Gold medal presented to Henry Clay set for auction at Heritage

John Hancock

John Hancock

2016-09-09 10:17:21

A historic gold medal presented to Kentucky statesman Henry Clay will cross the auction block for the first time at Heritage later this month.

Clay (1777 – 1852) is regarded as a giant of the U.S Senate, and was described by Abraham Lincoln as "my ideal of a great man".

The presentation medal contains nearly 30 ounces of gold, and has been described as "one of the premier examples of American Medallic art".

"The Clay medal has created great excitement in the collecting world, both as a highly important historical artifact and as one of the most important United States Mint medals ever to appear at auction," said Tom Slater, Director of Americana Auctions at Heritage.

Clay was a highly respected and influential politician, who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

He also served three non-consecutive terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives, served as Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams, and ran three unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1824, 1832 and 1844.

In 1852, during his final days, Clay became confined to his rooms in the National Hotel in Washington, suffering from the consumption which would eventually claim his life.

A group of prominent Whig Party members from New York decided to honour his service with an award, and commissioned leading American engraver Charles Cushing Wright to produce "the most perfect specimen yet produced of American (medallic) art".

Measuring 3-1/2-inches in diameter and approximately a half-inch thick, the huge medal features a high relief profile of Clay on the front, with a list of his notable achievements on the reverse, and was produced at the United States Mint.

Wright also created a unique silver pocket watch-style case to house the medal, which was presented to Clay in his room by a group of dignitaries including President Millard Fillmore.

Having passed down through the generations of Clay's family ever since, the medal will now be offered at auction for the first time in its history with a conservative estimate of $75,000+.

"The placement of this medal in an auction entitled 'Lincoln and His Times' might at first seem curious," said Slater, “but Lincoln was a great admirer of Clay. Indeed, when Lincoln was elected to the Presidency in 1860 the committee which had sponsored the Clay medal presented him with one of the copies struck in bronze (Clay received the only specimen in gold)."

Upon receiving the copy, Lincoln stated he was grateful "in possessing so beautiful a memento of him whom, during my whole political life, I have loved and revered as a teacher and leader."

The Heritage Auctions 'Lincoln and his Times' sale takes place in Dallas on September 17.

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