At Geoffrey Bell Auctions Ltd. we get pretty used to handling rare, historic pieces of Canadian history, but that certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t awed by these seemingly priceless artifacts and the subject of this post is a perfect demonstration of the ability to wow even the most experienced numismatists – Canadian Indian Chief Medals.
In early North American history, it became tradition to present respected First Nations chiefs with medals to commemorate a significant event, such as the signing of a treaty or a royal visit. Today, these medals are indeed very rare.
The first medal in this post is Jamieson # 36. In 1871, the Canadian Dominion government signed Treaties 1 and 2 with the Chippewas and the Crees acquiring territorial rights in the Province of Manitoba and lands west of Manitoba. In the rush to present medals to the Chiefs, a stock medal engraved by J.S and A.B. Wyon was used. It featured Queen Victoria on the obverse and a ring of leaves on the reverse with the centre portion blank suitable for engraving. The medal measured 51 mm and because of its small size the Chiefs were not happy as they measured importance by the size of the medal. As a result, several were replaced by a more impressive medal at a later date.
Medal # 36 seldom enters the market, with one being offered in the 1970 Sotheby’s sale in Montreal as lot 219. It sold for $460, a princely sum in that day. Fifty were originally ordered with 30 designated for treaty negotiators, 18 were sent to British Columbia and 2 were sold to Ministers of the Crown. This specimen has a loop at 12 o’clock, as is normal, with a red ribbon. The medal has been worn as evidenced by wear and scratches. That is quite common and considered desirable by many collectors. There is a name scratched on the reverse but is illegible to this writer. In a later piece of research by Warren Baker penned in the MCA Advisory (Medal Collectors of America) Baker refutes the writings of Morin (1915) and Jamieson (1936) regarding the medal. He states that there is no evidence the 30 medals intended for Manitoba were ever presented. The 1872 Report of Indian Affairs makes no mention of them. The 1873 report indicates 20 medals were authorized by John Rose, Canadian Agent-General in London for use in Manitoba and British Columbia. If only 20 medals made it to Manitoba and British Columbia it is indeed a rare medal. This stock medal could have easily been used as gifts at special occasions and Baker states at least one was used for a bravery award. Included in this lot are accompanying notes giving detailed research.
For the second and third medals in this post, Queen Victoria was asked to come to Montreal in 1860 to officially open the newly constructed Victoria Bridge. She declined but sent her son instead. The Prince of Wales, 18 years of age, good looking and fashionable was to be a big hit in North America. The Prince arrived in Newfoundland to speeches, pageantry, parades, and fireworks. This was to be repeated all through the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and the United States. The native people of Canada saw his visit as a great opportunity to express their loyalty to the Queen through the Prince. They met him at numerous points along the route. Chiefs were presented with silver medals. There was not time to produce a new medal so 1840 specimens were used with the feathers of the Prince of Wales and the date 1860 engraved on the obverse. The medals were passed out in 3 sizes, 37 mm, 60 mm and 75 mm. The size presented depended on the importance of the Chief.
This second medal has Obv. VICTORIA DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REGINA F:D Bust of Queen Victoria to the left wearing a diadem. W. Wyon appears on the truncation. To the left of the bust there appears the Prince of Wales’ feathers with the motto “ICH DIEN” underneath and to the right of the bust the date”1860″. Rev. Royal arms of the period surrounded by the legend HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE. Below on a ribbon DIEU ET MON DROIT with the date 1840 in the exergue. 75 mm, in case of period manufacture but possibly not the original case for this medal. The estimate for this rare piece is $15K – $20K.
The third medal in this post has the same obverse and reverse description as above, but 60 mm without the original case. The finish on the medal is matte as opposed to the shiny surface of the larger medal. The middle size medal rarely comes to the market and is considered the rarest of the 3 sizes, estimated to realize $20K – $30K.
Plan to visit us at the Toronto Coin Expo for the 2017 Fall Sale or follow online and witness another historic sale courtesy of Geoffrey Bell Auctions Ltd.