Described as “extremely rare” by auctioneers, a gold medal struck in honour of a 19th-century British statesman who’s that country’s shortest-serving prime minister realized £4,000 at a Spink auction in London earlier this week.
Offered on Jan. 28 as Lot 1236, the medal commemorates the 1822 appointment to the foreign office of George Canning, who later served as prime minister for only 117 days.
Canning previously served with the foreign office in the Portland government of 1807-09. During this first effort, he seized the Dutch fleet to ensure naval supremacy against Napoleon’s France but also engaged in cabinet conflicts with Lord Castlereagh’s War Department.
The matter was settled by a customary duel in which Canning was wounded in the thigh.
While his political career could largely be defined by his apparent inability to work with party colleagues in office – including Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to be assassinated in office – his second term as foreign secretary was marked for a more progressive agenda. This included his support for abolition in Spanish held territories as well as being a proponent for Greek autonomy.
Another medal, this offered as Lot 1237, may be the only example in private ownership according to auctioneers; however, it went unsold.
The medal records his death in August 1827 and was struck by ironically the French medallist Galle. His appointment prompted mass cabinet resignations including the likes of 19th-century titans Wellington and Peel.
His remarkably short tenure came as the result of pneumonia contracted while attending the funeral of the Duke of York.