North Carolina and the Franklin Mint: Part Two

In the first part of this article I provided a brief history of the Franklin Mint (FM) and began my survey of its North Carolina themed issues. Here in Part Two, I’ll cover several additional medal issues and also take a look at a few of the FM’s bar/ingot releases. I’ll also outline why I believe trying to assemble a complete set of the North Carolina themed medals and ingots produced by the FM is such a challenge.

In addition to its many silver and bronze collections, the FM also produced a number of sets in pewter, a metal alloy of 85% (or more) tin and one or more additional metals such as copper or antimony. FM’s use of pewter for medal/ingot sets commemorating early US history nicely links the modern pieces to 18th century America as the metal was commonly used to produce plates, bowls, cups, utensils, vases, etc. in colonial America.

One FM pewter set was the Great Women of the American Revolution. It was a collection of 36 pewter medals, 45 mm in diameter, with each one honoring a woman who played a notable role in America’s fight for independence. The series was struck on behalf of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and was limited to 1,000 sets. Each of the medals was struck in high relief and given an “antique” finish that highlights the details of its design.

The series includes medals for two women with a North Carolina connection: Penelope Pagett Barker and Caroline Close Stuart. Ms. Barker, wife of Thomas Barker, Treasurer of the North Carolina colony, organized the “Edenton Tea Party.” It was a meeting of approximately 50 local women (the exact number is not known with certainty) on October 25, 1774; the gathering was held to protest increasing British taxation. Barker convinced the women at the party to stop drinking tea and to stop buying British-made clothing. News of the peaceful political protest surprised and offended the British (in the colonies as well as in England) but garnered local support from those not loyal to the Crown.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse took place on March 15, 1781, it pitted American Major General Nathaniel Greene against British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis; it was the largest battle of the American Revolution’s Southern Campaign. The battle was won by the British, but at a cost of over 500 killed or wounded; the Americans suffered roughly 265 casualties. Ms. Stuart, a local healer and herbalist, rode onto the battlefield and cared for fallen soldiers with home-made remedies and bandages.

Another FM colonial history set struck in pewter is the Official History of Colonial America. The 50-medal set was sponsored by the Bicentennial Council of the Original Thirteen States and commemorates key events in American colonial history beginning with the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and running through the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The set was issued in 1976-77 and features medals that are 51 mm in diameter.

Obverse of Penelope Pagett Barker DAR medal.

Obverse of Caroline Close Stuart DAR medal.

North Carolina history is marked in the set by a medal recalling the 1677-78 rebellion in Albemarle County that was led by John Culpepper. The rebellion was partially in response to Britain’s passage of the Navigation Acts which imposed severe trade restrictions on the colonies and installed new taxes on its imports and exports. It was also a result of the abuses the colonists suffered at the hands of corrupt local British officials. Culpepper successfully led a rebellion against the local officials and helped take control of the government. He was eventually tried in England for treason, but was found “not guilty.”

Obverse of the “Revolution in Carolina” medal depicting Culpepper’s trial.

One of the FM’s largest collections was its 200-medal History of the United States. The set was available in either sterling silver or bronze and was issued between 1966 and 1977; the medals were 45 mm in diameter. In 1976-77, the set was re-issued and available in either 24 KT gold or sterling silver versions. The medals of the re-issue were a “mini” 13 mm in diameter. The series featured medals recalling key events in US history for each year from 1776 through 1975. The obverse of each medal featured a “graphic” of the year’s most significant event, with the reverse having a text description of several notable events from the year.

North Carolina related history can be found on two of the medals in the set, the medal for 1868 which recalls the near impeachment of Raleigh-born US President Andrew Johnson and the 1903 medal which commemorates the first powered heavier-than-air flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC.

Obverse (left) and Reverse (right) of Andrew Johnson Impeachment medal.

In addition to the Colonial History set referenced above, the Bicentennial Council of the Original Thirteen States also launched an ambitious Official Bicentennial Ingots program in 1973. It consisted of 70 sterling silver ingots mounted in philatelic-numismatics event covers (PNCs) that were postmarked at the location and on the anniversary date of the event commemorated by the ingot; each cover included a brief description of its event. The series took approximately eight years to complete, with its last Revolutionary War era anniversary being commemorated in 1981. Each ingot measures approximately 2.3” wide x 1.5” tall and weighs 1.89 ounces.

Three “definite” North Carolina historical events are commemorated in the series, the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge (February 27, 1776), the Halifax Resolves (April 12, 1776) and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781). The series also includes a cover for the Battle of Kings Mountain (October 7, 1780) which was fought near the NC-SC border and can be claimed as “local” for both states.

Front of “Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge” PNC.

Other FM ingot sets that feature pieces related to North Carolina include its US Presidents set, its Flags of the States series, its Official State Ingots of the National Governors’ Conference (featuring the official bird and flower of each state) and its Bankmarked Sterling Silver Ingot sets of 1970 through 1974. Each of the annual bank sets includes 50 ingots, one from each state, featuring the logo of a prominent bank operating in the state. NC banks featured in the sets include the Mechanics and Farmers Bank (1970 set), the Planters National Bank (1971) and the North Carolina National Bank (1972).

Obverse (left) and Reverse (right) of early North Carolina State Seal medal.

