Dispersal of Medals, Orders, and Decorations from the Collection of the American Numismatic Society Is a Complete Sell-out
After marathon auctions in which 2,717 lots were sold over a total of five days, the dispersal of the medals, orders, and decorations from the ANS collection ended on Thursday, April 16, 2007, having raised a record £3,657,549 ($7,324,146). The total sets a new world record for an auction of a collection of medals, orders, and decorations from a single source. Every lot offered was sold.
On sale in the final auction was material from Africa, Asia, South America, and Oceania, and buyers responded with their now customary zeal. Every one of the 593 lots sold, and the few lots unsold from previous sessions were reoffered, with the result that the collection was dispersed in its entirety.
From the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, the ANS accumulated more than five thousand world campaign and gallantry medals, orders, and decorations. However, in recent decades the Society has refocused its priorities, concentrating on its role as a museum of money and related artifacts, moving into new headquarters near Wall Street in Manhattan, and partnering with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to create a major exhibition concerning the history of coins and currency. The medals, orders, and decorations in its collection had not been exhibited for over twenty years when the ANS decided to deaccession the foreign materials—though the North American material is being retained. The proceeds of the sale will be used by the ANS to finance new acquisitions in line with its mission to create the definitive collection of world coinage.
Of particular significance was the largest disposal of Chinese medals, orders, and decorations ever offered at a Western auction. Notable among the 160 lots, which dated from the second half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, was a very rare Imperial Order of the Double Dragon Type 1 First Class, Third Grade neck badge issued between 1882 and 1898, estimated at £3,000-4,000 ($5,800-£7,700). It was purchased by Stacks, the New York specialist dealer, for £17,250 ($34,555). A similarly rare Second Class badge from the same order was purchased for £16,100 ($32,248), by a Chinese buyer who traveled to London for the sale. It had been estimated at £2,000-£3,000. Both badges had been in the ANS collection since they were donated in 1925.
The Chinese collector also purchased a very rare breast star of the early Republican Order of Merit, founded in 1912 by President Yuan Shih Kai and awarded in relation to the recipient‘s former precedence of rank in the Manchu court. Estimated at £1,500-£2,000 ($2,800-$3,800), it sold for £13,800 ($27,635). The Chinese section of the sale alone raised £251,585 ($499,742).
The Japanese section of the sale was smaller but no less significant, raising £18,929 ($37,593). Notable here was an extremely rare breast star of the Order of the Golden Kite, which was awarded to senior officers for exceptional bravery in action. The order was abolished following World War II. It was purchased by Stacks for £5,750 ($11,513) against an estimate of £3,000-£4,000 ($5,800-$7,500).
A Grand Cross collar, badge, and star of the Order of the Crown, issued by the Sultanate of Johore in Malaysia, estimated at £2,000-£3,000 ($3,800-$5,800) sold to a specialist dealer for £5,980 ($11,975), and a set of insignia of the Tunisian Order of Nichan-el-Ahad-el-Aman, issued by the Bey Sidi Hamad (r. 1929-1942) and estimated at £2,000-£3,000 ($3,800-$5,800), sold to the same buyer for £4,140 ($8,295).
Among an exceptional selection of Mexican orders and decorations was a Star for the Defence of Texas, awarded in 1836 to officers who participated in the action against the rebels at San Antonio, the Alamo, Encinal, and Gonal, which sold to a U.S. dealer acting for a private collector for £14,950 ($29,951). It had been estimated at £3,000-£5,000 ($5,700-$9,600).
However, the highlight of the sale was the very rare first-class insignia of the Burmese Order of the Tsalwé, which was bestowed on Major-General Albert Fytche, Chief Commissioner of British Burma in 1867. Comparable to a British Knighthood, the insignia was in the form of an elaborately decorated, solid-gold collar weighing over half a kilogram. It was estimated at £20,000-£30,000 ($38,500-$58,000) and sold for £39,100 ($77,673). Fytche‘s British campaign medals sold for £2,760 ($5,527). Both lots were purchased by a London dealer on behalf of a private collector, thus the order and the medals will stay together. During the Burma Campaign (1852-1853), Major-General Albert Fytche, C.S.I. (1823-1892), was a key figure in the British annexation of Bassein, a lawless province of which he was named Deputy Commissioner and received “the special thanks and warm approbation” of the Governor-General and of the government of India on at least three occasions between 1853 and 1857. He succeeded Sir Arthur Phayre as Chief Commissioner of British Burma in 1867, during a critical time in the development of Anglo-Burmese political and trade relations. His mission to Mandalay at the end of 1867 led to the successful conclusion of a major commercial treaty and the award of the Order of the Tsalwé by the King of Burma. As a writer, Fytche produced a number of works, the most notable of which is his Burma Past and Present, published in two volumes in 1878 and dedicated to his cousin, the Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The final sale in the ANS dispersal had been expected to a raise approximately £300,000 ($600,000). However, following the fortunate pattern of the earlier auctions, sales totaled £564,213 ($1,129,935). The two previous sales, held in May and October of last year, were originally expected to realize up to £1.2 million but actually totaled £3.1 million, the rarity and impeccable provenance of the pieces forcing buyers to ignore published estimates in order to secure items that rarely come on the market.
Highlights across the series of sales included:
- A very fine and rare gold and enamel sash badge by Julius Kebel of St. Petersburg dated 1865, one of only a few surviving examples of the Order of St. Andrew (estimate £12,000-£15,000). Sold for £109,250 ($218,842).
- Silver gilt breast star of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, established in Russia by Catherine I in 1725 (£8,000-£12,000). Sold for £69,000 ($138,213).
- Russian Order of the White Eagle (£12,000-£15,000). Sold for £59,800 ($119,799).
- “Blue Ribbon” Naval Victoria Cross, the original but unawarded issue to George Bell Chicken for his valor during the Indian Mutiny in 1858 (£30,000-£40,000). Sold for £55,200 ($110,574).
- A rare Naval General Service medal with two clasps: “Indefatigable 20 April 1796” and “Indefatigable 13 Jany 1797,” awarded to Volunteer 1st Class John Harry (£20,000-£25,000). Sold for £48,300.
- A unique Naval General Service medal with two clasps: Trafalgar and Cherub 28 March 1814, awarded to Thomas Skiddey (£15,000-£20,000). Sold for £46,000 ($92,150).
- The Most Noble Order of the Garter, sash badge or Lesser George, in gold and enamels, 1850-1880 (£18,000-£22,000). Sold for £34,500.
ANS Director Ute Wartenberg Kagan commented, “I was delighted. The sales were conducted extremely well and produced so many exceptional prices. This will benefit enormously the Society‘s ability to maintain and strengthen its core numismatic collections in the future.” Said auctioneer James Morton: “This was a landmark series of sales. In the long history of collecting medals, orders, and decorations I do not believe there has ever before been an auction in which so many individual pieces covering such a broad range of content has been dispersed at one time. The response from buyers has been universally positive. We were honored to have been chosen by the American Numismatic Society to conduct the sales and delighted that they were so well received.”
Morton & Eden Ltd. are specialist auctioneers of collectors‘ coins of all periods and types, war medals, orders and decorations, historical medals, and banknotes. The company was founded in 2001 by James Morton and Tom Eden, who were both directors of the Coins and Medals Department at Sotheby‘s, with whom the company maintains a close association.
All prices include the 15% buyers‘ premium paid at the sale.
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Various decorations of the Chinese Order of the Striped Tiger (lots 67-70).