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by Jerry Adams T.N.S. member 363

Having recently started a new collection of medals, I found myself desiring to share my findings in this new (to me) field.

I hope that it might benefit other similarly minded numismatists. Personal preferences dictate that my new collection will be limited to medals depicting U.S. Presidents, struck by the U.S. Mint, either in the size of 3" (76 mm) diameter or of the oval peace medal type.

As a general breakdown of types, the 76mm presidential medals are made in two basic types, "peace medal" reverses, and "inaugural medal" reverses. In my research I have found mention of three basic metals or finishes these medals are found in today. Solid silver medals were made in the early days of the United States for presentation to American Indian chiefs, these are extremely rare. They are so seldom encountered that their price is very high. More common but still rare and pricey are the 19th century strikes of "mahogany finished" bronze medals. The most common and easily acquired are the solid bronze medals which are exact duplicates of the original 19th century medals, both inaugural and peace types.

Also there is a series of medals called the "official" Inaugural medals, as described in the book "The Official Inaugural Medals of the Presidents of the United States" by Richard Dusterberg. Of that series of medals, most of the later ones were struck by private mints and issued by the "inaugural committee" of the president. Although some of the earlier ones (1907 for instance) were struck by the U.S. Mint.


As a collector of coins and tokens, medals have never held much interest for me.

However when a person picks up a "well done" medal, such as one of these 3 inch presidential medals, there is a feeling within that tells you it is a great piece, even if you are not sure why.

Coins have the distinction that they are minted with a pre-ordained value, medals do not. Coins and medals are both struck in precious metals. Coins generally have pre-set limitations on them, that medals do not.

For example, coins must stack, medals do not have that limitation. All U.S. coins must have these phrases on them: "In God we Trust", "E. Pluribus Unum", and the year date and mintmark, medals have no such requirements for wording. Many things will determine the interest and price of medals, including the metal used, the sculptor or engraver, the subject of the medal, the age of the medal, the condition of the medal, and the provenance of the medal.

History of Peace medals

The earliest records of peace medals being given to American Indians comes from the Colonial days, when the British, Spanish and French all gave medals to important Indian chiefs, as a goodwill gesture. The Indian chiefs highly prized these medals, and the British medals were solid silver, and had the image of the reigning monarch on one side and his coat of arms on the reverse. Once the Colonies won their independence from Britain, the new American government saw the need to continue bestowing these peace medals to important individuals in the Indian nations. By 1787, the U.S. Secretary of War, Henry Knox sought to have the government supply medals for presentation to important Indian chiefs. Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson also saw the importance of the use of medals as peace offerings to the Indians. He stated that the medals were "marks of friendship".

Peace medals were often given to chiefs upon signing of treaties, and visits to the national capital by important Indian chiefs. When Lewis and Clark left on their famous 1804 expedition of exploration across the uncharted areas of the west, they took with them a large supply of medals. These medals were always presented to the Indian chief with much flourish, and impressive ceremonies to impress upon the Indians the importance of the medal.

By 1832, the government had drawn up a set of instructions as to whom the medals could be given to, and the code was to be followed to the letter:

1. They will be given to influential persons only.

2. The largest medals will be given to the principal village chiefs, those of the second size will be given to the principal war chiefs, and those of the third size to the less distinguished chiefs and warriors.

3. They will be presented with proper formalities, and with an appropriate speech, so as to produce the proper impression upon the Indians.

As with the British medals, the American medals were to bear the likeness of the President currently in office, and a symbol of peace on the reverse. Great pains were made to produce artistic medals that would be impressive to the Indians. The first medals were produced during the presidency of Washington, and they were hand engraved on oval plates of silver, about 4 inches by 6 inches in size. No medals were produced during the presidency of John Adams, but later the John Adams peace medals were made to complete the series.

The first medals that we would recognize today were made during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. They were made in three sizes, the large was 4" in diameter, the medium size was 3 inches in diameter and the small was 2 inches in diameter. These medals were struck by dies which were engraved directly by the die engraver, working directly on the steel die.

A description of the medal is a legend which reads: TH. JEFFERSON PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. A.D. 1801. On the reverse were shown two hands clasped, one with a cuff with three stripes and three buttons, the other hand shows a cuff and an eagle. Above the hands is a crossed peace pipe and tomahawk, and the words PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP inside the design.

One unique feature of the first Jefferson medals that was not present on the later medals is that the country lacked a large enough coin press to strike these large medals, so they were struck onto thin plates, both front and reverse, then the two halves were joined together making a "shell card" type arrangement of a hollow medal.

By the time James Madison became president, the peace medals were struck in solid silver, and the diameters had changed to 3 inch, 2 1/2 inch and 2 inch. The peace reverse changed very little for the next 50 years.

However, the "peace reverse" did change, and there are at least 8 different known types of peace reverses.

The most commonly seen one is the "shaking hands" with peace pipe and tomahawk.

By the time had come to made the medals for President John Tyler (1841-45), the new "portrait lathe" mechanical die cutting machines from France were available, and the likenesses of the president were carved into wax, from which plaster casts, and finally an iron casting was made. From this iron casting the steam powered lathe would produce the reduction dies, and the lettering was stamped directly into the dies.

Most of the medals we see today are ones that were struck between 1860 and 1990, a large number were made in the late 1960s. The author has a catalogue published by the U.S. Mint in 1972 in which all their medals for sale are listed, along with their catalogue numbers and the 1972 prices.

Amazingly, most of the 3 inch presidential medals sold for $5 at that point in time. All of the 1969 era medals were struck multiple times with a hydraulic press and hand finished. After that process they were sealed in plastic bags, boxed in small cardboard boxes with a clear plastic stand and printed history and sold.


