Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

How Does A Medal Fit Into My Collection?

[photo: "White metal" and gold-plated versions of the Daniel Webster Medal from my collection]

"White metal" and gold-plated versions of the Daniel Webster Medal from my collection.

A medal is not a coin and not money, but most coin collectors eventually obtain a medal or two or more for their collections. In his Foreword to 100 GREATEST AMERICAN MEDALS AND TOKENS by Katherine Jaeger and Q. David Bowers, expert David Alexander states: "Medals occupied an honored niche in all of the great collections from the first stirrings of numismatic interest in the 1850s..." Medals are interesting, historic, enlightening and fun to collect. They're great fodder for research, if you enjoy that part of the hobby as I do, and learning more about the subject of a medal or coin or bank note is great fun.

Most medals are not expensive. My two Daniel Webster examples shown left were not expensive relative to their scarcity – averaging less than $200 each. I've collected medals on and off for several decades now and have a couple of dozen that I find interesting and historic. I like this Daniel Webster medal because of its connection to my home state, as Daniel Webster was a highly regarded orator, statesman and lawyer from New Hampshire who shaped numerous Supreme Court decisions bolstering the authority of the federal government during the divisive pre-Civil War era. This medal is a souvenir commemorating the June 17, 1886 unveiling of a Daniel Webster statue on the State Capitol grounds in Concord, NH, just across the street from the New Hampshire Historical Society which is one of my favorite institutions.

[photo: Webster portrait "flipped" for comparison]

Webster portrait "flipped" for comparison

The medal is considered scarce to rare today by those who specialize in U.S. medals of political figures. With no records of its creation yet found, the mintage of the medal is unknown. So far, I have found examples of two varieties: white metal (a mixture chiefly of lead and zinc) and gold-plated brass. I found a reference online to another variety described as silver, so proven by a specific gravity test. And I found one mention of the medal in silver in the March 1917 issue of THE NUMISMATIST – in an article entitled "Medals and Tokens of Daniel Webster," based on an exhibit by famed New York City pioneer coin dealer David Proskey (1853-1929), presented at the February 1917 meeting of the New York Numismatic Club. Proskey's example was described as "struck in silver" and "Very Rare." The medal's obverse is very similar to the painting of Daniel Webster (ca. 1845) by Chester Harding shown here with the bust image reversed for comparison.

The origins of the medal are a numismatic puzzle, as it bears no designer initials or manufacturer's mark. Perhaps it was created as a public souvenir by the Concord, NH Webster Society, or perhaps it was privately made as gifts to a select few. I suspect it was created in 1886 at the initiative of the donor of the statue. The plans or schedule of the dedication (if they still exist today in some institution) might shed light on the creation of the medal. Failing that, a careful search of contemporary Concord, NH newspapers might reveal advertisements for the medal. One thing is pretty certain – whoever owned one in 1886, likely attended the unveiling and dedication of the statue on June 17, 1886 in Concord.

[photo: Benjamin Pierce Cheney]

Benjamin Pierce Cheney

The Webster statue was given to the State of New Hampshire by Mr. Benjamin Pierce Cheney of Boston. Cheney's family, on his father's side, went back to the early 1630s in the settlement of Roxbury in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, his grandfather Elias Cheney of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, joined the fight of the American Continental Army against Great Britain. Elias was present for the surrender of British general Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

Benjamin Pierce Cheney was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire in 1815. Working in his father's blacksmith shop from the age of 10, he moved on at age 16 to become a stage coach driver from Keene to Nashua and Exeter, completing 50 miles a day. One of his early passengers was Daniel Webster, formerly of New Hampshire but by then a U.S. senator representing Massachusetts where he had moved. Widely respected nationwide, he was perhaps the most famous orator of the day. Webster was impressed by Cheney's ambition and took an interest in him. When Cheney began his own express business, Webster offered his assistance and hand wrote notes on the laws relating to common carriers which he gave to the young expressman to be. At just 21 years old, B.P. Cheney became a stage agent in Boston and started a stage express business between Boston and Montreal.

After a good career, Cheney sold his firm in 1879 to the American Express Company – founded by Henry Wells and William G. Fargo of Wells Fargo & Company. Cheney became the treasurer of American Express Company, and a director as the largest stockholder of the company. A prominent Massachusetts resident with a 200-acre estate in Wellesley, he re-established his New Hampshire presence with the purchase of a summer residence in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1881. A successful banker and railroad financier, Cheney was involved with the Vermont Central Railroad (later the Central Vermont), the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. At the time of his death, Cheney had built a fortune estimated at $10 million – more than $250 million in today's dollars.

[photo: Sculptor Thomas Ball]

Sculptor Thomas Ball

Decades had passed since Daniel Webster's death in 1852, yet surprisingly there was a rebirth of interest in his life and achievements after the U.S. Civil War. The 100th anniversary of his birth fell on January 18, 1882, and Daniel Webster organizations and societies around the nation called for meetings and memorials. The Webster Club of Concord, N.H. (founded in 1868) observed the 100th anniversary of Webster's birth with a public meeting at White's Opera House. The speaker was prominent New Hampshire lawyer Col. John H. George, who drew attention to the fact that while Webster's adopted state of Massachusetts had a Webster statue in Boston (erected in 1859), the "native state of Webster (New Hampshire) was without a single memorial statue of her greatest son." Reading an account of this speech, and recalling his own friendship with the man, Cheney was inspired to honor Daniel Webster by presenting to the State of New Hampshire a statue of her greatest citizen.

Once Cheney made this decision, there was a lot to do, and a committee was formed. The highly regarded sculptor Thomas Ball, an American from Boston who was living in Florence, Italy at the time, was settled on and commissioned by cable. The statue was to be completed and ready to ship for dedication on January 18, 1886 – the 134th anniversary of Webster's birth, but also the dead of winter. Fortunately this was revised to the more seasonable date of June 17th – the 61st anniversary of Webster's famous June 17, 1825 speech for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which closed with these ringing words:

...let us act under a settled conviction, and an habitual feeling, that these twenty-four States are one country... Let our object be, OUR COUNTRY, OUR WHOLE COUNTRY, AND NOTHING BUT OUR COUNTRY. And, by the blessing of God, may that country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of Wisdom, of Peace, and of Liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration forever!

[photo: Unveiling ceremony for Daniel Webster statue from the June 26, 1886 issue of the weekly<br />
FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER (left) and photo of that same statue today (right)]

Unveiling ceremony for Daniel Webster statue from the June 26, 1886 issue of the weekly FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER (left) and photo of that same statue today (right)

The statue arrived in the U.S. and was installed on time and covered for the unveiling ceremony. Amazingly, the celebration in the New Hampshire state capital of Concord, honoring Daniel Webster and the unveiling of the statue, attracted 30,000 visitors. The population of Concord was only 15,000 at the time, and this was the largest crowd by far to visit the state capital on a single day.

Today, the Daniel Webster statue still stands proudly in place in the State House Park in front of the capitol building in Concord, New Hampshire. Other statues by sculptor Thomas Ball (1819-1911) can be found in New York's Central Park, (George Washington and another of Daniel Webster), the Public Garden in Boston (Charles Sumner), and Ball's work is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and various other institutions. A very similar statue of Daniel Webster by Carl Conrads (after Charles Ball), but in marble, was presented to the Congress of the United States by the State of New Hampshire in 1894, and it can be seen today in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.