The Jefferson Davis “Death to Traitors” Medal

1861JDOne comes across some very interesting things at a coin show. And after years of traveling to different shows and meeting the many interesting characters that make up the world of coin dealers, one comes to expect the odd and seldom seen from certain of these gentlemen (and ladies). One of these is John Kraljevich. John is younger than you would expect when envisioning a “coin dealer”, but his depth of knowledge of all things common or esoteric belies his lack of years. Take a look at John’s website, jkamericana.com , and you will get some idea of the breadth of John’s expertise.

So last year at a coin show in Buffalo, New York I came to John’s table, knowing full well that he would have amazing things I had never seen before, from contemporary counterfeit Spanish coins to huge, thick medals commemorating some 19th century camera club event. Seriously, check the archives on his site! Anyway, on this occasion I spotted this little brass coin with a depiction of a hanged man on the obverse with “Jefferson Davis” above and the date “1861” below. On the reverse was the legend “Death to Traitors” in three lines. Being a history nut and not really having anything from the Civil War era, I was smitten. I could even overlook the unsightly hole drilled clear through the coin at 12 o’clock.

Well John was a busy man and I didn’t want to take up his time by grilling him when others were vying for his time. We had met on a few previous occasions so I said hello, good to see you, plunked down my money and happily went on my way with my new acquisition.

Fast forward to a couple of days later and my first opportunity to sit down and research my purchase. Just out of curiosity, I drop by John’s website and there is my coin! In John’s inimitable style, he had written this thought provoking description:

“A scarce and popular medalet from the dawn of the Civil War, showing President Jefferson Davis hanging on the obverse, a scene that wins some sort of numismatic prize for lack of subtlety…a specimen like this must hide an interesting story of a vociferous Unionist, perhaps a soldier, who was so moved by this medalet that he wore it for what must have been most of the conflict.”

How’s that for an interesting description? A little more research brought some enlightening background to the manufacturer of this piece. From www.americanhistoy.si.edu :

“This medal was made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, CT around 1861. The Scovill Company was established in 1802 as a button manufacturer that is still in business today. Scovill was an early industrial American innovator, adapting armory manufacturing processes to mass produce a variety of consumer goods including buttons, daguerreotype mats, and medals. This medal was struck in reaction to the secession of the Confederacy and the election of its President, Jefferson Davis.”

At your next show, be on the lookout for dealers like John. Your collecting interests can take a new and fascinatingly dramatic turn!

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