1893 World’s Columbian Exposition Award bronze medal attracts attention with ‘a ton of history’

An 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition Award bronze medal, awarded to either the Governor General of Canada or his wife, is expected to attract bidders’ attention this November for its rare historical significance.

The 76-millimetre, 211.83-gram medal, accompanied by its original aluminum case plus its manufacturing card, was engraved by Charles Barber for the Scovill Manufacturing Company in Waterbury, Ct. But its significance stems from both its obverse designer – U.S. Beaux-Arts-era sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens – and its recipient.

“Just generally, these medals are popular because the obverse was designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who also designed the famous double eagle that bears his name,” said Ottawa dealer Jacob Lipson, an independent consultant with Heritage Auctions and the owner of Jacob Lipson Rare Coins. “His original reverse design, which featured a nude boy, was considered too risqué, so Charles Barber, then chief engraver, designed a new reverse. The two had quite the spat over that design process.”

The medal’s reverse commemorates the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in North America.

While surviving medals were commonly awarded to individual exhibitors or companies, they usually lack any considerable importance today, according to Lipson, who’s also the president of the Ottawa Numismatic Society.

“By contrast, this one was awarded to the Governor General of Canada at the time or possibly his wife, Lady Aberdeen, who was actively involved in the fair,” he said, adding this medal carries “a ton of history.”

“Examples are rarely seen awarded to any Canadian, let alone to one of this significance. This one is also in its original case.”

It will cross the block as Lot 24595 of the Nov. 12-13 Medals & Tokens World Coins Showcase Auction by the Texas-based Heritage Auctions.

The Earl of Aberdeen, John Hamilton-Gordon, and his wife, Lady Aberdeen, Ishbel Maria Hamilton-Gordon, were “pivotal figures” during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, according to the medal’s lot description. The exposition, held in Chicago, marked the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in North America as referenced on the medal’s obverse.

“The Aberdeens served as British representatives in this globally significant event, providing a link between the United Kingdom and the United States during a time of mutual cultural exploration and exchange. In particular, Lady Aberdeen was intimately involved in the conception and management of the Irish Village, an ambitious project that aimed to depict every aspect of traditional Irish life authentically.”

For those reasons, auctioneers believe the medal likely recognizes the Aberdeens’ “combined efforts.”

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