The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 19, Number 20, May 15, 2016, Article 18


Earlier this week I realized that my initial attribution of David Cooper's gold Lifesaving Medal of the First Class was incorrect. A closer look at the Julian book's images reveals that what I thought was an inscription was actually engraved. The two possible medals are so close in design that their size is the main differentiator, and this can't be determined from most photos. So David measured it and confirmed the diameter is 50mm, making it an LS-7, not the earlier and larger LS-5.

Jonathan Brecher, Alan Weinberg and Tony Lopez responded. The most comprehensive comments came from Tony and these appear next. I've included new images provided by David. Thanks, everyone! -Editor

Lifesaving medal obverse Garrett H. White, the recipient of the gold Lifesaving medal was a Coast Guard “Surfman” and one of six recipients awarded the gold Lifesaving medal by the Treasury Department on June 18, 1880 for the February 3, 1880 rescue of the crew of the schooner E.C. Babcock and crew of the Spanish Brig Augustina during a vicious storm off Monmouth Point, NJ. During the rescue, Garrett's actions were particularly gallant as he rushed into the dangerous surf to untangle and rescue men on the line attached to the Augustina.

The other recipients during the rescue were:

Lifesaving medal reverse engraving closeup Charles H. Valentine
Nelson Lockwood
Benjamin C. Potter
William H. Ferguson
John Van Brunt

The details of the rescue can be found online:

Lifesaving medal letter signature John Sherman was the Secretary of the Treasury under Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877-1881. The 6-page handwritten letter from the Treasury Department which accompanied the medal is secretarial and not in the handwriting of John Sherman. Only the first page of the letter was pictured in the article, so it is uncertain whether Sherman personally signed the letter, or if it was also done secretarially. [I've added an image of the signature. -Editor]

During the storm on February 3, 1880, the Treasury Department awarded a total of 26 gold First-Class Lifesaving medals for two separate rescue events. Other than the six gold medals awarded for the rescue of the E. C. Babcock and Augustina off Monmouth Point, NJ, another 20 gold medals were awarded for the rescue of the schooner George Taulane off Swan Point, NJ that same day. Had Sherman written all 26 of the accompanying six-page award letters to the recipients personally, he would have needed to handwrite a total of 156 pages – which explains why he assigned this responsibility to others.

The gold Treasury Department Lifesaving medal awarded to Garrett H. White in 1880 is listed in Robert Julian's Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century 1792-1892, catalogued as “Julian LS-7”. In 1877, the Treasury Department reduced the size of the 1874 First-Class medal. The 1877-1882 LS-7 medal has the same designs both obverse and reverse as the earlier 1874 medal (Julian LS-5), but the size was reduced from 76 mm to 50 mm in diameter as seen with this medal. The most significant difference was the gold content which was reduced in 1877 from approximately 11 troy oz. to only 3 troy oz. In 1883, the First-Class medal was again reduced in size – to 44mm – but continued to maintain the same design.

The records in the Julian Mintage Records Appendix are as follows:

  • 1876/1877 29 gold
  • 1877/1878 7 gold, 5 copper (copper likely for collector purposes)
  • 1878/1879 8 gold
  • 1879/1880 14 gold
  • 1880/1881 27 gold (26 of them for rescues during the February 3, 1880 storm off New Jersey)
  • 1881/1882 3 gold, 2 White Metal
  • 1882/1883 4 gold (Likely LS-9medals)

It is impossible to tell from the US Mint records in the Appendix of Julian the exact number of the larger LS-5 vs. smaller LS-7 medals struck. The first of the smaller medals were struck in mid-February 1877, and the records for this period begin with fiscal year 1876/1877, so it is unknown how many of the 29 medals struck within this timeframe were of the smaller LS-7 50 mm size.

The gold and white-metal medals struck during fiscal year 1881/1882 seem to contradict Julian's statement in the description of the medal that none of the 50 mm LS-7 medals were struck after 1880. The first of the smaller 44 mm LS-9 medals were struck beginning on June 16, 1883. The striking of these medals in 1883 falls within the fiscal year 1882/1883, so it is likely all 4 of the medals recorded were indeed the smaller LS-9 medals. Extrapolating from the records compiled in Julian, no more than 88, and no less than 56 of the gold 50 mm LS-7 medals of the type awarded to Garrett H. White were struck. In the 1986 Price Guide supplement to the Julian US Mint medal reference, Richard Hartzog lists a mintage of 88 LS-7 medals struck in gold.

The United States Coast Guard records show that there were a total of 37 recipients of the First-Class Lifesaving Awards between October 10, 1877 and February 4, 1881. The remainder of the gold medals issued were likely awarded outside of these Coast Guard records, and a few of the gold medals may have been struck for collectors.

One of the two rare white-metal examples of LS-7 (not engraved and thus unawarded) sold in the June 2004 Stack's sale of the Medio/Da Costa Gomez Collection, Lot 2782, realizing $489.00.

Lifesaving medal obverse closeup2 Lifesaving medal obverse closeup
Close-ups of the high relief and Paquet's mark

Alan Weinberg adds:

This one is special due to the apparent pristine condition, pristine original case and documents accompanying it. It is superior to the cased specimen I recently acquired.

Thanks, guys. Be sure to click on the images to view larger versions in our Flickr archive.

Jonathan Brecher located some information on the larger L-5 medal from the Norweb collection, which still makes for good reading. -Editor

On the larger LS-5 version
Unawarded LS-7 Lifesaving medal First Class reverse Jonathan Brecher writes:

LS-5 is one of the scarcer medals in the Lifesaving series, in any composition. I have only one auction record for a gold example, sold by Stack's in 2006. The extensive writeup in that lot description is probably the best source of information that you can get… although it appears that this specimen is _not_ one of the three awarded examples described in that listing.

To read the complete lot description for the gold LS-7 medal, see:
Lot# 2256: 1876 Treasury Department Lifesaving medal, first class. Julian LM-5. Choice Mint State. (

Regarding the John J. Ford collection, Alan Weinberg writes:

Ford did NOT own a large size gold. He likely handled and sold them as they represented too much money tied up in gold value and weren't that rare. Ford was often cash-poor and had to sell to raise $ to buy something as his collecting interests were so broad and all-encompassing.

On the smaller LS-9 version
Lifesaving medal First Class LS-9 obverse Alan Weinberg writes:

There is a smaller size that is suspended from a ribbon and hanger...exact same design. Stack's somewhat regularly auctions the smaller size in gold. One was in the recent Baltimore Stack's Bowers auction after it didn't sell last year. It sold for around $4K. The small size gold is so easily acquired that I never wanted one.

I added an image from a 2012 Heritage sale. Thanks again everyone; this is a great medal with an interesting backstory and connection to the U.S. Mint. -Editor

To read the complete lot description, see: U. S. Mint Medal: Treasury Department, Gold Life Saving Medal, First Class (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:


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Wayne Homren, Editor

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