In the 1890s and early 1900s, US commemorative coins were a new, fledgling enterprise and sponsors and collectors were still accepting of commemorative medals serving as souvenir pieces. Multiple privately-sponsored (and Congressionally-authorized) medals were struck by the US Mint alongside commemorative coins. I've posted about a couple of these before:
- 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition
- 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition
Another of my favorites from this era is the 1906 Zebulon Montgomery Pike Expedition Centennial medal in its multiple versions: bronze, silver (proof), antiqued silver and gilt (gold-plated bronze). The issuance of the medal was to coincide with the centennial of Pike's encounter with the mountain that would eventually bear his name - Pike's Peak.Zebulon Montgomery Pike Portrait, B&W Print Reproduction of Painting by Charles Wilson Peale (1808))(Image Credit: Public domain; found in The expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike : to headwaters of the Mississippi River, through Louisiana Territory, and in New Spain, during the years 1805-6-7, v 1. New York: F.P. Harper, 1895.)
Peale's painting appears to have been the primary source for Charles Barber
's portrait of Pike seen on the medal's obverse. Pike's Peak is featured on the medal's reverse. (See below.)
Lewis and Clark became famous for their expedition through the new territory acquired by the United States via the Louisiana Purchase, in addition to their exploration of the American NorthWest, but US Army Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike is also an important figure in US history. Under the authority of President Thomas Jefferson (as was the case with Lewis and Clark), Pike led two western expeditions, the first in 1805/06, the second in 1806/07.
During the first expedition, Pike and his team of 20 men left St. Louis and traveled up the Mississippi River in an attempt to find its source. They traveled as far north as the northern reaches of present-day Minnesota. Pike incorrectly identified the river's headwaters to be found at Upper Red Cedar Lake (present-day Cass Lake). After "determining" this and believing they had met their objective, the expedition headed back to St. Louis. Later it was determined that the source of the Mississippi River is actually nearby Lake Itasca.
Among the objectives of Pike's second expedition were locating the source of the Arkansas and Red rivers. The expedition traveled through the upper Arkansas Valley, through present-day Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas (under guard). It was during this expedition, in Colorado, that Pike came upon the prominent (14,000+ feet tall) mountain - the highest peak of the southern Front Range of the Rockies - that today bears his name: Pike's Peak. The expedition entered Mexican territory (i.e., New Mexico) during its exploration and its men were taken into custody in February 1807 and were held for several months. Mexican soldiers ultimately escorted the expedition across Texas to the Louisiana border and released them in July 1807. The expedition did not accurately locate the headwaters of either the Arkansas River or the Red River.
Though Pike did not succeed in correctly finding/identifying the headwaters of any of the three rivers that were objectives of his journeys, his expeditions did yield valuable information on the areas he visited (on their natural resources, on the local Native Americans and on the state of Mexican affairs in the region). What he reported helped lead to the formation of several states and encouraged the US to challenge Mexico for control of the territory in the American Southwest.
As the centennial of Pike's expedition neared, the Zebulon Montgomery Pike Monument Association organized (in 1896) and began planning for a suitable celebration and monument. The Association's initial plan centered on erecting a heroic bronze statue of Pike. The statue idea would be abandoned, however, and replaced by a nearly 50-ton boulder that was approximately five feet in width on each side at its base and stood about sixteen feet tall. To each side of the boulder was attached a tablet with Pike-related inscriptions. The boulder was said to have been found "directly in the path that Pike took to reach the peak bearing his name." (The News Free Press,
Lafayette, CO. August 31, 1906.) Contemporary accounts went so far as to suggest that Pike likely saw the boulder while on his mountain journey - anything's possible, but...
The boulder/monument was unveiled on Thursday, September 27, 1906 (Pike Day) during the week-long Pike Centennial celebrations in Colorado Springs, CO. Its four attached plaques (one of each of its sides) presented messages about Pike's life, his discovery of the mountain that bears his name (Pike's Peak) and excerpts from his expedition diary.Zebulon Montgomery Pike Boulder Monument, Antlers Park, Colorado Springs, CO, Circa 1910(Image Credit: Public Domain.)
Representative Franklin Eli Brooks (R-CO) was apparently an enthusiastic supporter of the Pike anniversary and the plan for a commemorative medal - he introduced four separate bills for the medals! The first three did not gain traction, but the fourth time was the charm. The bill was reported out of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures with a recommendation to pass; the Committee report noted that the Treasury Department had no objections to the striking of the medals.
The bill was amended in the House after being reported by the Committee without recommended changes. The amendment was a substitute for Section 2 of the bill, the section that addressed the medals being supplied to the Association by the Treasury Department. The new language ensured that the Association would be required to pay the full cost of the medals before receiving them - the original language had the Treasury supplying the needed silver and bronze and striking the medals without cost to the Association!
In its final form, the bill called for up to 100,000 silver and bronze medals (combined) to be struck on behalf of the Zebulon Montgomery Pike Monument Association of Colorado. Proceeds from sales of the medals were to be used exclusively "to defray the expenses of construction and erection of a monument to said Pike and of the exercises in dedication thereof under the auspices of the said monument association." The Association made good on both accounts!Side Note: In a case of "You can't believe everything you read!" - the Associated Press circulated a news item in May 1906 about how the Senate had approved a bill for $100,000 worth of Pike memorial medallions. Of course, the value statement was completely erroneous; the bill the Senate passed called for 100,000 medallions without any attached condition/statement of value.
The Zebulon Pike bill was signed into law by US President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. on May 17, 1906.
Per Mint records, 6,500 bronze medals were produced, 4,450 silver were struck (3,450 of which were antiqued/oxidized) and 250 of the gold-plated bronze pieces were produced - 11,200 medals in total. An estimated 6,750 medals were sold or presented during the week-long Centennial Celebration with the balance placed in storage at a local bank and forgotten about for more than 40 years - but that's a story for another post.
I've elected to present my gold-plated bronze medal here; I also have the other varieties in my collection. I searched for a nice example of the gold-plated version of the medal for at least a decade and was happy to encounter this one! They're not easy to find! NGC
calls it a "65" - I call it gorgeous!1906 Zebulon Montgomery Pike Expedition Centennial Medal (HK-337)
For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, see: Commems Collection.