Benjamin Franklin

Inscription Within Wreath

Bronze, 45.8 mm Ø, 36.7 g
By Augustin Dupré, 1786.
Obverse:  Bust of Benjamin Franklin facing left. Around, BENJ. FRANKLIN NATUS BOSTON. XVII JAN. MDCCVI (Benjamin Franklin, Born in Boston January 17, 1706). On the truncation of the bust, DUPRE F. (Dupré Made It).
Reverse:  Within an oak wreath, the four line inscription ERIPUIT CŒLO / FULMEN / SCEPTRUM QUE / TYRANNIS (He Snatched the Lightning from the Heavens and the Sceptre from Tyrants). In exergue, SCULPSIT ET DICAVIT / AUG. DUPRE ANNO / MDCCLXXXVI (Augustin Dupré Engraved and Dedicated This in the Year 1786).

Benjamin Franklin was sent as a commissioner to Paris in 1776 to negotiate an alliance with France. Thanks in part to his modest dress and life, in contrast to the European aristocracy, Franklin became quite a popular figure and won great admiration. Even as early as 1777, Jean-Baptiste Nini created a series of terra-cotta portrait medallions of Franklin. Franklin returned to America in 1785.

This is actually the second medal engraved by Dupré to honor Franklin, the first one being produced two years earlier in 1784. While both medals share the same obverse die and the same reverse inscription, the earlier medal featured the image of a winged genius on the reverse, as opposed to the more pedestrian oak wreath found on this piece. However, far fewer examples of the earlier medal are known. Adams and Bentley note that this design seems to have supplanted the earlier one as the official version. When Thomas Jefferson requested an example of a Franklin medal from Dupré for the set in silver of Comitia Americana medals being assembled for George Washington, this is the design that was provided. Likewise, the five piece sets ordered from the Paris Mint in the early nineteenth century, which consisted of a Franklin medal and four Comitia Americana medals, contained this Franklin design. Adams and Bentley conclude that the 1784 medal was sponsored by a private friend (or group of friends), while the 1786 version was sponsored by Louis XVI.

An early "original" strike with a plain edge and witness line. All known examples have some amount of die rust on the obverse, though the amount on this example is significantly less than normally encountered, further bolstering the hypothesis of a very early striking date.

Provenance:

Stack's Bowers Galleries, 5-10 November 2015, lot 23093 (John W. Adams collection, ex Ted Craige estate).

References:

Betts 1894, no. 620

Adams and Bentley 2007, pp. 179-182