GENERAL FRIEDRICH WILHELM VON STEUBEN''S SOCIETY OF THE CINCINNATI MEDAL
(PREAMBLE TO STEUBEN SECTION) In 1989 a career New York antique dealer traveling through rural eastern Pennsylvania attended one of the regular auctions held at Zettlemoyer''s Auction in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania. Among the pieces of furniture, odd coins, assorted jewelry and the many "box lots" of personal items, tools, and household implements were a number of boxes containing books with the bookplates of one "Mina von Steuben". The dealer was shocked to discover that one lot in the auction included what appeared to be a von Steuben family dictionary originating from General von Steuben, as well as his personal copy of the American army''s rules and regulations, which von Steuben had drafted. Another lot contained several walking sticks, one of which was undoubtedly a German noble''s cane of von Steuben''s time, and a lot of early 19th century clothing contained a Revolutiuonary War-era embroidered vest and a pair of cased ornately-decorated shoe buckles. Noticing that only ca. 1930s-40s boxes contained von Steuben items, the bidder found one final box containing a large lot of buttons, "dilapidated costume jewelry"...and what is undoubtedly General von Steuben''s Society of the Cincinnati medal. Purchasing all of the items for a nominal price, the buyer soon resold them to a well-known Valley Forge area collector of German-American militaria. These precious relics have remained in his possession since then...until offered in this important auction. Mina von Steuben (1874-1963) was a dedicated von Steuben family historian and the Historian of the Liberty Bell (Allentown) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. During her life she was recognized by politicians and authors for her work memorializing her famous ancestor. She passed away leaving no children.
Offered here is a startling discovery, one of the original medals issued by the Society of the Cincinnati, this being the example given to General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the man who trained and organized the Continental Army and created the fighting force which would finally defeat the British at Yorktown. The medal, almost lost to history forever, was uncovered among the possessions of the general''s direct descendant, historian Mina von Steuben and kept for decades by a German-American collector in Pennsylvania. The exquisitely rare example offered here has never been offered before. It bears the same gold body and design as the other 140 of the original medals brought to America by its designer, Pierre l''Enfant. The painted enamel is worn in places, with much of the feathering and a good deal of the Latin text gone, but generally in better condition than is usually seen in these medals. The enamel about the figures on obverse and reverse of the medal is completely intact, and the figures themselves are undamaged. The green and red enamels applied to the leaves and berries on the wreaths and branches at top and bottom of the medal is also largely intact, missing in only a few scattered places. The gold body of the medal remains in excellent condition, showing no apparent damage, bends, or other distractions whatsoever. Two types of standard eagles badges commissioned by Pierre L''Enfant are documented: a larger type, of which forty were produced on subscription from Society members, and a slightly smaller type, of which 140 were immediately commissioned by L''Enfant on the speculation that they would be quickly purchased by Society members who had not already subscribed. The design of this second type was somewhat smaller and of a different style from the first, after L''Enfant observed that the cost of producing his desired amount of larger examples would overrun his budget. Paradoxically, badges of this second style are far rarer than those of the first, with only three known examples. Based on comparisons to available photographs of the second-style badges, especially elements of the scenes depicted in the center medallion, the orientation of that medallion in relation to the eagle''s head, and the shape of the head itself, it is clear that the example presented here is of the second style, making it the fourth known example. Specifically, the towers visible behind the image of Cincinnatus at the plow feature peaked, conical roofs in the first, more common style; the towers in our example, and in available photographs of the second style badges, feature crenellated battlements. The reverse side of the medallion features an image of the senators presenting Cincinnatus with their swords. In the first style badges, Cincinnatus has his right arm outstretched to receive the swords; in our example, as in the other second style badges, both of his arms are at his sides. Lastly, and most tellingly, on this same side of the medallion, the motto "OMNIA RELINQUIT SERVAT REMPUB" surrounds the image. In the first style eagles, this first word of this motto, "Omnia", is placed at the seven-to-eight o''clock position. The motto in our example is heavily worn and chipped in places, but enough is legible to tell that "Omnia" was at the one-to-two o''clock position, as it is in other known examples of the second style Eaglebadge. Moreover, the motto itself is different: in our example, and in other examples of the second style it reads: "OMNIA RELINQUIT SERVARE REMPUB". It should be noted that in our meeting with representatives of the Society of the Cincinnati, it was declared that even their holdings do not include this rare variant. The medal is sold with its buyer''s original notarized letter of provenance describing his purchase of the medal and other von Steuben items; a similar notarized statement from the current owner of the medal; various genealogical and other notes in the hand of Mina von Steuben and a book inscribed to her by Rep. A. Mitchell Palmer: "Proceedings From the Unveiling of the Statue of Baron von Steuben..." (Washington: Government Priting Office), 1911. 234pp. 8vo., cloth boards, annotated by von Steuben with interesting entries on the location of other items from the general''s estate - all obtained in the same auction, and much additional genealogical research. Also: "The Society of the Cincinnati", privately printed in New York, 1886, 368pp. 4to. in paper, binding broken, pages coming loose. Rules and minutes of the Society, biographies, etc. The concept of the Society of the Cincinnati originated from Major General Henry Knox, and its first meeting was held in May 1783 at a dinner at Mount Gulian (Verplanck House) in Fishkill, New York, presided over by General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. The meeting was chaired by Alexander Hamilton, and the participants agreed to stay in contact with each other after the war. Membership was generally limited to officers who had served at least three years in the Continental Army or Navy, and it included officers of the French army and navy as well. The order adopted its name from Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, a Roman statesman who took up arms for the good of the republic, but relinquished power when the crisis had passed. The Society designed an order "by which its members shall be known," which included the figure of Cincinnatus with: "Three senators presenting him with a sword and other military ensigns; on a field in the background his wife standing at the door of their cottage, near it a plough and instruments of husbandry. Round on the whole, ''Omnia Reliquite Servare Rempublicam''. On the reverse, sun rising, a city with open gates, and vessels entering the port, Fame crowning Cincinnatus with a wreath inscribed ''Virtutis Praemium''. Below, hands joined, supporting a heart with the motto, ''Esta Perpetua''. Round the whole, ''Societas Cincinnatorum Instituta, A.D. 1783''." The commission to design this elaborate insignia was given to Major Pierre Charles L''Enfant, who envisioned the emblem as a medallion on the breast and back of a bald eagle suspended from oak and laurel leaves. L''Enfant then travelled to Paris to oversee the production of the medals, which was undertaken by several jewelers and painters in that city and thus explaining small variations between the medals. Von Steuben was very proud of his role in the formation of the Society of the Cincinnati and the creation of this award. One of the general''s most famous portraits, painted by Ralph Earl in about 1786, shows the proud American wearing his medal on his left lapel.