Mahogany versus the “yellow bronze” finish for medals and the Nathaniel Greene medal
During much of the 19th century, the Philadelphia Mint issued medals that had a mahogany finish. Sometimes it was a rich dark brown that overlaid Proof-Like surface. These metals were very beautiful, but along about the late 1890s, it started to change.
In place of the mahogany finish, the mint started to sandblast the surfaces of the pieces which gave them a duller, matte finish. The resulting metals were not nearly as nice in my opinion. In some cases, the medals ended up with a “yellow bronze” look, which I find particularly unattractive. Here is an example of the “yellowest” of “yellow bronze.”
Sometimes even the experts are fooled when it comes to telling the difference between a mahogany finish medal from an earlier date and sandblasted piece that was made later or some times much later. But first, a bit of history.
Nathaniel Greene is one of the unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War. Prior to the war he was a member of the Society of Friends or “Quaker.” The Quakers are opposed to violence, and when Greene chose to support the army in the Revolutionary War, the Society of Friends expelled him from their group. An educated, largely self-taught man, Greene learned about the military and tactics by reading books.
Greene joined the Continental Army and ultimately became one of George Washington’s able and most trusted officers. Washington promoted him to major general in 1776. He served under Washington during the New Jersey and Philadelphia campaigns. He would serve as the third Quartermaster General of the Army from 1778 until 1780.
In 1780, the British moved the focus of the war from New York and the Mid Atlantic states to the south. There they were at first very successful, easily besting American generals Robert Howe, Benjamin Lincoln and Horatio Gates. Washington sent Greene south to try to pick up the pieces.
Despite the fact that he never won a battle, Greene performed brilliantly. He kept the British Army off balance and lured them further into the American heartland where they lost men and materials that they could not replace. His most famous battle was a Guilford Court House for which the Continental Congress voted to award him this medal in gold.
Ultimately the British Army, under Cornwallis, worked their way to Yorktown where they were caught in a vise between the allied American and French Armies and the French Navy. Cornwallis was forced to surrender which in actuality ended the Revolutionary War although the Americans would have to maintain their guard for another attack for the next couple of years.
Years ago, I bought this Nathaniel Greene in medal. The dies for the original Nathaniel Greene soon after it was struck. Julian stated in his book, “Medals of the United States Mint, the First Century, 1792 – 1892” that the dies were presented to Nathanial Greene’s widow for reason that I cannot understand. Most all of the pieces that are available to modern collectors were struck from a new set of dies that were made in 1886. A small number of those coins have the mahogany finish (the report mintage is “40 records”), but this is not one of them. It is a sandblasted piece that either toned on its own or had a bit of help. The dealer who sold it to me took it back for a full refund a few years after the sale, much to his credit.
And here is one of the original, mahogany finish medals.