most famous of all American medals is the elegant Libertas
Americana (''American Liberty'') medal. It celebrates America's
Revolutionary War military victories, specifically the British
surrenders at Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781). Benjamin
Franklin conceived the idea, as a private project to enhance
In a letter dated March 4, 1782,
Franklin wrote from Paris:
''This puts me in mind of a medal I have
had a mind to strike, since the late great event you gave
me an account of, representing the United States by the figure
of an infant Hercules in his cradle, strangling the two serpents;
and France by that of Minerva, sitting by as his nurse, with
her spear and helmet, and her robe specked with a few fleurs
de lys. The extinguishing of two entire armies in one war
is what has rarely happened, and it gives a presage of the
future force of our growing empire.''
A preliminary sketch was drawn by painter
Esprit-Antoine Giblein, and the dies were engraved by Augustin
Dupré. The medals were struck at the Paris Mint in
1783, with two specimens struck in gold for presentation to
the King and Queen of France. A few others were struck in
silver, and the rest in copper.
In a letter dated April 15, 1783, Franklin
wrote: ''I have caused to be struck here the medal which I
formerly mentioned to you, the design of which you seemed
to approve. I enclose one of them in silver, for the President
of Congress, and one in copper for yourself; the impression
in copper is thought to appear best, and you will soon receive
a number for the members. I have presented one to the King,
and another to the Queen, both in gold, and one in silver
to each of the ministers, as a monumental acknowledgment,
which may go down to future ages, of the obligations we are
under to this nation. It is mighty well received, and gives
A September 13, 1783 letter from Franklin
to the President of the United States Congress added: ''I
am happy to hear that both the device and workmanship of the
medal are approved with you, as they have the good fortune
to be by the best judges on this side of the water. It has
been esteemed a well-timed, as well as a well-merited, compliment
here, and has its good effects. Since the two first which
you mention as received, I have sent by different opportunities
so many, as that every member of Congress might have one.
I hope they are come safe to hand by this time.''
Dupré probably created the obverse
portrait of Liberty, with her hair flowing freely in the wind,
superimposed on a pole topped by a pileus, the helmet-like
emblem of freedom. The design symbolized both freedom from
slavery, and America's freedom from George III of England.
The assistance of France was invaluable in
the triumph over England during the Revolutionary War, and
the allegorical reverse design commemorates the struggle.
America is depicted as an infant Hercules, strangling two
serpents representing the armies of Burgoyne and Cornwallis.
He is defended by France, represented as the warrior-goddess
Minerva, clad in breastplate and plumed helmet, holding a
shield bearing the fleurs de lys of France. She fends off
the British lion, which stands with its forepaws upon her
shield, its tail between its rear legs, a heraldic symbol
of defeat. The dates in the exergue refer to the surrenders
of Burgoyne at Saratoga and Cornwallis at Yorktown. The Latin
inscription NON SINE DIIS ANIMOSUS INFANS translates as ''the
infant is not bold without divine aid.''
From Malta's US Embassy website:
In 1783, Benjamin Franklin, in his capacity
as U.S. Ambassador to France, designed and minted America’s
first medal “Libertas Americana.” Franklin gave
all but one medal to French officials and members of the U.S.
Congress. The sole medal given to another foreign official
was a medal presented by Franklin to Grand Master Emmanuel
Franklin sent the medal to Grandmaster de
Rohan specifically to thank him for his support. In the letter
that accompanied the medal, Franklin wrote, “I have
the honor to address to Your Emminent Highness the medal which
I have lately had struck. It is an Homage of gratitude, my
Lord, which is due to the interest you have taken in our cause;
and we no less owe it to your virtues and to your eminent
highness wise administration of government.” Franklin
also asked that the Grandmaster allow American ships to come
to Maltese ports.
Grandmaster de Rohan replied quickly and
positively. In his response, de Rohan wrote, “This monument
of American liberty has a distinguished place in my cabinet.
Whenever chance or commerce shall lead any of your citizens
or their vessels into the ports of my island, I shall receive
them with the greatest welcome.”
So began, 223 years ago, diplomatic relations
between the United States in Malta. Unfortunately the original
letter from Franklin and medal has not been located, despite
thorough searches in the National Archives in Valletta. However,
the letter from de Rohan to Franklin still exists and is located
in Philadelphia in the American Philosophical Society.
The specimen shown here is of monumental
Numismatic, historical importance and is struck as a proof.
Magnificent and double struck this coin/medal/important artifact
of American history displays near perfect surfaces, virtually
immaculate fields and a beautiful well balanced color. For
the connoisseur of early American coinage and seeker of the
finest of early American art in metal form. Magnificent !