COLLECTIBLES: American Medals


American Medals presented during the late 18th and early 19th century are exceedingly rare and there are few examples known from the Revolution period to the War of 1812. About five years ago I had and sold a silver Isaac Hull medal presented by congress to Lieutenant George C. Reed for his part in the capture of the British frigate HMS Guerriere by USS Constitution on August 19, 1812. Very few of these medals in silver were cast and I never thought I would handle another one, but that wasn’t the case.

While cleaning out a house there was a box of “stuff” that didn’t hold any value. Searching through it a small cardboard box with a silver medal inside was found. A friend who found it sent a text and asked if I knew of any medals with a profile of an officer named Hull. I thought to myself that it couldn’t be another one but that I would be by first thing in the morning to take a look. When I got there and opened the small beat-up cardboard box I was stunned. It was another silver Hull medal! An internet search will provide more history of the battle between Constitution and Guerriere, so I will stick to the medal.

The defeat of the British frigate was a major event at the start of the War of 1812. It was a victory that spread through the country like wildfire and was a propaganda gold mine with parades, celebrations, and newspaper articles. Later that fall a congressional committee voted to provide “for a gold medal with suitable emblems and devices, to be presented to Capt. Hull, Capt. Decatur, and Capt. Jones severally, and also a silver medal with like emblems and devices to each of the commissioned officers.”

The medal found was one of the silver medals which was presented to Lieutenant Alexander S. Wadsworth. On the obverse of the medal is a profile of Captain Hull in his uniform with the Latin phrase “PERITOS ARTE SUPERAT JUL. MDCCCXII AUG CERTAMINE FORTES” and “ISAACUS HULL.” On the reverse is “HORAE MOMENTO VICTORIA” with a depiction of the battle. “PRESENTED TO LIEUT. ALEXR. S. WADSWORTH U.S. NAVY By The CONGRESS OF The UNITED STATES” is engraved around the flat edge.

Alexander Scammel Wadsworth was the son of Revolutionary War General Peleg Wadsworth. Born in 1790 in Portland, Maine, he became a midshipman on April 2, 1804, and a lieutenant on April 21, 1810.

He went on to have a distinguished naval career and died on April 5, 1851. Lieutenant Wadsworth was also the uncle of author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Hull’s gold presentation medal is in the collection of the Constitution Museum. Lieutenant Reed’s silver medal went to a private collection. After being “lost” since 1851, It will be interesting to see where Lieutenant Wadsworth’s silver medal goes in the future.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here