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Presidential Silver Medals

May 13, 2019 0 Comments

The US Mint has long produced not just currency, but other items in precious metals too. The most typical are medals – coin-like discs, usually made from bronze, silver or gold, and stamped to at least the same quality as proof coins. Medal collecting is an interesting specialty within the coin-collecting world, and even more than with coins, medals are encapsulated history, and each one tells a story.

Last year the US Mint began a series of Presidential medals, in 99.9% silver, to complement their existing Presidential Bronze medals, which are now up to the 44th president – Barack Obama. The silver series began in 2018, with medals of the first two Presidents, George Washington and John Adams. Starting in 2019, the intention is to release four medals a year, until the series has covered all off the presidents. The first medal for 2019 was of Thomas Jefferson, and on May 6, 2019, the medal for James Madison was released. The series is a ‘list medal’. These are issued with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, and are always series, commemorating something of national significance. In keeping with the Mint’s stated aims in its medals, this series certainly does commemorate ‘historical events and honor those whose superior deeds and achievements have enriched U.S. history’.

Presidential medals have a long history. They began as ‘Peace Medals’, which were carried by explorers and colonial authorities, to cement peace treaties made with native nations. For example, the famous Lewis & Clarke Expedition carried three sizes of Peace Medals depicting Thomas Jefferson, as well as George Washington medals.

Each medal contains 1.000 troy ounce of silver, and it is 1.598 inches across. The planchets used are the same as for the Silver Eagles, a popular bullion coin, but the medals lack the reeded edge of the Silver Eagles. They may be minted at several of the Mint’s facilities, but there are no mint marks. For those unfamiliar with the making of coins, a planchet is the blank onto which the design is stamped. The Presidential medals have a mat finish, very much like the finish on an uncirculated coin.

In the tradition of their original function as Peace Medals with Native Americans, the medal series has a common reverse, featuring a pair of hands locked in a handshake. One hand has bare skin, and the other has a cuff of the type worn by American soldiers around the beginning of the 19th century. It features three stripes and three buttons. The inscription PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP is on this side, with a crossed tomahawk and peace pipe at the top. The design is an updated version of the original 1801 design by John Reich, who later became a Mint Assistant Engraver.

The reverse of each medal shows a profile bust of the President being commemorated. The designs are from the original Peace Medals and were usually not recorded. The most recent issue features the bust of James Madison. Often called ‘The Father of the Constitution’, Madison was born in Virginia, and was one of the Founding Fathers. He wrote the first drafts of both the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution. The inscriptions on the reverse of the Madison medal are, JAMES MADISON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and A.D. 1809.

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