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The E-Sylum (5/16/2010)

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Alan V. Weinberg writes:

The massive Michael Mercator silver engraved medal depicting Sir Francis Drake's world circumnavigation is one of the premier medals in the world. I distinctly recall reading a pictorial article in a 1960's Coin World announcing its auction sale in London for then $50,000 US. I always wondered where it went. Now I know. England's Greenwich Maritime Museum. It is a million dollar medal today.

Drake's voyage medal

The medal illustrated last week's Featured Web Site article. Here is some more information from the National Maritime Museum site. -Editor

Medal commemorating Sir Francis Drake's voyage, 1577-1580. 'TROPICVS' type. On a silver plate, on one side the eastern hemisphere and on the other the western, showing the track of Drake's voyage. Nine examples of this commemorative medallion are known. One of the nine, formerly in the collection of the Earl of Caledon, has a cartouche identifying the maker as Michael Mercator, grandson of the Dutch cartographer, Gerard Mercator the elder. It indicates that the medallion was sold in London in 1589. There is some evidence that they were cast from an engraved original. Drake's route is indicated by a dotted line with tiny ships. The date of his landing on the Californian coast is given incorrectly as 1580 instead of 1579.

To read the medal's online collection entry, see: Medal commemorating Drake's voyage, 1577-1580 (MEC0004) (

The museum has TWO of the 1589 Mercator medals, and a couple 20th-century reproductions. The catalogue entry indicates that nine examples are known - perhaps the one sold in the 1960s went elsewhere. I asked Alan Weinberg, and his comments are below. -Editor

Alan V. Weinberg adds:

I recall a while ago I saw a claim in print that a Museum claimed nine are known. Quite impossible. I've seriously collected medals for over 40 years, receiving many European sales catalogues in that period and no original silver engraved Mercator medals have ever appeared at auction in my lifetime, to my knowledge, aside from the piece that sold for $50 grand back in probably the late 60's.

The medal is intricately and minutely hand engraved with countries and continents' names and other minute details - painstakingly engraved. It is so unlikely the engraver made more than one - let alone nine still extant- and each medal would by its very nature be dramatically different and unique in its engraving.

However, I have seen one or two later engraved silver copies of the Mercator (I owned one decades ago) and presumably, if any are in the British Museum (likely), there were electrotypes made as the BM often did. But nine originals - even half that known - strains credibility.

I know who might know if there is more than one over in Europe - the much traveled medal connoisseur Dick Margolis who receives The E-Sylum.

Examples of an important medal that's been around since 1589 could well end up impounded in museum collections, rarely appearing on the market. It would be interesting to earn the details behind that claim of nine, such as whether that number includes electrotypes, copies, and not just originals. Could the museum note be correct - could several have been cast from an engraved original?

When I was living in London in 2007, E-Sylum readers Phil and Harry Mernick treated me to a wonderful day of sightseeing which included the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. I highly recommend these sights to visitors. Check out my London diary for some interesting "secret" passageways most tourists miss. -Editor

To read the diary of my visit to Greenwich, see: WAYNE'S LONDON DIARY 1-2 SEPTEMBER, 2007 (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: FEATURED WEB SITE: NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM (

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