The upcoming sale of a unique 1864 gold medal commemorating the 19th-century reconstruction of Notre-Dame will help finance the 21st-century restoration of the grand Parisian cathedral following a devastating 2019 blaze. The gold medal, measuring an enormous 71-millimeters wide and tipping the scales at 280.70 grams, was encapsulated by PCGS and graded SP63. It will cross the block at a Numismatica Genevensis SA (NGSA) auction in Geneva, Switzerland, to be held November 18-19, 2019.
1864 Medal France PCGS SP63. Divo-487 71mm Abeille Au. Gold Shield. Cert 37132757. Click to enlarge.
The medal, designed by prominent French sculptor Eugène André Oudiné, was issued during France’s Second Empire, a period marked by Napoleon III’s regime spanning from 1852 through 1870. It is likely the medal was presented by Napoleon III himself to French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who led the decades-long reconstruction of Notre-Dame from 1843 through 1864. That mid-19th-century project, performed on the iconic French cathedral following heavy damage suffered from sociopolitical unrest during the French Revolution in 1789, also saw the construction of the Gothic landmark’s iconic spire – the one that fell in the fire.
While Viollet-le-Duc’s spire, the cathedral’s oak-beam roof, and many other beloved details may now be gone, efforts are already well underway to recreate what was there. More than $1 billion in private monies have been raised to rebuild the cathedral, France has committed hundreds of millions of Euros in public funding for the massive project that lay ahead, and now proceeds from the sale of the PCGS-certified 1864 Notre-Dame medal honoring the monument’s 19th-century reconstruction efforts will also help fund the work that will soon come.
“All the commissions received by NGSA from the sale of the medal will be donated to La Fondation Notre-Dame to help the renovation works,” explains NGSA Founder Dr Alain Baron. “We want to raise awareness and attention to the foundation worldwide.” La Fondation Notre-Dame (or Notre-Dame Foundation) was founded in 1992 by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger to help finance social and education causes in France. However, since the massive fire at the namesake cathedral, the renowned organization is also raising funds to help restore the medieval-era house of worship – and it stands to receive a huge boost from the sale of the 1864 Notre-Dame medal.
“We are very excited for this event. Anything could happen. This project is a beautiful symbol of loyalty to the history of the building and to the hopes of all to be enter the Cathedral again,” says Chritophe-Charles Rousselot, Director General of the Notre-Dame Foundation.
“This will be one of the most interesting sales in numismatic history,” says the CEO of NGSA Frank Baldacci of the sale, which will include many other fantastic rarities. These include a unique pairing of PCGS-encapsulated Romanian 1879 Carol I 5 Lei coins graded PCGS SP63, a PCGS PR65DCAM Russian 1826 5 Roubles, a PCGS MS67 1951 Czech Saint Wenceslas 10 Ducats, PCGS PR63 1839 5 £ Una and the Lion among many other outstanding five- and six-figure rarities that will cross the block over two days of trading at Hotel Le Richemond in Geneva. “And since representatives of Notre-Dame Foundation will be a guest of honor during the sale, they will give a presentation at the sale’s closing dinner,” says Baldacci.
The foundation is collecting money not just for the immediate restoration of the cathedral but also ongoing perpetual conservation of the structure, which has seen threats against its very survival even long before the 2019 fire. Notre-Dame, or “Our Lady of Paris,” was under construction for more than a century, from 1160 AD through 1260, with many finishing touches made well into the 14th century. The majestic structure was desecrated in the 1790s during the French Revolution, when its 13th-century spire was demolished and much of the cathedral’s religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. But the French government bestowed the cathedral the status of “minor basilica” and religious ceremonies were again hosted inside the sanctuary.
In 1831, the French Gothic cathedral gained worldwide fame as the subject of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and this helped spur reconstruction of the cathedral in the mid-19th century. That restoration project took 20 years, and it saw Notre-Dame emerge as one of the most famous landmarks in the world, eventually drawing more than 12 million visitors each year representing all nations and faiths. Notre-Dame’s significance can’t possibly be overstated – it is literally the center of Paris; a small geographical marker just outside the cathedral marks the distance from Paris to all other points around the globe. Serving also as the cultural heart of Paris, Notre-Dame was undergoing a long-planned restoration when an accidental fire broke out on the cathedral’s scaffolding-clad roof during the evening of April 15, 2019.
Fire raged for 15 hours, and the cathedral came closer to collapse than most originally realized. Yet, heroic efforts by hundreds of firefighters helped save the church’s main structure. Reconstruction will be neither easy nor swift. The site was contaminated by more than 400 tons of lead from the cathedral’s obliterated roof, constructed with 1,300 mature oaks harvested from forests long ago paved into city. Crews continue estimating the true extent of damage to the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling. Flying buttresses stand charred, and Notre-Dame’s iconic twin towers were spared just minutes from their total destruction.
Yet, Notre-Dame stands. Scarred but not destroyed, the landmark survives. French leaders vow that, someday, the cathedral will emerge from the ashes and its famous bells will again toll. With each passing day, this dream inches toward reality. And every cent, dollar, and euro raised brings Notre-Dame closer to once again hosting Masses, public ceremonies, and millions of awe-struck tourists from around the world.
The presale estimate of the 1864 Notre-Dame gold medal is SF 50,000. However, with the attention this magnificent medal is receiving ahead of its sale, it could realize much more. But NGSA wants fundraising efforts for Notre-Dame’s reconstruction to continue well beyond the proceeds raised by the medal his firm is selling. He hopes the attention it draws helps bring in even more donations to the Notre-Dame Foundation and all causes that help restore the cathedral to its former glory.
“We are using this medal to spread a very important message and to raise more attention and awareness worldwide on the restoration process,” says Baron. “The medal was certified by PCGS with the aim of contributing to spread the message all over the world to all PCGS customers.” He says every single bidder who attends the sale in Geneva will have the opportunity to contribute something to the Notre-Dame Foundation. “And whoever is not going to be in Geneva for the sale or bidding in the auction can help the Notre-Dame Foundation by donating funds via their website.”