The renowned collection of U.S. medals and Americana assembled by the late Washingtonian David Woog Dreyfuss was auctioned here Saturday to a packed house of medallic buffs for upward of $600,000.
Tenacious floor bidding for more than 1,100 lots in the Liberty Room of the Vista International Hotel dragged the proceedings on for seven hours. The star item in the collection, a silver military medal, "Washington Before Boston," brought $16,500 (before the 10 percent buyer's premium).
The medal, with a bust of George Washington on the front and a sculpted scene of the general mounted on a rearing horse overlooking Boston Harbor on the reverse, was the first of its kind commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1776. The Latin inscription struck over the river view of the British fleet fleeing the city boasts, "the enemy for the first time put to flight."
Lucien L. Birkler, a Washington numismatic dealer, secured the medal for a private client, despite some speculation that he was representing the Smithsonian. "It is probably the most historic medal ever produced by the U.S. Mint," said Birkler.
Dreyfuss, a real estate and insurance tycoon, began collecting presidential medals in the mid '70s. H. Joseph Levine, head of Presidential Coin and Antique Co. of Alexandria engineered the huge sale in conjunction with the auctioneers Bowers and Merena Galleries of Wolfboro, N.H.
Just about every president was represented in bronze, silver or gold, from a Chester A. Arthur 1881 silver Indian piece medal that sold for $15,000 to a 24-karat-gold Jimmy Carter medal from 1977 that brought $12,000.
Other official presidential inaugural medals and memorabilia included a pair of Augustus Saint-Gaudens designed medals of Theodore Roosevelt from 1905. The dinner-plate-sized bronzes were sold for $11,000, the price it took to purchase a single silver William Howard Taft inaugural medal from March 4, 1909.
A long-stemmed peace pipe crossed with an angry-looking tomahawk graced the reverse sides of many of the Indian peace medals that were awarded to defeated tribal chiefs by agents of the U.S. government. One of the most unusual offered in the sale was a hollow, oval-shaped medal with a gunmetal tint, the 1792 George Washington peace medal. This sold for $15,000.
A battle-scarred Andrew Jackson peace medal from 1820 went for $6,000, while a Millard Fillmore -- resembling a Roman senator -- sold for $4,600. Calvin Coolidge's 1925 inaugural medal did a little better at $7,600 but was no match for the portrait of Thomas Jefferson on an 1801 silver medal that sold for $13,000.