Skip to content


The E-Sylum (11/3/2019)

Book Content

Last week John Sallay submitted this grisly award medal for reader assistance. -Editor

Headless soldier medal obverse Headless soldier medal reverse

ANA Edition Jeremy Schneider writes:

"Seeing the headless soldier medal, my first thought was French Revolution? Purely speculation, but based on the date, inscription, and clothing this would be my best guess."

Alan V Weinberg writes:

"Extraordinary graphics on John Sallay's unique hand-engraved medal. I've always had a collector's fondness for early, skillfully hand-engraved medals, each one by its nature unique.

"My perception of the image of the uniformed officer piggy-backing on a bloody headless victim: a comment on either the civilian victims of a warring military OR a comment on officers staying behind the lines in safety as the common soldiers bear the brunt of the war violence.

"In any case an image unlike any I've seen before except for the socially critical images found on select British Conder tokens."

John Lupia writes:

"John Sallay is amazing to have the wits to select this political medal during the heat of tensions between Germans, French, and the British. It seems reasonable and fair to say this is no academic award, at least no academy or school is known to have such issue or else it would have been readily recognized. So the next thought went to clubs like the Tuesday Club. This is where I believe this sort of ribald political joke makes its home.

"Antoine de Rivarol, Causes of the Universality of the French Language (1784) published this work receiving a medal, the Berlin Academy Prize. It was translated from the French in 1789. This work criticizes England, the English, and the English language. I suspect the headless figure to be Count de Rivarol, which the editor of The Monthly, January-April, 1790, page 278, footnote points out how the translator calls him Count de Rigmarole. When he was moved to the head of the class he apparently left it there."

Political satire is timeless, although the meaning can become lost on subsequent generations. John Lupia's suggestion is quite plausible. -Editor

John Sallay writes:

"I tracked down the article in The Monthly (January-April, 1790, pages 278-280) that John Lupia references. Both he and Alan Weinberg could be on to something, though satirizing not only the Count de Rivole, but also Prussian King Frederick the Second, and the French author of a biography of Frederick which had been translated into English in 1789.

"This article from The Monthly with the footnote (page 279) referring to the Count de Rivarole is a book review of a translation from the French of "The Life of Frederick the Second, King of Prussia" by J. Charles Laveaux (London, printed for J. Debrett, 1789). The review is extremely and satirically negative, sparing few opportunities to pillory both the French writer and the German King Frederick. The key passage from the review describing the King's cowardice, which Alan suggests, is:

"M. de Laveaux, among other absurdities which he has copied from that writer, presents us with the anecdote which speaks of his Majesty's terror at the beginning of the battle of Sorr, of his flying from it, and of his having concealed himself in a mill, at a considerable distance from the field of action. A very likely story! and which he has improved by the following witticism: 'Wits have repeated on this occasion, what was said of a French general, who had likewise hid himself in a mill during a battle in which his troops were victorious: He has covered himself with glory – and with flour *. (with the asterisk referring to the footnote that John identified).

"Pending another explanation, this does seem like a plausible explanation, or at least a solid lead. It doesn't clarify whether this medal might have been made for a school, social club, or other setting, but it certainly provides a line of attack for some further digging. Many thanks to both Alan and John for their insights."

Thanks, everyone - very interesting item! For some background on the above-mentioned Tuesday Club medal, see another article elsewhere in this issue. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

HLRC E-Sylum ad07 Bust Half Bonanza
NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.