United States of America. (1741) Admiral Vernon pinchbeck Medal, PCGS AU55BN. Rarity-6. 31mm. Betts-242; Adams-Chao NLv-6-E; McCormick-Goodhart 15; MI-ii 561/192. Likely the finest known example of the type.
Full length figure of Admiral Vernon facing three-quarters to right upon solid platform, sword in right hand and baton in left. Cannon at right, ship asea at left, three small trees below ship, “THE · BRITISH · GLORY · REVIV · D · BY · ADMIRAL · VERИOИ · · ·” around // Satan, pitchfork in hand, leads the figure of Sir Robert Walpole by a rope around his neck into the wide-stretched, gaping jaws of Hell, “MAKE : ROOM : FOR : SIR : ROBERT” around, within a speech bubble emitting from the mouth of the devil, and “NO : EXCISE” in the exergue. Perhaps the most controversial of the Admiral Vernon medals in that it not only praises Vernon but ridicules his political opponent, Prime Minister Robert Walpole.
Composed of pinchbeck metal, a brass alloy of zinc and copper invented by Christopher Pinchbeck and intended to mimic gold in appearance (in fact, some of this golden color remains around the peripheries). Weakly struck as typical and with very little in the way of actual wear, displaying none of the surface flaws or porosity commonly found among these pinchbeck types and retaining significant luster.
Although most pieces in the Admiral Vernon series are poorly executed, featuring crude engravings and frequent misspellings, the issues have attracted more serious studies than any perhaps other segment of exonumia. Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) was a British naval officer with a long and distinguished career, rising to the rank of admiral after forty-six years of service and serving as a Member of Parliament, where he was outspoken on naval matters, making him a controversial figure. On one such occasion, during the era of the War of Jenkins' Ear, a trade war between Britain and Spain, he vaunted in the House of Commons that he might with only six ships capture the port city of Porto Bello in the Spanish territory of Panama. The ministry, not averse to the removal to a distance of this troublesome character, granted him a commanding position in the West Indies and allowed him the opportunity to follow through upon his boast.
With only six ships as promised, Vice Admiral Vernon promptly attacked and conquered Porto Bello, a victory seen as expunging the earlier disastrous blockade of the port in 1726-28, when Admiral Francis Hosier, with a greater force of twenty ships, and with the port inadequately defended, was forbade from firing a shot by government orders under the antiwar Prime Minister Robert Walpole, leaving him and some 4,000 sailors to linger ineffectually off the shore and to die of tropical disease. For his actions Vernon was immediately and quite exorbitantly celebrated as a hero of the people and a figurehead for the growing opposition to Walpole in Britain, as may be observed by the 100 or so different dies used to strike medals celebrating the accomplishment. The majority of these issues simply commemorate the battle, usually depicting the figure of Vernon on the obverse and his six ships entering the port on the reverse. However, this piece is strikingly political, the praise of Admiral Vernon made jeering when paired with the utter condemnation of Walpole on the reverse.
The reverse text of “NO EXCISE” refers to Walpole's plan to replace the tariffs on wine and tobacco with an excise tax (levied on specific products sold within a country, as opposed to tariffs, which are imposed on imported goods) was defeated in 1733, largely because of widespread popular prejudice against excise taxes. The opposition to this tax reform was such that here, several years after the tax was defeated, the theme is still featured on this medal.
Robert Walpole was Prime Minister of England from 1721 to 1742, serving during the reigns of King George I and King George II, and is generally considered the first true Prime Minister of England. Though he received much public support in his early years, his failure to maintain a policy of avoiding military conflict would lead to growing opposition against his rule and to his eventual resignation from power. He faced much blame for the later failed attack by Vice Admiral Vernon upon the port of Cartagena de Indias in Nueva Granada (now Colombia) in 1741, which with 26,600 men and 186 ships would remain the largest amphibian attack in history until the Invasion of Normandy in 1944. Even so, this medal would have been quite a daring and controversial issue for the period, as although Walpole faced public opposition for his antiwar views, he was viewed in much favor by King George II.
Interestingly, soldier Lawrence Washington, the older half-brother of George Washington, would survive the Battle of Cartagena de Indias and other expeditions against the seaport of New Granada and against Cuba and Panama, which suffered a high rate of casualties, mostly from disease. Evading the yellow fever that killed off nearly 90 percent of the American colonists, due to his fortunate early transfer from a troop ship to Admiral Vernon's flagship, which, having been in the tropics for over one year, contained a crew already inoculated against tropical diseases, thus creating a system of herd immunity, he would thereafter retire to Virginia, where he named his estate Mount Vernon in honor of his former commander.
PCGS Certification Number: 39657562
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