Ray W. writes: A friend of mine has a coin that was presented to Rasmus S. Midgett for heroic deeds in saving the lives of ten men from the wreck of the Priscilla. This coin on the front has “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ACT OF CONGRESS JUNE 20, 1874” with a picture of a rowboat and a man pulling another in. On the back is printed “IN TESTIMONY OF HEROIC DEEDS IN SAVING LIFE FROM THE PERILS OF THE SEA”. Do you have any information that would be helpful about this coin?
Public awards for Life Saving from the perils of the sea didn’t begin in the United States until 1850. Two classes of awards were established: First for saving an American life on the high seas or in a foreign port and Second for the saving of an American sailor along the coast of the United States. The actual medal awarded was usually in gold and often the second class medal was struck in silver.
There were standard Live Saving medals minted with a scroll where the recipients name was later engraved. Some medals were actually created for a specific Life Saving event by Congressional decree. Note that the Metis Shipwreck which occurred on August 31, 1872 uses the motif of a man being pulled in into a rowboat. The original awarded medals were struck in gold or silver. Later on smaller versions of the medals were struck in bronze and sold to the public. The designs of this particular period are quite beautiful and no doubt because they were designed by the famous William and Charles Barber.
I don’t have historical records for the Priscilla but as an example the Metis Shipwreck medals would have been struck for the public around 1875 -1876. The mint records show 5,323 bronze medals struck in 1874 and 7,852 for 1875 and 14,348 for 1876.
These beautiful bronze medals often appear in exonumia sales. Value Range:$80 – $150. Of course, if you manage to find an original it would be worth far more. (For example, the Metis Shipwreck gold medal contains 6.5 troy ounces of pure gold.)