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Three Gold Medals of Oliver Cromwell by Thomas Simon


COMMONWEALTH. Oliver Cromwell. Lord Protector, 1653-1658. A trio of important AV Medals.

At Dunbar on the 3rd of September 1650 Oliver Cromwell, recently appointed as commander-in-chief of the forces the nascent English republic, led the New Model Army to a resounding victory against a larger Scottish force that had proclaimed Charles II as king and sought to re-establish monarchy throughout the British Isles. Exactly eight years later, on the 3rd of September 1658, Cromwell died in Hampton Court Palace having named his son Richard to be his successor as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. At the elaborate state funeral which followed his effigy bore the crown he had refused during his lifetime.

This highly important trio of struck gold medals serve as a splendid memorial to the remarkable man they portray, one of the most significant and divisive figures in British history. All three are the work of Thomas Simon, a medallist whose fame, as Leonard Forrer rightly stated, ‘stands unrivalled in the British series.’ Together they mark the passage of a tumultuous eight years, an epoch that witnessed the culmination of Cromwell’s brilliant career, and which was defined by his exceptional character and deeds. From the collection of Marvin Lessen, the foremost expert on Simon’s oeuvre, these medals are exceedingly rare and have for centuries been among the most coveted items in all British numismatics. No other set of these medals exist outside of the British Museum.

a) AV Medal (8.36 g, 12h). The Battle of Dunbar. By Thomas Simon. Dated 3 September 1650. · THE LORD OF HOSTS · above, WORD · AT/DUNBAR in two lines to left, SEPTEM :/Y · 3 I650 in two lines to right, barehead, draped, and armored bust left; scene of battle in background; T · SIMON · F on truncation of arm / Interior view of House of Commons in session, looking toward the Speaker’s Chair, seen from public gallery. Thoms Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, Nummi anglici et scotici cum aliquot numismatibus recentioribus, collegit Thomas Pembrochiae et Montis Gomerici comes (London, 1746), pl. iv, 19 = M. Lessen, “The Cromwell Dunbar Medals,” BNJ 51 (1981), p. 117 & pl. vii, 2 (this medal); MI I 391/13; Eimer 181b; BBM 12. A superb medal. EF. Of the highest rarity and great historical importance.

Ex Lessen Collection (Dix Noonan Webb 186, 21 January 2021), lot 1168; Sotheby (5 December 1966), lot 29; J.P. Heseltine Collection, (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 29 May 1935), lot 102; G. Sparkes Collection (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 2 February 1880), lot 329; Earl of Pembroke Collection (S. Leigh Sotheby, 31 July 1848), lot 259.

This celebrated medal has fascinated collectors, medallists and scholars for the past three hundred years. Thomas Simon’s exquisite workmanship is, in the words of Sir George Hill, ‘extraordinarily minute’ and can only be fully appreciated under magnification.

The documentary evidence for the issue, surveyed most thoroughly by Lessen, shows ‘it is clear that an enthusiastic parliament intended to provide medals to all victorious participants at Dunbar.’ It is therefore the first official British military award. We know from a letter written by Cromwell to the Committee of the Army that, although he had requested that the medal did not bear his portrait, Simon was sent to Edinburgh to take his likeness. Furthermore, the obverse legend: ‘The Lord of Hosts’ - the battle cry for the English army - as well as the scene of the fighting behind the bust were included at the suggestion of Cromwell himself. The Lord General’s admiration of the engraver’s talents is evident in this letter. Cromwell writes that Simon’s ‘paynes & trouble hither have been verie great & I shall make it my second suite unto that you will please to confer upon him that imployment in your service wch Nicholas Briott had before him, indeed the man is ingenious & worthie of incouragement.’

Simon produced the gold medal in two sizes, a smaller one - the type presented above – and, later, a larger version, which Lessen considered to be perhaps a pattern piece. While a general distribution of medals would appear to have been aborted due to the costs involved, Lessen’s study led him to believe that the small gold Battle of Dunbar medal was presented to the high-ranking officers. He records only three original struck examples in gold: the British Museum specimen which is ex Sir Hans Sloane; another specimen, ex Earl of Oxford and James West, that has not seen since 1773, and the medal offered here, which was once in the renowned cabinet of Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke (1656-1732).

b) AV Medal (39mm, 29.71 g, 12h). The Lord Protector. By Thomas Simon. OLIVERVS · DEI · GRA’ · REIPVB’ · ANGLIÆ · SCO’ · ET · HIB’ & · PROTECTOR ·, bareheaded, draped, and armored bust left; THO:/SIMON · F in two lines below / · PAX · QVÆRITVR · BELLO ·, lion seated facing, supporting coat-of-arms of the Protectorate. M. Lessen, “The Cromwell Lord Protector Medal by Simon,”BNJ 47 (1977), Type 1 and pl. XII, 1 (this medal); Nathanson, p. 25; MI I 409/45; Eimer 188a. Some light marks to fields and edge. otherwise toned, EF. A magnificent portrait medal. Exceedingly rare.

