Skip to main content

Fate and the Death Medal

As collectors we all make mistakes. We didn’t buy something that we should have or we sold something we shouldn’t have. Once in a while however no matter how hard we try not to, we have to do the right thing even if we don’t know why at the time. Case in point is this Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm III death medal of 1840. As a rule I do not collect death medals. Even thirty plus years ago I was a known collector of German medals. One of my friends was a wandering antique dealer. He and his wife would go to estate sales and the like buying up anything that looked interesting and then in the winter head south and do the antique show and flea market circles. He never had a store but was a silent partner in a coin shop which is how I met him. Years ago we had an antique show here in Iola during our huge annual old car show. One year my friend showed up at the office to let me know that he would be set up at the show and had a medal that he just knew I had to have. I really didn’t want it. It was the death medal mentioned above. It was a large silver medal with a nice royal portrait but the portrait was common and easily found on coins so in my mind I really didn’t need it but I bought it anyway so as not to disappoint my friend who thought he was really doing me a favor. As it turns out he really was but I just didn’t know it at the time. I buried the medal in what I labeled my retirement fund and forgot about it for decades. Now that I am retired it is time to narrow the scope of my holdings and one of the medals I decided to dispose of was the death medal. What could it be worth? I spent about an hour or two paging through some old German auction catalogs and finally found the medal listed. The price estimate was not too high but the description really opened eyes. According to the Numismatik Lanz Munich, auction 23 catalog, lot 469 this medal was given to the members FW III’s Garde du Korps (the king’s personal body guard unit) on his death! This is a truly rare and historically significant non-portable military medal. Just how rare would depend on how many men were in that unit. With a little research I found that the unit was the first company of a Kuerassierregiment. The regiment was divided into 5 squadrons each of which consisted of two companies. The first company of the first squadron was the “Liebkompanie” or life guard unit. I don’t know how many men were in the unit back in 1840 but in 1917 one squadron was 4 officers and 163 other ranks so we can guess that about one half that number or 85 of these medals were handed out. I guess fate was kind to me both long ago and now again.