A few weeks back
Peter Jones submitted these thoughts on the 1976 Gold Libertas Americana restrikes; I'm sorry to admit these got lost in my email deluge until now, but here goes. Thank you!
In reference to this week's E-Sylum about the 1976 Paris gold restrikes of the Libertas Americana, I bought a restrike 64 grams proof gold Libertas Americana Gold medal in June 2022 at the Stacks Bowers precious metals auction.
I bought is because, of all the Comitia Americana medals, this was the one Franklin was most proud of. As Adams and Bentley called it: "Simply put, a masterpiece."
He spent an enormous amount of time and effort to get the message correct.
Rather than creating a monumental pillar for Yorktown, then in vogue, Franklin created a medal. As a diplomat, he knew Louis XVI would appreciate a gold masterpiece in his hands lots more than a marble column in America.
Franklin suggested the infant Hercules in a cradle, strangling two serpents sent by Hera, and a personification of France as Athena (Minerva in Rome). The fresco painter Esprit-Antoine Gibelin (who had a background in classical themes) and the engraver, Augustin Dupré, developed the designs further. Dupré did not finish the engraving until 1782. He lived, like Franklin, in Passy. He and Franklin often walked the three miles into Paris together, Dupré no doubt charmed by his wit and intellect.
Franklin focused on the reverse. The reverse shows France as Athena, carrying a shield with three fleurs-de-lys. She protects the infant Hercules (representing America) on his cradle. Hercules strangles two snakes, as the lioness Britannia pounces on him. The two strangled serpents symbolize the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown. In the exergue are the twin dates 17 October 1777 and 19 October 1781. The first date was the defeat of Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. The second was the defeat of Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown. Importantly, the lioness has her tail between her legs, styled
coward by heraldic experts. It shows her power is foiled by Minerva (France). Athena was Goddess of War in ancient Greece, and Goddess of Prudence in Rome.
Zeus, the god of the sky and thunder, ruled as king of the gods on Mount Olympus. To say Zeus' life was busy was an understatement: he fathered fifteen children! The infant Hercules, son of Zeus and Alcmene, made one of Zeus's wives, Hera, so jealous that she sent two enormous serpents to kill him. The infant Hercules strangled both of them.
The legend around, NON SINE DIIS ANIMOSUS INFANS, is Latin for
the bold infant is not without divine aid. Above the reverse exergual line is DUPRE.F. for Dupré Fecit, Latin for Dupré made it.
The Libertas Americana reverse flatters France, just as Franklin, the ever consummate ambassador, intended. He still needed French loans for America!
Although Franklin said he presented two gold examples to King Louis XVI and his wife in 1783, these are unknown today. Gold proof restrikes are the only link to show what Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette actually held in their hands after years of Franklin's plans.
The Paris Mint struck originals in March, April and June 1783 and possibly at a later date in 1783. None of them have edge markings. In 1789 Jefferson bought a silver specimen from the Paris Mint, perhaps to give Washington.
In 1783, Franklin paid 3,704 livres ($617 or £154) of his own money to buy these medals.. He also ordered 300 copies of a four-page pamphlet,
Explanation of the medal. As he always had a printing press with him and loved to print documents, it is surprising that he did not print the document himself. But he wanted something better. It included beautifully engraved pictures of the medal.
This is Franklin's own explanation, mostly focusing on the reverse. Translated into English, the French document reads:
The Head representing American Liberty has its tresses floating in the air, to shew that she is in activity. The Cap carried on a Spear is her Ensign. The Date below of 4 July 1776 was the day the United States declared Independence.
On the reverse, the United States are represented by an infant Hercules, cradled in a shield which in Theocritus served as a cradle, strangling two serpents in his hands, an emblem of the two English armies made prisoners at Saratoga and at York Town. A leopard representing England throws himself at the same time on the infant. A Minerva armed with a shield with the arms of France comes to his rescue and characterizes the generous protection that the King has given to America.
The legend is a verse from Horace, of which the sense is:
It is not without help from the Gods that the infant shows this courage.
The two dates of 17 October 1777 and of 19 of the same month 1781 indicate the two surrenders of Burgoyne and of Cornwallis.
This medal is destined to be a lasting monument of events shown on the design, as well as of the recognition of the United States towards their grand and generous Benefactor.
Philippe Denis Pierres delivered 300 copies of the
Explication de la Médaille in French) to Franklin on May 5, 1783. There can be no doubt reading this in French that Franklin was oiling diplomatic wheels. Robert Livingston, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Confederation Congress, had written to Franklin in December 1781 suggesting a commemorative pillar in Yorktown. But cognizant of further support needed from France, Franklin's titled his explanation,
Explanation of the medal struck by the Americans. Of course, the Americans did not strike it. He did! But he wanted to make France think America was officially grateful for its efforts. He knew Congress might not vote on the money or the project. So, he paid for it himself. Notice that his explanation of Liberty was very sparse.
Franklin's pinnacle was to present the medals in gold to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Gold restrikes are the only facsimile of what the medal would have looked like.
To me this is an important collector item.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NOTES FROM E-SYLUM READERS: JULY 9, 2023 :
1976 Gold Libertas Americana Restrikes
Wayne Homren, Editor
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