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A 'revolutionary' sale: Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal brings world record $960k at auction

Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Spartanburg Herald-Journal
 2022-04-05

A unique gold medal celebrating a South Carolina battle victory that helped turn the tide in the American Revolution brought a world record $960,000 at auction Monday.

An anonymous buyer of the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal won with a bid of $800,000. With the 20% buyer's premium, the final price was $960,000 , according to Stack's Bowers Galleries in Costa Mesa, California.

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The medal honors Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan and his victory at the 1781 Battle of Cowpens. It was struck in 1839 at the Philadelphia Mint. It is about 2.2 inches in diameter and weighs 4.80 troy ounces. It is graded SP63 on the 70-point scale used for coins and medals.

"Everyone's pretty excited," said numismatist John Kraljevich of Fort Mill, S.C., who specializes in rare, early medals and authenticated the anonymously consigned medal. He watched the live auction online.

"We always try to moderate our expectations, try to be realistic, conservative. It is gratifying to see something this special rise to that level and be recognized."

Chris Karstedt, executive vice president of Stacks Bowers, said the buyer wants to remain anonymous.

"At this time he is still kind of keeping that door closed," Karstedt said Tuesday. "It has gone to a very good home."

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The medal was expected to fetch $250,000 to $500,000. Bidding started at $300,000 and increased in $20,000 increments until it reached $500,000. Then bids rose in $50,000 increments.

'Shocking discovery': 'Shocking discovery:' Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal could fetch $500k at April auction

After just six minutes of bidding, just two bidders remained, both bidding by phone. At $800,000, senior numismatist and auctioneer Ben Orooji hammered the gavel.

Kraljevich said said the previous high for an American historical medal was $600,000 for the Congressional Gold Medal given to Gen. William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812. Stack's Bowers sold that in August 2021.

Medals still bring less than rare coins, but are catching up in value, Krajlevich said.

In 1989, an 1804 American silver dollar sold for $990,000 at auction, and in 2018, the finest known 1913 Liberty Head nickel brought $4.56 million at auction.

The current world record for a rare coin sold at auction is for a 1933 $20 gold piece, which brought $18.8 million in June 2021. The same piece brought $7.59 million in 2002, Kraljevich said.

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Kraljevich said the winning bidder of the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal may choose to reveal themselves at some point. The auction house honors requests for anonymity, he said

"Every buyer is different," he said. "Either it is a well-kept secret or word gets out. Some (buyers) are trophy hunters, some are buying an expensive asset. Then there are people that buy things because it has personal meaning. It could be a public institution."

The front of the medal depicts Morgan leading an infantry charge on horseback against a retreating British cavalry. The back features a Native American woman placing a crown of laurels on the head of Morgan, who bows in uniform to her right to receive his crown.

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The original medal was struck in Paris in 1789 and given to General Morgan in 1790. After his death in 1802, grandson and heir Morgan Neville owned the medal and stored it in a bank vault in Pittsburgh. It was stolen in 1818 during a robbery.

In 1836, Congress authorized the strike of just one gold medal replacement. It was struck in 1839 and in 1841 presented to Morgan Neville's son.

The replacement medal remained in the family until around 1885, and at one point was acquired by famed financier banker J.P. Morgan, who incorrectly believed he was related to Daniel Morgan, Kraljevich said.

The medal then disappeared from view and was thought to have been lost or melted.

Only in recent months did it reappear when consigned anonymously to the auction house.

Kraljevich, who has researched the history of the medal, said he hopes to someday meet the buyer.

"Anybody who writes a million dollar check is a friend of mine," he said.

Contact Bob Montgomery at bob.montgomery@shj.com. Please support our coverage of Spartanburg County with a digital subscription.

This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: A 'revolutionary' sale: Daniel Morgan at Cowpens Medal brings world record $960k at auction

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