An interesting late-1970s FM series is its Historic Silverseals of the States of the Union collection. The series includes 50 uniface medals that depict historic early seals from each of the 50 states. Seals have been used for centuries to identify an individual/organization and to authenticate documents “sealed” by them.

The North Carolina seal included in the set is different from the current state seal which was adopted in 1871. The seal depicted on the medal, in use from 1779 to 1794, features a standing Minerva (Roman goddess of wisdom) holding a pole topped with a liberty cap in her right hand and a scroll with “Constitution” written on it. Also seen is the inscription “In Legibus Salus” in Latin; it means “Safety in the Laws.”

Wright Brothers PNC from Commemorative History of America series.

Historical Note: Though the seal in the FM set is uniface, the official seal of North Carolina did have a reverse design. It depicted an allegorical female figure (“Plenty”) holding a distaff in her right hand (a distaff is a spindle with wool or flax wound onto it for spinning; at the time, it was symbolic of “woman’s work”) and an ear of corn in her left hand. In the background is a cow grazing near a tree. The Latin inscription encircling the design translates as “How fortunate are the colonists who know their own good.”

Wrapping up this partial survey of NC-related FM issues is a PNC commemorating the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight; the Wright Brothers are an oft-repeated subject among FM issues. The sterling silver medal was included in the Commemorative History of America collection, a series produced by the FM and marketed via The National Historical Society. The series was issued between 1978 and 1986 and includes 100 event covers. The cover shown was postmarked on the 80th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight.

The Collecting Challenge

When I began my discussion of North Carolina themed Franklin Mint medals, I indicated that assembling a complete set of the pieces is a much more difficult task than what might be expected. From my experience, the challenge distills down to three key factors: survival rates, sets vs. individual issues and knowing what to look for.

Survival Rates

Many FM sets and individual medals have been melted during times when the spot price of silver was high. “Trips to the melting pot” began in earnest in late 1979 and early 1980 when silver spot prices reached historic highs. It’s impossible to know with certainty how many FM collections went to the melting pot during this time, but it is estimated that the total melting of silver coins/medals/ingots, etc. (from all sources, not just the FM) accounted for more than 100 million ounces by the end of 1980. Based on this, it is easy to conclude that many thousands of silver FM medal/ingot sets were melted.

Today, FM silver products continue to be melted by many coin dealers and precious metal buyers. The lack of widespread demand for the pieces among collectors makes it more profitable for dealers to sell off most FM pieces they encounter as bulk bullion rather than carry them in inventory hoping for an eventual sale to a collector at a small advance over melt value.

The historic and ongoing melting of FM silver medals/ingots continues to reduce the number of pieces available to collectors and make many issues a challenge to locate.

Sets vs. Individual Issues

The vast majority of FM medals and ingots were sold as parts of sets vs. individual / one-off issues. Collectors looking to assemble a themed set of FM medals will generally require just a few pieces from a set – often just one piece! Collectors are thus faced with the choice of buying complete sets to get the wanted piece(s) – the quicker but more expensive option - or diligently searching for the desired individual pieces. For some medals/ingots, the search can take years.

Working against the collector is the fact that the availability of individual medals/ingots from a set is generally tied to their issue sequence. Not all sets that were started were completed. Incomplete sets were/are more likely to be broken up and have their pieces sold individually than are completed sets. So, if a desired medal was issued early in a collection, it is generally easier to find than one issued late in a collection due to the greater number of broken up partial sets.

Complete FM sets can command a strong premium due to their limited availability and therefore are not broken up with the same frequency as partial sets. Collectors seeking individual “late-in-set” medals need to be very diligent in their searching and be willing to pounce when a tough medal appears – even if it does cost a bit more than they would like. In these cases, it is the opportunity that is the bargain that shouldn’t be missed!

Knowing What to Look For

Collectors like “filling holes” in albums and they like to have checklists for the items they pursue. (At least most do!) The availability of published checklists for specialized subsets of FM medals and ingots, however, is essentially non-existent. There are some long out-of-print catalogs for FM issues available from used book retailers, but none are complete – the last catalog was published several years before the FM stopped producing coins and medals. Regarding NC-related FM issues, I’m not aware of any definitive published list.

Enlarged view of stylized Franklin Mint “FM” logo (at 6:00 o’clock position).

Without an illustrated checklist, the effort to locate FM medals/ingots in noticeably intensified. A quick scan of a dealer’s inventory of medals, whether in person or online, is not enough when you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. Collectors need to take extra time to learn what FM medals “look like” vs. the products of their competitors and closely inspect a large number of medals that “might be” a desired piece to locate either the stylized “FM” logo that appears on most issues or to check the edge for identifying inscriptions.

In the end, collecting a themed set of Franklin Mint medals is a challenge that can take years to complete – due either to availability or cost. But such challenges make collecting interesting and keep one’s collecting juices flowing!

Until next time, Happy Collecting!

-- David Provost

© Copyright D. Provost 2014. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Sources:

  1. Silver Institute https://www.silverinstitute.org/site/silver-price/silver-price-history/1979-1980/
  2. Franklin Mint. Limited Editions of the Franklin Mint 1977 Edition (Covering the 1976 Issues). Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Mint, 1977. Print.
  3. Sheraga, Robert J. Franklin Mint Silver. www.franklin-mint-silver.com. Web. 10 June 2014.