Ex M. Lessen (Dix Noonan Webb 186, 21 January 2021), lot 1175, purchased from Spink 1966; Seaby Coin and Medal Bulletin 311 (March 1940), no. 64049 (there listed as ‘EF/FDC £100’); R. Huth (Part II, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 8 April 1927), lot 15.

Simon spared none of his prodigious skill on the magisterial portrait of Cromwell and the characterful laureate lion sejant on this large and impressive medal. The depiction of Cromwell is similar to that in a miniature by Samuel Cooper in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire. Interestingly Lessen states ‘it appears the coinage portrait was derived from the medal.’

Prior to Lessen’s 1977 study it was believed that the medal had been issued to commemorate Cromwell’s inauguration as Lord Protector in December 1653. Lessen concluded it was struck somewhat later for use as an ‘official Protectorate monetary political reward and perhaps, to a lesser extent, a military reward, or more reasonably a reward for cumulative military services.’ Records show that the Lord Protector medal was issued only in gold and presented to Englishmen and foreign diplomats between 1656 and 1658. Known recipients are: Major Daniel Redman; Colonel Thomas Sadler; Christiern Bonde, the Swedish Agent; Rudolf von Strauch, Agent of the Duke of Courland; Don Francisco de Mello, the Portuguese ambassador.

From a detailed comparison of the images of the four known examples of the Lord Protector medal it would appear that the medal offered is here is in a finer state of preservation than the British Museum, the Montagu and the Murdoch specimens. Murdoch’s Lord Protector medal resurfaced in an unnamed sale in Sotheby in 1907. Since then neither that medal nor the Montagu specimen have been traced.

c) AV Medal (20mm, 6.21 g, 12h). The Death of Cromwell. By Thomas Simon. Dated 3 September I658. OLIVAR · D · G · RP · ANG · SCO · HIB & PROTECTOR, laureate and armored bust left; T · SIMON on truncation of arm / NON · DEFITIENT · OLIVA · SEP · 3 · I658, shepherds with flocks beneath a young olive tree, beside the stump of another tree. M. Lessen, “The Cromwell Funeral Medal by Simon,”BNJ 52 (1982), 3 and pl. 1, 1 (this medal); Nathanson p. 30; MI I 433/82, van Loon II, 420; Eimer 202a. With integral suspension loop. Richly toned. Near EF. Extremely rare.

Ex M. Lessen (Dix Noonan Webb 186, 21 January 2021), lot 1176; Spink Numismatic Circular LXXVIII.10 (October 1970), no. 11571; A. Morrison Collection (Part I, Christie, Manson & Woods, 23 July 1965), lot 5

While no contemporary sources mention this medal, it is highly probable, according to Lessen, that it was issued to be worn by ‘selectively honoured individuals in the funeral procession’ for Cromwell which took place with considerable pageantry on 23rd of November 1658. Richard Walpole reports that Thomas Simon walked in the cortege. Simon had prepared Cromwell’s death mask and this served as the model for the Protector’s effigy at the funeral. On the medal we find an austere bust of Cromwell, noticeably older than on the earlier medals. As with Simon’s portrait coinage of 1656-8 Cromwell wears a laurel wreath. The Arcadian scene on the reverse alludes to the hopes for the regime of the new Protector; the young olive tree - Richard - growing up by the stump of his father. By May 1659 Richard, who lacked the skill and prestige of his father and proved unable to reconcile the conflicting demands of the army and parliament, had relinquished power thus initiating a chain of events which led to the collapse of the Commonwealth. Within the year Simon was preparing dies and seals for Charles II.

The Funeral medal is familiar today from later copies on round flans which were produced in The Netherlands. Original struck specimens are extremely rare. While Lessen traced 11 examples in gold several of these are likely duplicated and only four of these could be verified as struck originals from Simon’s dies. .

Three (3) medals in lot.