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What I learned this week about Rhode Island Ship Medals

MidLifeCrisisMidLifeCrisis Posts: 10,503 ✭✭✭✭✭

@Catbert brought this coin to my attention earlier this week:

It was from an email from Stacks regarding the upcoming sale of the Sydney F Martin collection. It's a fantastic, rare, and beautiful coin. But my interest was piqued so I did a little more research.

I think it sold for $152,750.00 in 2014 as part of the Heritage Adams sale.


If that's the same coin, it's interesting that it was called VF back then. But as an R8 and possibly unique coin, grade doesn't really matter. What I found more interesting was the back story of Rhode Island Ship Medals.

Heritage's lot description says:

"The true origin and intention of the medals remains a mystery. It is believed they were struck in England within a year or two of the battle depicted and were intended as a message to the Dutch given the language used. However, some believe the medals were a Dutch product in support of the British. The obverse depicts the American troops fleeing Conanicut Island as part of the Battle of Rhode Island. Among the battle's participants was the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, a segregated regiment consisting of locally recruited African-Americans. The reverse represents Admiral Howe's flagship. The legend translates as, "The Americans had to run away in 1778, now there goes Adm. Howe the same way in 1779."

So, I thought...these medals are decidedly un-American!

Digging further, I found more on the Notre Dame website at https://coins.nd.edu/colcoin/colcoinintros/RIShip.intro.html

"The medal was minted in England for distribution throughout the Netherlands, most probably, during the second half of 1780. It commemorated a victory of the British Admiral Richard Howe. During the summer of 1778 Major General John Sullivan, commanding some ten thousand American troops, with the aid of about four thousand French troops under Admiral Comte d'Estaing, tried to take Newport Rhode Island from British control. On August 20, 1778, Admiral Howe defeated d'Estaing's fleet and then headed for Conanicut Island, situated just off the coast of Newport, where the Continental troops were stationed. Hearing of the British advance, the Continental troops were forced to flee from the island and abandon their attack plans....There is no evidence that these tokens ever circulated in America."

So they are collected as colonials only because they make reference to Rhode Island (?) .

I'm just learning this now and it disappoints me. I've always thought they were cool and always thought I wanted one, but now I don't know.


  • EddiEddi Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited July 24, 2022 1:37AM

    You make a good point. There are other examples of coin, or medals, or tokens which are collected by American collectors, yet there is no firm (or very little) evidence they were struck in America, or that they actually circulated there. The best example would be the so-called Continental Dollar.

    I once thought 'I must have a Continental Dollar, and was ready to sell part of my collection to fund this considerable purchase. However, learning what is now known about the Continental Dollar my interest dropped considerably and I at least, am no longer willing to spend that kind of money for this item.

  • ZoinsZoins Posts: 33,726 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Definitely looks like they could be the same medal from the photos!

    Thanks for posting a very interesting piece.

    Here's the TrueView.

    I'm personally not disappointed by pieces being made in Europe during the Colonial era (though coin vs. medal is a different story). It's just the way things were back then. The Libertas Americana and Comitia Americana medals were engraved and struck in France. And even the 50,000 bricks for the Pynchon House in what was then Massachusetts were fired in England and shipped over.

  • rickoricko Posts: 98,724 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have always liked coins with ships - likely due to my Navy background. Thought about collecting them, a couple of times. May still start a 'fleet' of ships.... Cheers, RickO

  • MarkMark Posts: 3,512 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @MidLifeCrisis The second issue (Vol 1, number 2--Dec 2018) of the Journal of Early American Numismatics had an article on the Rhode Island tokens. I'm away from my library and don't recall the specifics but I do recall that it was very well written and increased (my so-far unsatisfied) desire to own one.


  • MidLifeCrisisMidLifeCrisis Posts: 10,503 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Mark said:
    @MidLifeCrisis The second issue (Vol 1, number 2--Dec 2018) of the Journal of Early American Numismatics had an article on the Rhode Island tokens. I'm away from my library and don't recall the specifics but I do recall that it was very well written and increased (my so-far unsatisfied) desire to own one.

    Thank you Mark. I reviewed the article. It was quite lengthy, very detailed, and seems very well researched. I noted this conclusion by the author:

    "The Rhode Island ship medal has no claim as a legitimate American colonial numismatic item other than its depiction of an American Revolutionary War battle and, like the New York Theater token, has mistakenly been collected as an American numismatic item for over 150 years simply because it depicts something associated with America. The RISM is, however, properly part of the overall medallic history of colonial America and should be collected along with the medals first organized by Betts and added to by others over the years."

  • Pnies20Pnies20 Posts: 1,854 ✭✭✭✭✭

    These are really cool. Hope to own one someday.

    BHNC Associate member #AN-07 … 88 and counting.

  • EddiEddi Posts: 361 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited July 24, 2022 10:35PM

    This is the example in my Collection. I bought it due to its association to America, even if it was not made there nor ever circulated there.
    It is the variety with wreath below ship, and I think it is made of brass.

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