Waterloo Medal by Benedetto Pistrucci
The famous Waterloo medal by Benedetto Pistrucci is celebrated not only for its mammoth dimensions (140.8 mm, 677.5 gm), stunning beauty, and historical significance, but also for the colorful story surrounding its production. The Battle of Waterloo, perhaps one of the most important single-day battles in history, was fought on June 18, 1815, near Brussels.
Approximately 50,000 souls were lost on that fateful day. British and Prussian allied forces defeated Napoleon, thus ending over a decade of the bloody Napoleonic Wars in Europe. To immortalize the successful military campaign, the Duke of Wellington suggested that a couple of special medals be prepared.
From a July 11, 1815, letter from Master of the Mint W.W. Pole to the president of the Royal Academy:
“I have been commanded to strike two Medals at the Royal Mint in commemoration of the battles of Les Quatre Bras and Waterloo; One, in gold, of the largest size, to embrace the exploits of the allied army under the Duke of Wellington the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Brunswick, and of the Prussian Army under Field Marshal Blucher. This Medal will probably be given to each of the sovereigns in alliance with the Prince Regent, to their ministers and generals.”
Medallists were petitioned to submit designs for the medal. Pistrucci’s design was selected over a design by John Flaxman, which had been recommended by the Royal Academy. However, due to an internal strife at the Royal Mint between Pistrucci, Pole, and Wyon regarding the position of chief engraver, work on the medal got off to a slow start. Ongoing personality conflicts within the Royal Mint, salary disputes, a heavy workload, and the utter complexities of the proposed design were all contributing factors as to why it took Pistrucci 33 years to complete his masterpiece.
In 1849 the dies were reportedly finished, but only in terms of design execution. Although the dies were created in four pieces to assist in their hardening, it seems that nobody was willing to take the risk of damaging Pistrucci’s work that was three decades in the making. Unfortunately, by this time all of the intended recipients of the medal were deceased, with the exception of Wellington. Gutta-percha impressions and electrotypes were finally created, the current lot being one of the rare original electrotypes. Pistrucci was finally able to see his magnum opus in medal form. He died a few years later, in 1855.
The Duke of Wellington and Prussian commander Gebhard von Blücher were the allied leaders of the battle, and they are featured on the reverse of this medal. The obverse features Prince Regent George of Britain (later King George IV), Emperor Franz I of Austria, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, and Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III, all facing left.
Two allegorical scenes are used on this medal: one of war and one of peace. Amazingly, the Battle of Waterloo story is told in great detail strictly through Pistrucci’s elaborate imagery, as not a single legend was utilized. The current example is in a splendid state of preservation, with no flaws worthy of mention. Light brown centers are framed by slightly darker peripheries and the effect is aesthetically pleasing.
This medal will be offered as a part of Heritage’s upcoming Tokens & Medals auction, September 17 and 18, in Long Beach, CA.
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