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Washington – Success Medals

Learn About 1792 – 1795 Washington Success Medals

Very little is known about the undated Washington “Success” tokens beyond a description of the pieces themselves. The obverse contains a bust-right portrait with the legend GEORGE WASHINGTON while the reverse depicts the Eye of Providence with fifteen long rays and a field of fifteen stars surrounded by the legend SUCCESS TO THE UNITED STATES.

In 1875 Sylvester Crosby mentioned what he called, “a curious Washington piece” which he said resembled a small funeral medal but was certainly too thin to be a regular issue coin. He was referring to the unique silver scalloped edge “Success” token, then in the Stickney collection. Crosby stated that Stickney considered the medal to have been made by the Massachusetts diemaker Jacob Perkins, but he did not follow up on the topic. In 1885 W.S. Baker in his, Medallic Portraits of Washington stated he believed these pieces to have been made in the United States and associated them with Washington’s second inauguration in 1793. This theory was accepted by numismatists for a century.

The first modification to the theory came in 1972 when Russell Rulau and George Fuld suspected the Success tokens were game counters and listed them in their work, American Game Counters. The tokens lack a date or denomination and are of a size and weight that more closely resembles game counters rather than money. In the catalog to the 1981 Garrett Sale by the Bowers and Ruddy Galleries, Q. David Bowers suggested the tokens were unlike any colonial product but appeared similar to mid-nineteenth century German “spielmarke” or game tokens. Rulau, in his 1985 centennial edition of Baker’s, Medallic Portraits of Washington listed the tokens with the date as “1793 ?” calling one variety a ca. 1860 restrike from a recut die. In his discussion, following the listings, Rulau agreed with Bowers stating, “we wonder whether these pieces did not in fact first appear on the numismatic scene in the 19th century.” Walter Breen in his 1988 Encyclopedia noted Washington Success tokens could not be located in any records or advertisements from the 1790s nor do they appear to share punches with any contemporary domestic coins. He also noted the Success tokens have appeared in both British and American collections. From this evidence, Breen questioned the American origin of the tokens, but he continued to consider them as an eighteenth-century product. He felt the stars and rays on the reverse represented the fifteen states in the union, thus he believed the coins had to predate June 1, 1796, when Tennessee was admitted as the sixteenth state. To Breen, this reconfirmed Baker’s theory that the tokens were produced for Washington’s second inauguration in 1793. Recent commentators such as Alexander (1990) and the current editions of Yeoman’s “Redbook” (last check-in 1998) have agreed with the mid-nineteenth century spielmarke origin of the token. However, in 1995 George Fuld in his article on Washington coinage followed Breen’s acceptance of the eighteenth-century origin of the token but stated the location of the mint was unclear, without mentioning the spielmarke theory. It has also been brought to my attention by Jeff Rest that in the catalog for Stack’s Mail Bid Sale, of Wednesday, July 17, 1996, the commentary on lot 124, a Washington Success token, most probably cataloged by Michael Hodder stated:

The dating of these has recently been questioned. We note that in the McCoy sale (1864), the piece in lot 2360 was said to have been made for Washington’s Second Inaugural and was “long known in Mr. Colburn’s Collection.” This suggests to the present cataloguer that the traditional dating of the Success Tokens, 1792-1795, is probably fairly accurate.

Dating this token to the late eighteenth century is based on the belief that the image on the reverse of the coin is current rather than the reuse of a historic symbol. This interpretation presents several problems in that the Success tokens are unlike any other products from the eighteenth century nor are there any surviving records that link the tokens to that period. The weight of the larger size token (60-80 grains) is considerably less than even the lightweight counterfeit halfpence (which averaged 90-120 grains) and far lighter than any other Washington token of the eighteenth or even the early nineteenth century. The spielmarke theory addresses these problems but requires one to assume the reverse was a later historical use of the Eye of Providence (which had appeared with thirteen long rays and stars on the Constellatio Nova and early Vermont coppers). The origin of these tokens will remain a matter of speculation until evidence is uncovered associating them with a specific mint or specifically linking them to other tokens.

In the Spring 1999 issue of The C4 Newsletter, There is a “Point-Counterpoint” discussion on this token. In that article, Hodder stated the earliest reference to the Success tokens he has found is in an expense book dated September 9, 1843, where they were called “counters.” Hodder went on to suggest a dating of ca. 1790-1815. Bowers stated he still believed the tokens to be close to mid-Eighteenth Century spielmarke pieces but that this was, “strictly a hunch or a feeling” that he had not fully researched. John Ford suggested the Success tokens were struck in Birmingham ca. 1796; using the statehood of Tennessee on June 1, 1796, as the terminus ante quem. L.B. Fauver stated he unsuccessfully tried to punch link the tokens to the Birmingham firm of Kettle, who dominated the American counter market from 1803 through the early 1840s. He then suggested the series was manufactured in Britain and may date to 1792-1795. The unnamed editor (probably Angel Pietri) agreed with Ford and commented the legend SUCCESS TO THE UNITED STATES “made a lot of sense in the 1790s when that success was anything but certain.”

The Washington Success tokens were produced in two sizes, a larger 25.4m (60-80 grains) token and a smaller 19.4 (27-34 grains) token. For the larger token, Fuld lists three obverse dies and one reverse die, while there is only a single obverse and reverse die for the smaller piece. The large obverse dies are distinguished by the length of Washington’s nose. Fuld’s die 1 is what he calls the “Roman nose” (this is the die Rulau listed as the 1860s recut). Fuld’s die 2 is the long pointed nose, which is also found on the smaller-sized token. His die 3 is an unillustrated extremely rare “straight nose” variety that can be distinguished from die 2 in that in the legend the letters G E and G T are further apart in die 3 than they are in die 2. The larger token with a die 1 obverse is found in three styles: brass with a reeded edge, brass with a plain edge and copper with a plain edge. Die 2 is only found in brass with either a plain or reeded edge; while die 3 is only known in brass with a plain edge. Most examples of die 2 show a large die crack on the obverse as our example on the following page (Baker 265), a few examples survive without the crack; these items have been given a number Baker 265B. The small size token is rarer than the large size and is found in brass with either a reeded edge or plain edge. There is also an extremely rare small-size copper plain edge variety and a unique silver scalloped edge example as well as a unique pewter example with a reeded edge.

Wash-Success Medal Large Size, Plain Edge
Wash-Success Medal Large Size, PE, Silvered
Wash-Success Medal Large Size, Reeded Edge
Wash-Success Medal Large Size, RE, Silvered
Wash-Success Medal Small Size, Plain Edge
Wash-Success Medal Small Size, Reeded Edge
Wash-Success Medal Small Size, RE, Silvered

Expand your collection today and find a 1793 Washington Success Medal AU-55 PCGS (Large Size Reeded Edge).

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