1858 S.S. Central America medal. Bronze. Extremely Fine.
57.5 mm. Lovely chocolate brown with tan highlights. An impressive medal struck in substantial relief, with the detailed obverse scene of the S.S. Central America
in distress standing high above the fields around. A patch of inactive corrosion at the word DEVOTION and a smaller patch under ST of CHRISTIAN are noted. A few tiny scattered contact marks are noted in the reverse fields, lovely visual appeal. A medal of incredible talent rendered by the hand of F.B. Smith, a one-time employee of Charles Cushing Wright, with the obverse splendidly displaying Captain William Lewis Herndon standing atop the wheel of the Central America
, her masts fallen and waves all around, while a full lifeboat escapes in the foreground. The reverse legend reads "Presented to the widow of Captain William Lewis Herndon, U.S. Navy, by VIRGINA, as a testament of respect for her VIRTUOUS SON, a noble and gallant OFFICER, 1858."
The medal was ordered by the Commonwealth of Virginia in a quantity of "no more than twenty or thirty" in the words of the engraver (recalled by Andrew Zabriskie in 1887); specimens were struck in only silver and bronze. Bronze examples were presented to the governor of the state and others, but the medal was never restruck, as the dies were held by the Commonwealth as soon as striking was completed and later disappeared while in state hands. A silver specimen was in the Garrett Collection and is now in a closely held West Coast cabinet; we recall no other copper specimens offered publicly since this example last sold in 1992. No more than a dozen or so bronze examples are thought to exist, and specimens appear on the market very infrequently—indeed, this is one of the most highly desired of all 19th-century American medals. The whereabouts of the medal presented to Mrs. Herndon, known to have passed into the family of President Chester A. Arthur (Herndon's son-in-law), are unknown. One of the highlights of the Sebring Collection, a medal Tom took great pleasure in exhibiting (and garnered a number of awards doing so, we may add). This medal was also featured in the October 1993 article in The Numismatist
. Housed in a custom Capital Holders display case. ($8,000-12,000)
From the Q. David Bowers Collection; earlier from ANR's Sebring Collection sale, January 2004, Lot 1665; from Auctions by Bowers and Merena, Inc.'s sale of the Witham and Sansoucy Collections, September 1992, Lot 2235 with original lot ticket.
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