Auc­tion­eer to sell rare Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War medal

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— Are you a fa­lerist? If so, you might be in­ter­ested in the holy grail of mil­i­tary medals that a county-based auc­tion­eer plans to put on the block this week­end.

Bill Panagop­u­los, of Alexan­der His­tor­i­cal Auc­tions in Ch­e­sa­peake City, re­cently re­ceived an ex­ceed­ingly rare So­ci­ety of the Cincin­nati medal, of which only 180 were made in the late 18th cen­tury for the he­roes of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War. Fur­ther, he be­lieves this medal once be­longed to Maj. Gen. Friedrich Wil­helm von Steuben, the Ger­man of­fi­cer who trained and or­ga­nized the Con­ti­nen­tal Army and cre­ated the fight­ing force which would fi­nally de­feat the Bri­tish at York­town. Panagop­u­los called the dis­cov­ery of the medal a “tale straight out of An­tiques Road­show.”

The auc­tion­eer be­lieves the medal, along with von Steuben’s English-Ger­man dic­tionary, his copy of the army reg­u­la­tions he drafted, and his or­nate shoe buck­les, cane and vest were passed down to Mina von Steuben, nearly two cen­turies later. Upon her pass­ing in 1963, Panagop­u­los

CH­E­SA­PEAKE CITY

thinks the items were given to another fam­ily mem­ber who never looked through the items, de­cid­ing in­stead to sell all of her ef­fects at auc­tion.

Then in 1989, a New York auc­tion picker found the items mixed in with cos­tume jew­elry at a coun­try auc­tion in Fo­gelsville, Pa., a mere 15 min­utes from where Mina von Steuben lived. Not quite sure what he had dis­cov­ered, the picker bought the lot of von Steuben items just to be safe. He later sold the items to a col­lec­tor of Ger­man-Amer­i­can mil­i­taria and now af­ter 30 years in pri­vate hands, the in­cred­i­ble find may net six fig­ures, Panagop­u­los es­ti­mates.

While the medal was found with the per­sonal ef­fects of the von Steuben fam­ily and his re­search finds a likely con­nec­tion to the fa­mous mil­i­tary gen­eral’s fam­ily, it lacks the de­fin­i­tive au­then­tic­ity of be­ing di­rectly con­nected through a fam­ily mem­ber, which could af­fect its value at auc­tion, Panagop­u­los ad­mit­ted.

“Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s medal, which was pre­sented to his adopted son and had tracked lin­eage, sold for $5.5 mil­lion at auc­tion,” he said, not­ing this item doesn’t have quite the same pedi­gree.

Re­gard­less, the So­ci­ety of the Cincin­nati, which does not legally au­then­ti­cate, told him that they are com­fort­able that it is a medal is­sued fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion even if its lin­eage can­not be defini­tively de­ter­mined. Its de­sign also makes it more valu­able than oth­ers is­sued in the same pe­riod, Panagop­u­los said.

“Pierre L’En­fant made 140 medals of one ver­sion and 40 of another, and in­ter­est­ingly enough, more of the smaller lot are still around to­day,” he said. “This medal is one of the more rare larger lot.”

Only four other So­ci­ety of the Cincin­nati medals of this type are known to ex­ist, two of which were sold at auc­tion in the past decade to pri­vate col­lec­tors. Even the so­ci­ety it­self, which con­tin­ues to serve as a ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion to­day, does not own such a medal.

While he ex­pects the medal to at­tract at­ten­tion from col­lec­tors of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War ar­ti­facts, he also be­lieves fa­lerists, or col­lec­tors of medals, or even an in­sti­tu­tion like the So­ci­ety of the Cincin­nati will be in­ter­ested in this ex­ceed­ingly rare piece. Bid­ding will open Sun­day in Wilm­ing­ton, Del., at $75,000, but Panagop­u­los said he ex­pects it to fetch be­tween $150,000 and $250,000, with bids com­ing in per­son and by phone and on­line.

The auc­tion also in­cludes over 300 ad­di­tional items rep­re­sent­ing Amer­ica’s colo­nial his­tory, in­clud­ing a let­ter sent by Mas­sachusetts Reps. Joseph War­ren, Artemas Ward and Moses Gill beg­ging the New York Congress to sup­ply them with des­per­ate­lyneeded gun­pow­der. None came, and two weeks later War­ren and fel­low pa­tri­ots would be killed at Bunker Hill — when they ran out of gun­pow­der.

Panagop­u­los’ auc­tion house, which typ­i­cally holds five to six auc­tions a year, has found a suc­cess­ful home in small town Ch­e­sa­peake City. His shop doesn’t shy away from con­tro­versy and of­ten trades in Nazi Ger­many items, but it also spe­cial­izes in early Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal items, such as those seen in the De­cem­ber auc­tion.

While his auc­tions of­ten fea­ture pieces worth 10 times the av­er­age county res­i­dent’s salary, Panagop­u­los said that auc­tions aren’t im­mune from the ebb and flow of the econ­omy.

“It’s been an up-and-down year, prob­a­bly due to the po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty,” he said, not­ing buy­ers don’t al­ways spend as of­ten in such times. “With a new govern­ment go­ing in, it will ei­ther be boom or bust. No one re­ally knows.”

“The lower end of the mar­ket tends to be chiefly af­fected as it fluc­tu­ates wildly with the econ­omy and peo­ple’s sen­ti­ments. The top of the mar­ket al­ways goes up be­cause it’s rare and de­sir­able — and it al­ways will be.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF ALEXAN­DER HIS­TOR­I­CAL AUC­TIONS

This So­ci­ety of the Cincin­nati medal from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War is es­ti­mated to fetch up to $250,000 at auc­tion this week­end.

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