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 Franco-American goodwill.
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 general pleasure.''
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
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 de Rohan.
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
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 !
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