This medal is both rare and beautiful. It is a silver “Wilson Dollar”. It commemorates the opening of the US mint in Manila on July 16, 1920. Manila was the only overseas US mint, and it produced many of the US Philippine coins.
On the obverse of the medal is a bust of President Woodrow Wilson facing to the left. This is a slightly abbreviated version of the bust that was used on Wilson’s 1917 Inauguration Medal and the 1920 Assay Commission Medal. Woodie is shown wearing a suit and tie, with wire rimmed spectacles. He looks quite contemporary, and could easily pass for a modern bank manager or CEO. The inscription reads “President of the United States”.
On the reverse is an allegorical representation of the minting process. This pattern is almost identical to the Assay Commission Medals issued from 1880-1890 (just reversed). The Roman goddess of minting is shown helping a young boy pour planchets into a coin press from a cornucopia. Juno Moneta holds scales in her right hand (which reaches up into the legend) and has her left hand on the youth’s shoulder. Because of the scales, Juno is often mistaken for Justice (as Hibler and Kappen did when describing her). She is shown wearing a very modest toga, while the youth is nude. The legend reads “To Commemorate The Opening Of The Mint * Manila P.I. 1920”.
Identification code: HK-449
Mint Mark: None (Manila Mint)
Mintage: 2,200 (~37.26% of the total minted)
Country of origin: United States (US Philippine Territory)
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
Size: 38 mm
Weight: 27.22 grams (0.87514332 oz ASW)
Other details: The medals were struck at the Manila mint under the direction of Clifford Hewitt. The dies were designed by George Morgan, and his initial is on both the obverse and reverse, on Wilson’s breast and above Justice’s sandal (a microscopic “M”). The reverse is similar to the obverse of the Panama Pacific Expo half dollar (which was designed by Morgan’s rival, Barber).The medal was struck in copper (HK450), silver (HK449), and gold (HK1031). Good luck finding one of the gold ones – the last one that sold at auction went for $74,750 in July of 2008.
3,700 Copper and 2,200 Silver pieces were struck and sold to the public for $0.50 and $1, respectively. If I get my hands on a time machine, you can bet that I will pay 1920 a visit.
The gold piece is vanishingly rare – only 5 were reported struck.. One gold medal was presented to President Woodrow Wilson and one to the U.S. Secretary of War, the other three were lost when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. There seem to be 3 distinct examples that have sold in auction (possibly all 3 that were missing when the HK catalog was published). One has a mount that was removed, one is in MS-61, and one is in MS-62.
The copper and silver medals also disappeared in great numbers during the war. Many were dumped in the ocean when Corregidor fell – virtually every bank vault and safety deposit box in the islands had been evacuated there as the Japanese approached. Before the fortress surrendered, boats spent nearly 2 days dumping valuables in deep water to delay Japanese salvage operations. That means that several tons of coins, metal, and jewelry were dumped – some are still there to this day. While many of the dumped coins and medals have been recovered, they are often severely damaged by salt corrosion (this medal has no damage from ocean water).
Estimated value: $800-950 in MS-61 (slabbed by NGC)