A number of fake and fantasy peace medals are known, there are a number of castings of authentic medals done in grey coloured pot metal. Also there are a number or people who rework 1969 vintage authentic medals, by drilling holes for suspension, and aging the metal, and adding suspension collars and ribbons.

A listing of U.S. Presidents in Order of Office

For those unfamiliar with the names and order of American Presidents, here is a listing:

President Date of office U.S. Mint medal types

1. George Washington 1789-1797 Peace (2nd type reverse, one hand sleeved, second hand not sleeved)

2. John Adams 1797-1801 Peace (2nd type reverse)

3. Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809 Peace (1st type reverse, both hands are sleeved, different type pipe & tomahawk)

4. James Madison 1809-1817 Peace (2nd type reverse)

5. James Monroe 1817-1825 Peace (2nd type reverse)

6. John Quincy Adams 1825-1829 Peace (2nd type reverse)

7. Andrew Jackson 1829-1837 Peace (2nd type reverse)

8. Martin Van Buren 1837-1841 Peace (2nd type reverse)

9. William H. Harrison 1841-1841 Inaugural (struck in 1880s)

10. John Tyler 1841-1845 Peace (2nd type reverse)

11. James Polk 1845-1849 Peace (2nd type reverse)

12. Zachary Taylor 1849-1850 Peace (2nd type reverse)

13. Millard Fillmore 1850-1853 Peace (farmer reverse)

14. Franklin Pierce 1853-1857 Peace (farmer reverse)

15. James Buchanan 1857-1861 Peace (farmer reverse)

16. Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865 Inaugural & Peace (scalping)

17 Andrew Johnson 1865-1869 Peace (Columbia reverse)

18. Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877 Inaugural & Peace (globe)

19. Rutherford Hayes 1877-1881 Inaugural and Oval Peace

20. James Garfield 1881-1881 Inaugural and Oval Peace

21. Chester Arthur 1881-1885 inaugural and Oval Peace

22. Grover Cleveland 1885-1889 Inaugural and Oval Peace

23. Benjamin Harrison 1889-1893 Inaugural and Oval Peace

24. Grover Cleveland 1893-1897 Inaugural and Oval Peace

25. William McKinley 1897-1901 Inaugural

26. Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909 Inaugural

27. William Taft 1909-1913 Inaugural

28. Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921 Inaugural

29. Warren Harding 1921-1923 Inaugural

30. Calvin Coolidge 1923-1929 Inaugural

31. Herbert Hoover 1929-1933 Inaugural

32. Franklin Roosevelt 1933-1945 Inaugural

33. Harry Truman 1945-1953 Inaugural

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953-1961 Inaugural

35. John Kennedy 1961-1963 Inaugural

36. Lyndon Johnson 1963-1969 Inaugural

37. Richard Nixon 1969-1974 Inaugural

38. Gerald Ford 1974-1977 Inaugural

39. Jimmy Carter 1977-1981 Inaugural

40. Ronald Reagan 1981-1989 Inaugural

41. George Bush 1989-1992 Inaugural

42. William Clinton 1993-2001 Inaugural

43. George W. Bush 2001- Inaugural

For those who take interest in that kind of thing, there are two presidents with last names of : Adams, Bush, Roosevelt, Harrison, and Johnson. Also note that Grover Cleveland was the only president to serve two terms that were not sequential, he was the 22nd and 24th president.

Peace Medals and Inaugural Medals

All presidents from Washington though James Buchanan round medals have "peace" reverses. Starting with Abe Lincoln, the medals have "inaugural" reverses. Abe Lincoln also had a round "peace" medal, as did President Grant. Oval bronze medals with peace reverses where made for Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison. The size of the oval medals is 3" high, by 2 3/8" wide.

Interestingly, the U.S. Mint also produced and sold a high quality reproduction of a British George II Indian Peace medal (number 620 in the 1972 catalogue) which is 1 and 11/16 inch diameter.

Description and Prices of the bronze U.S. Mint 3" Presidential Medals

The weight of one bronze medals is approximately 8 oz. and the diameter is 76 millimetres. All these medals were struck at the Philadelphia U.S. Mint, but have no mint mark. These 3 inch medals are still available for sale today. Current price of the 3 inch medals from the U.S. Mint is US$38 per medal plus shipping cost.

I have found a cheaper source buying the medals "second hand" through the online auction house "eBay".

The 3 inch medals there seem to sell from about US$10 to over US$50, with an average of about US$25 per medal plus shipping. The 19th century mahogany finished medals generally sell for over US$400 each, and a 1794 George III peace medal sold recently for US$7187.00

Recommended Handling and Storage

I recommend handling the medals with clean thin cotton gloves, over a padded surface. Storage envelopes are somewhat of a problem due to the medals large size. Clear numismatic quality flips are available from limited stocks in 4x4 inch.

For personal use, the author is currently making his own 3 1/2 inch square coin envelopes to hold each medal, from acid free, archival type white paper.

RESOURCES ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB:,,cginame_a=CategoryDisplay&querystring=cgmenbr;1000+cgnbr;7500,00.html


"Medals of the United States Mint Issued for Public Sale" by the Dept. of the Treasury 1972 (out of print but can be found for sale, highly recommended for study of U.S. Mint medals, many photos)

"Indian Peace Medals in American History" by Francis Paul Prucha, 1994, U. of Oklahoma Press (highly recommended for study of Indian Peace medals)

"The Official Inaugural Medals of the Presidents of the United States" by Richard B. Dusterberg, 1976 (recommended for study of non-U.S. Mint inaugural medals of post 1900 era only).




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revised: 2 March 2003