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Imitation George Washington peace medal / United States


An imitation George Washington peace medal. The front has a bust of President Washington and is inscribed with the words, “George Washington, the Father of our Country, 1789. The back is decorated with two hands shaking and the words, “Friendship,” and “The Pipe of Peace.” The medal is not made of silver like other presidential medals, and the art work is very rough when compared to other medals.

This medal provides a puzzle for modern coin/medal historians. This is not an official federal peace medals. Yet, they are well designed and well made. They are made of white medal, a tin alloy, rather than silver, copper or bronze.

Most likely they were made after 1875, although the medal is dated 1789. A possible explanation is that this medal was created by former Mint workers who then sold them to traders who exchanged them with Indians on the western Plains.

By the 1890s medals of this type are seen in photographs of chiefs and other men from tribes of the Plains, such as the Lakota, and Blackfeet, Cheyenne.

Silver peace medals were given to influential Native Americans as a symbol of friendship and allegiance with the United States government or foreign power. Medals were given on important occasions, like the signing of a treaty, and then only to very influential members of the tribe. The medals held even greater importance than normal during times of war or tension, particularly between the US and Great Britain. The countries would compete for the loyalty and friendship of the tribes, and a chief trading in British medal for a US one signified a change in loyalty (Prucha 2000, xiv). Gradually, the medals original meaning diminished, and they were given as rewards for good behavior. The practice was discontinued in the late 1800s.

Native Americans placed great significance on the peace medals and viewed them not only as a sign of friendship, but of power. A suggested reason for this is the connection they saw between these medals and the shell gorgets worn and decorated to represent power. The gorgets, which typically only chiefs and the elite would wear, held a supernatural power source. Images on a gorget gave the wearer the power of what the image represented. Similarly, to the Native Americans, the image displayed on the medal, the head of the president or king, gave the wearer the leader’s power (Reilly III 2011).

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Imitation George Washington peace medal
United States
circa 1900
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
6526.4; 65.4
Not On View

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