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King Louis Philippe donative medal / French

Essay/Description

King Louis Phillippe I silver medal. The inscription on the front says, “Louis Phillippe I Roi des Français.” The back says, “Donne Par Le Roi A-wun-ne-wa-he 1845.”

This type of medal struck during the reign of Louis Philippe is called a “donative” medal; there is blank space on the reverse for an inscription made for specific recipients.

These two examples were given to the Ojibwa Indians who accompanied George Catlin on his French tour in 1845. In the 1840s, the exotic American West was new and exciting to European audiences. The live Indians were more popular than Mr. Catlin’s paintings.

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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Title(s): 
King Louis Philippe donative medal
Culture: 
French
Date: 
1845
Period: 
Historic
Place: 
France
Materials/Techniques: 
silver
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
65.58
Department: 
On View

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