The Four Dimensions of a Commemorative Medal: The Unveiling of the Washington Memorial in Philadelphia
By Gamal Amer
Recently I came into the possession of a nice bronze medal commemorating the 1897 unveiling of the Washington Monument in Philadelphia. As I began to research the medal and the event it commemorates, I realized that there are four dimensions to the story worthy of telling. This article aims at summarizing the story and is not meant to be a scholarly study of the medal in question but rather a window of what a layman or a novice collector may glean from the internet by spending a reasonable amount of time to research such an item.1. THE EVENT: 1897 Unveiling of the Washington Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
On May 15, 1897 the city of Philadelphia celebrated the unveiling of a beautiful bronze statue representing General Washington on a horse. It was erected at the entrance of Fairmont Park. The event, which was an impressive ceremony, was attended by the President of the United States , the Honorable William McKinley, an honorary member of the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania. Many other dignitaries attended the event, including the Vice President, the Honorable Garret A. Hobart and the Ambassador of France to the United States. Also in attendance were the Secretaries of the Treasury, War, Agriculture, the Interior; the Postmaster-General, and the Attorney-General; senior officers of the Army and Navy; the Governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey; the Mayors of Philadelphia and New York City; the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, and many persons of prominence. A silver medal to commemorate the event was issued and presented to the dignitaries in attendance.
The day was declared a holiday by an act of the Pennsylvania Legislature. The president of the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, Major William Wayne, great-grandson of "Mad Anthony" Wayne of the American Revolution, presided at the ceremonies. The First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry escorted the President and headed a grand military and naval procession which passed the President in review after the unveiling of the monument. Addresses were made by the President of the United States; Hon. William W. Porter, of the Philadelphia Bar, a member the Pennsylvania Cincinnati; and the Mayor of Philadelphia. The national salute was fired by Light Battery E, First Artillery, U. S. Army, stationed in the park. Additional salutes were also fired by the U. S. S. Texas, U. S. S. Terror, the French aviso Fulton, and the U. S. R. C. Hamilton, anchored nearby in the Delaware River.
Souvenir Pin from The Unveiling Ceremonies
Philadelphia City Calvalry Escorting the President
2. The Sponsor: State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania
The Society of the Cincinnati is considered to be the oldest patriotic society in the United States and was founded in May 1783. The society was named for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus who was a Roman patrician, statesman, and military leader of the early Republic who became a legendary figure of Roman virtues. Its membership consists of hereditary-qualified male descendants of commissioned officers who served in the Continental Army or Navy and their French counterparts during the War of Independence. The Society’s mission is to perpetuate the memory of the American Revolution.
The Society has branches in the US and France. Its constituent branch, the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, organized in October 1783, and the ninth of the constituent branches of the Society, had raised the money for, and commissioned, the memorial. The Society issued leather-bound programs, distributed to the dignitaries as well as a souvenir book of the event containing text and photos. The society also commissioned the medals commemorating the event. The original silver issue was given to the attending dignitaries . White metal and bronze examples were also issued, presumably for wider distribution.
At their meeting on July 4, 1810, the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania resolved to invite subscriptions for the erection of "a permanent memorial of their respect to the late Father of the Country, General George Washington". Funds began to be subscribed almost immediately. By careful management the amount of the fund grew and the Society made the decision to initiate the undertaking in 1877. A competition was held and the designs of Prof. Rudolph Siemerling of Berlin were considered the best; these were finalized and accepted.
Cover of the program book for the Ceremonies Attending the Unveiling of The Washington Memorial
3. The Subject: The Washington Memorial
The monument, which is one of the most elaborate memorials erected in memory of George Washington, cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. The memorial was constructed in parts in Germany and was admitted to the United States free of customs duties by the special Act of Congress of February 17, 1883. For this commission, Siemering was particularly concerned that the figures be represented accurately in features and dress. He modeled Washington’s face from a copy of a mask made during the general’s life and asked to be provided with photographs and prints. It was originally erected at the entrance of Fairmount Park and later, in1928, moved to Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it currently resides.
The monument itself is a large and imposing three-zone sculpture made of bronze and granite. The top zone represents George Washington on a steed 44 feet in height, resting on a granite platform 61 by 74 feet. The second zone below him represents allegorical figures depicting his time. These show rivers of the US and have fountains representing the Delaware, Hudson, Potomac and Mississippi Rivers, pouring water downwards. The lowest or third zone shows the flora and fauna of the country with representative human figures and animals from the land.
On the front of the pedestal is a bas-relief figure of America receiving the trophies of victory from her sons. On the back is America rousing her sons to a sense of their slavery. Bas-reliefs on the sides represent the March of the American Army, and the Westward Movement of the American People. The legend on the pedestal states: Erected by the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania. The names of 41 military and civil leaders of the Revolution are cut into the bronze of the pedestal designs.
The monument as it looked when it was displayed in Fairmount Park
The monument today
The medal was commissioned by the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania. The medal, representing the second one issued by the society, was issued in silver for distribution to the dignitaries attending the celebration. It was also issued in white metal (most common) and bronze presumably for general distribution. The example discussed and shown in this article is a bronze medal commemorating the event and comes in its original leather covered box. The Bronze issue is less common than the white metal and I was only able to find a single reference for it (Reference 1). The Bronze medal has the following characteristics:
Size: About 3 inches (~75.5 Millimeters) in diameter and ~6.5 Millimeters in thickness at the edge.
View of the monument designed by Rudolf Siemering; inscription below in 4 lines,
Shows the Emblem of the Society of the Cincinnati, central badge on eagle; with the legend " SOCIETAS . CINCINNATORUM . INSTITUTA . A. D. MDCCLXXXIII" and the emblem or logo of the sponsor in the center. The logo consists of a bald eagle with an oval on its chest. The oval depicts the image of Cincinnatus standing holding a plow and surrendering his sword to three Roman senators.
Peter L. Krider of Philadelphia
The August C. Frank Company of Philadelphia
I live in the Philadelphia area and acquired the medal because it relates to the city. I have driven by the monument hundreds of times never realizing what it is or what is its history. By spending about 5 hours on the internet, I was able to learn about the subject, the Society of the Cincinnati, a small piece of my City's history and about one of the United States' best and most elaborate memorial for George Washington the father of the country. Isn't the Internet a powerful tool?
The medal in its leather covered box
- The bronze example is listed as 285 in the “Catalog of Coins, Token and Medals Displayed in the Numismatic Collection of the Mint of the United States at Philadelphia PA; Government Printing Office Washington, 1912”.
- The silver example is listed as No. 4 in Edgar Erskin Hume’s “Medals of the Society of the Cincinnati” 1933.
- The silver is listed as Baker S-324.
- The white metal is listed as Baker S-324A.