Washington Pieces

 

 

On February 22, 1860, the Washington Cabinet of Medals was formally inaugurated at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. This culminated over a decade of collecting medallic remembrances of our first president by mint officials and others.

Throughout the 1860s and the 1870s, growth years in numismatics, Washington pieces ascended to be one of the most popular areas in the American numismatic spectrum. Tokens, medals, and other pieces bearing the portrait of Washington, some made in England and France, but most made in America, were avidly sought. A Description of the Medals of Washington, by James Ross Snowden, director of the mint, was published in 1861 and described the Mint Collection. In 1885 the monumental work, The Medallic Portraits of Washington, by W. S. Baker, was published in Philadelphia. From the mid-19th century to the present, Washington pieces have formed an important plank in the platform of numismatics. Indeed, no major reference book is complete without mention of them, and no collection can be called comprehensive without containing examples of Washington coins and medals.

The words of Henry Lee, which John Marshall presented to the House of Representatives following Washington's death, illustrate the esteem in which the country held its first president. Washington, said Lee, was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

As time went on, many different sentiments were ex-pressed as part of inscriptions on medals including such as TIME INCREASES HIS FAME; HE LIVED FOR HIS COUNTRY; A MAN HE WAS TO ALL HIS COUNTRY DEAR; GEORGE THE GREAT; HOW ABJECT EUROPE'S KINGS APPEAR BY THE SIGHT OF SUCH A MAN; and HAIL FAIR FREEDOM'S FAVORITE SON. HAIL IMMORTAL WASHINGTON.

Some medals gave an admonition or advice: GREAT WASHINGTON HAS LIVED FOR YOU, MARK WELL HIS STEPS, HIS COURSE PURSUE, and WHILE WE ENJOY THE FRUIT, LET US NOT FORGET HIM THAT PLANTED THE TREE.

Another medal bore the interesting inscription PROVIDENCE LEFT HIM CHILDLESS THAT THE NATION MIGHT CALL HIM FATHER. Perhaps the most poignant inscription is that which briefly states the impact our first president had and continues to have on the American public: TIME INCREASES HIS FAME.

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, (February 11, 1732 on the old calendar which was in effect at the actual time of his birth), in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Augustine Washington, his father, was a landed gentleman, schooled in England, who presided over a large Virginia estate. He married Mary Ball, in 1731.

Details concerning George Washington's early life are sketchy. It is known that he spent his childhood at Ferry Farm on the banks of the Rappahannock River near the present day Fredricksburg, Virginia. In an attempt to fill in this historical gap, 19th century writer Mason Weems invented the cherry tree legend ("I cannot tell a lie, Father, I did it.") and other interesting stories. In a more numismatic vein, the story that George Washington "threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River" is probably mythical, or more generous, apocryphal, as well. The Rappahannock River is not well known nationally, so sometimes this tale is repeated with the Potomac River as the locale.

Mathematics provided an early interest for the young Washington. Studies also included English literature, geography, and laboratory sciences. Agriculture and animal husbandry were learned as well.