The Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal was made to honor the Revolutionary War general in 1789 and replaced in 1839 when the original was stolen in a bank heist.
John Kraljevich has made a career out of authenticating coins and medals. So when an auction house approached him with a gold medal encased in a red leather United States Mint case, he knew it was something special. But he didn’t know how special until he opened the box.
“My reaction was somewhere along the lines of, holy (expletive),” Kraljevich said, per CBS News. “As soon as I laid my eyes on it, I knew what it was.”
The medal in his hands was the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal, a medal originally minted for Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan. After disappearing from view in 1885, it is now set to be auctioned by Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
“Its appearance represents the most shocking and important discovery in American numismatics in years,” Kraljevich raved.
Indeed, the Daniel Morgan medal — which features Morgan leading his troops on one side and accepting a crown from a Native American woman on the other — has an exhilarating history that includes war, presidents, and bank robbers.
The story of the Daniel Morgan medal starts with Daniel Morgan himself, a Revolutionary War general who led his troops against the British in South Carolina in January 1781. The Battle of Cowpens — so named for the pasture where it took place — resulted in an unexpected victory for Morgan and his men and proved to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
“Our success was complete,” Morgan wrote to Nathanael Greene on Jan. 19, 1781. He and his troops, he said, had given the British “a devil of a whipping.”
The Continental Congress decided to honor Morgan with a medal. It was then designed in France by prominent medallic artist Augustin Dupré and carried back to the United States by Thomas Jefferson, who returned from Paris in September 1789 to serve as the country’s first secretary of state.
George Washington himself presented Morgan, then living in Winchester, Virginia, with the medal on March 25, 1790. But the story of the Daniel Morgan medal didn’t end there.
When Daniel Morgan died in 1802, he left the medal to his son-in-law, who passed it on to his son, Morgan Lafayette Neville. Neville placed the medal in Pittsburgh’s Farmers and Mechanics Bank — but lost his precious family heirloom when bank robbers stole the medal in 1818.
Neville, determined to have it back in some form, spent the rest of his life entreating anyone who would listen for a replacement medal. He wrote Thomas Jefferson and petitioned the U.S. Congress. And in 1835, Congress finally agreed to reissue the medal.
Sadly, Neville never lived to see the replacement, which was produced in 1839 and presented to his family in 1841.
The Daniel Morgan medal stayed within his family for nearly fifty more years. But around 1885, it was purchased by none other than J.P. Morgan who believed — erroneously — that he was related to the legendary general. Then, it disappeared for 137 years until an anonymous owner consigned it to Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
“Two centuries ago, a great American treasure was lost through criminal mischief,” the auction house wrote. “One man’s dedication to his family’s achievements realized its goal: the renewal of his grandfather Daniel Morgan’s medal with the striking of a single gold medal that his family could pass on.”
They added: “While Morgan Neville didn’t live long enough to hold that golden victory in his hand, we can. It remains a uniquely American prize, with a backstory fit for the cinema.”
The Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal is set to go up for auction between April 4-8, 2022 in Costa Mesa, California. It’s expected to fetch between $250,000 to $500,000, but Kraljevich thinks it could sell for even more.
He noted that a similar medal awarded to President William Henry Harrison for his service in the War of 1812 ended up selling for $600,000.
“[The Morgan medal] is in much better condition,” Kraljevich said. “This medal is famous because of the exquisite artistry, its rarity, condition, and a great story. If it brought a similar amount, I would be very pleased.”
After reading about the Daniel Morgan at Cowpens medal, learn about the rare Eid Mar coin, which was minted to celebrate Julius Caesar’s assassination. Or, discover the story of this rare gold leopard coin discovered by a metal detectorist in England.