NEW YORK – George Washington’s specially commissioned gold medal, which was presented by his family to his adoptive son, the Marquis de Lafayette, sold for $5,305,000 at Sotheby’s in December.
The medal, which symbolizes the ideals of the Revolution, was purchased by La Fondation de Chambrun, located at Chateau La Grange, the home of the Marquis de Lafayette, 30 miles east of Paris. Three bidders competed for the medal, two on the telephone and one in the salesroom.
“The medal is a symbol of the bond of friendship between America and France and the extraordinary connection between two of the greatest heroes of the 18th century, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette,” said Christophe Van de Weghe, speaking on behalf of the foundation.
“There are only two places where this treasure belongs, Mount Vernon and Chateau La Grange, and we are thrilled to have been able to save it for the public. The medal will be on view in the bedroom of the Marquis de Lafayette at Chateau La Grange, and we would be happy to work with Mount Vernon in the future to arrange for its exhibition at Washington’s home in Virginia.”
The medal, in the form of an eagle, represents the values that Washington, Lafayette and their comrades had fought for during the Revolutionary War, and to uphold those values, they formed The Society of the Cincinnati in 1783. Eagle badges, or medals, were presented to all members of the society, but the design of the present example is unique, being made for Washington to his specification by the engineer and designer of Washington, D.C., Pierre Charles L’Enfant.
After Washington’s death in 1799, the medal was passed on to his family who presented it to Lafayette during his triumphal return to the United States in 1824. Lafayette treasured this talisman from his greatest hero, offering it a place of honor in his home for the remainder of his life.
Prior to the exhibition preceding today’s auction, this treasure had not been seen in public on American soil in more than 100 years. Complete with what is almost certainly the original ribbon and red leather presentation box bearing the label: WASHINGTON’S CINCINNATI BADGE, the medal had been consigned by Lafayette’s great-great-granddaughter. It had been estimated to sell for $4-$10 million.