thought to mention the designer, die-maker, or how many medals were struck in each metal used (pewter, copper, and silver).

Anne Bentley of the Massachusetts Historical Society writes:

We show our copper specimen on the web since it was given to us by Joseph Barrell in 1791 and is one of ten which Paul Revere treated for him by filing and polishing the edge.

Cool! Anne also kindly took some time this week to do some checking into the background of the ship. Here are her notes. -Editor

Volume VI of Fairburn's Merchant Sail contains "Index of Vessels", an alphabetical register of all sailing vessels constructed in colonial and federal United States. His list of ships named Columbia contains none built in Plymouth in any year. The Ship Columbia he lists as built in 1773 in Scituate, Mass. He documents it as the Boston/New York consortium China trade vessel that left Boston in 1787 for the Northwest coast and then circumnavigated the globe before setting out again in 1790.

For her second voyage Columbia-Rediviva was registered by her owners as having been built at Plymouth in 1787. I find it very significant that "Previous documentation not shown" forms part of the record here: that indicates to me that she was rebuilt at Plymouth in 1787-not originally constructed there.

Thank you! For background, Anne provided these images of her sources. -Editor

Merchant sail index of vessels title page Ship registers title page

LEFT: HE745 .F3 1945 Fairburn, William Armstrong. Merchant sail. Center Lovell, Me. : Fairburn Marine Educational Foundation, 1945-55. 6 v. (xix, 4179 p.) : chart, tables ; 29 cm RIGHT: HE565.U7 S815 Ship registers of the district of Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1789-1908 / compiled by the Survey of the federal archives, Division of women's and professional projects, Works progress administration. The National archives, cooperating sponsor ... Boston, Mass. : The National Archives Project, 1939-

Merchant sail index of vessels Columbia entries
Merchant sail entries for the Columbia
Ship registers Columbia entries
From Ship registers...

To read the complete article, see:
Columbia and Washington medal (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NOTES FROM E-SYLUM READERS: DECEMBER 30, 2018 : Query: Columbia & Washington Medal Ship (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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