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Lee medal turns up after 70 years

From the lost-and-found files comes a unique Revolutionary War medal that has turned up in the collection of New Jersey’s Princeton University library.

The medal, authorized by the Continental Congress for Henry Lee (popularly known as Light-Horse Harry) for the Battle of Paulus Hook in 1779, will be put on public display for the first time on Nov. 13, along with other items from the University’s numismatic collection, including two pewter Continental dollars, large cents from 1793 and 1794, a silver dollar of 1794, the Thomas Jefferson inaugural medal of 1801 and an Indian Peace Medal of James Madison (Princeton class of 1771).

According to Curator of Numismatics Alan Stahl, the medal disappeared from view early in the 19th century and resurfaced in a numismatic auction in 1935, when the Friends of the Princeton University Library purchased it, suspended it with ribbon from a pin-back badge and presented it to the school in honor of Lee, a Princeton University alumnus of the class of 1774.

Hand-engraved on a silver disk about the size of a silver dollar, and encircled in a decorative holder, it substituted for a medal that was commissioned for Lee by the Continental Congress on Sept. 22, 1779.

Lee was to be given a gold medal for his heroism in the battle that captured a British encampment in what is now Jersey City. It was to be struck in Paris, but was never ordered. Lee appealed to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who directed the newly established Philadelphia Mint strike a replacement. The die broke.

The Princeton Lee medal is thought to be a substitute for the failed Philadelphia Mint medal. It bears the inscription, “To Henry Lee for Valour & Patriotism on the obverse and Washington & Independence 1775-1783” on the reverse.

The Princeton exhibition opens Nov. 13 in the Firestone Library’s main exhibit gallery and runs until April 23 on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays) and on weekends from noon to 5 p.m.
Admission is free.

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