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Boulton & Watt Family Death Medals

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collection of Bill McKivor,

The Matthew Boulton commemorative death medals were published ten years after his death in 1809. His son, Matthew Robinson Boulton, ran into a large number of problems, including the death of the first chosen engraver, and various production woes. He did not find a satisfactory reverse until 1818.  These medals were made for sale to the public, bearing a plain edge. A small number were made with a lettered edge reading "Patris Amicus MRB" and dated 1819 in roman numerals. Translated, it meant "For my father's Friends, Matthew Robinson Boulton, 1819".

The reverse of this medal reads "Inventas Avt Qui Vitum Excolvere per Artis", a quote from book six of Virgil's Aeneid -- translated as "those who have enriched life by discovering arts".

His friends received copper medals with the lettered edge, and encased in a copper presentation shell, or box, as it is often called. The shells were silvered on the inside, and left in natural copper on the outside.

Both the Boulton and Watt families received a silver medal, gilt in gold, and a bronze medal, gilt in gold. These were in gold-gilt shells, with both the inside and outside of the shells fully gilt. They also each received copper medals, with shells that had been gilt in gold on the interior surfaces only. Many of these medals are in my collection, and pictured below. All have the lettered edge. The engraver was Pidgeon, after Rouw. They are all 63mm.

Photography by Eric Holcomb
click on photos to enlarge

The Matthew Boulton commemorative death medal pictured above has an uncertain meaning. That it was in the group of medals, tokens, and coin put up for sale is a certainty, and close scrutiny of the shell in the center photo seems to be the reason it was held by the son, Matthew Robinson Boulton.  All of the other copies of this medal held by the families have been in gold-gilt shells, save two. This one is in a copper coating, and is unique in that respect to any others seen. As well, the engraved shell, with "S No. 1"  most likely means that it was the first striking of the medal, and saved by M. R. Boulton for that reason. It has also been handled more than some of the others, adding to my belief that it is truly "Specimen No. 1". This particular medal was sold by Boulton agent Tim Millett to Michael Finlay, from whom I purchased it in December 2003. -- Ex Boulton Family holdings.

The Matthew Boulton commemorative death medals pictured above are special, indeed. They were given to the family of James Watt and to James Watt Junior. They are known to have been on display at Aston Hall, and were transferred to Doldowlod, the family home in Wales, where they were displayed until just recently.

At one time an inventory of the medals held by the Watt family incorrectly listed these medals as Gold. The shells are gilt in gold on both the inside and the outside, and each medal is gilt as well.  The medal in the left two pictures is one of a very few struck in silver, whereas the medal pictured on the right is gilt Bronze. The silver has leeched through the gilding over the years, but the bronze medal remains as struck. Both pieces were in the Sotheby's sale of James Watt's personal items, London, 20 March 2003, lots 41 and 42, and later in the Morton and Eden sale of November 13, 2003, lots 502 and 503. They were obtained from Morton and Eden at that time. -- Ex James Watt family holdings.

It might be interesting to note the small "nick" on the reverse rims of each medal. As they were listed as gold in the Watt family inventory, they were eventually sent by Sotheby's to Goldsmith's Hall, where they were tested. Instead of using a non-invasive method, they used the old fashioned "nick the rim" method -- It has to be looked at as just one more bit of the history of these pieces, for good or ill --

Matthew Boulton Death Medal Commemorative, 1819. By Pidgeon after Rouw.  63mm. Published by Matthew Robinson Boulton on the death of his father. Lettered edge, Patris Amicus M.R.B., and dated 1819. (Dedicated to my father's friends, Matthew Robinson Boulton, 1819).

These medals are two of six known with shells of issue having a gold gilt interior. One was given to James Watt, one to James Watt Jr, and four retained by M. R. Boulton, for himself and for each member of his family. These were in gilt shells, one with a paper wrapper with "Matthew Boulton" hand written.

Two of the medals held by Matthew Robinson Boulton are pictured above. The medal on the left was purchased from the Boulton's agent Tim Millett in October 2002, the medal on the right in October 2003. Ex Matthew Boulton family holdings. Two more were located in the summer of 2004, both part of the Boulton holdings, and are pictured below. All four that were released by the Boulton family are in the collection.

Matthew Boulton Death Medal Commemorative, 1819. By Pidgeon after Rouw.  63mm. Published by Matthew Robinson Boulton on the death of his father. Lettered edge. This medal is one of six known with shells of issue having a gold gilt interior.

This medal was one of two given to the James Watt family -- one to James Watt and one to his son, James Watt Jr. As they were offered together at auction, with no notations, the above medal could have been the one presented by M. R. Boulton to either person. Suffice it to say it was presented by Boulton to the James Watt Family. Lot #267, Morton and Eden sale, 13 November 2002. Ex James Watt Family.

Matthew Boulton Death Medal Commemorative, 1819. By Pidgeon after Rouw. 63mm.  Published by Matthew Robinson Boulton on the death of his father. Lettered edge. This medal is one of a small number with silvered interior to the shells, and were for presentation to his father's friends. This medal EX Matthew Robinson Boulton holdings.

55mm finished medals. Presently considered unique.

Matthew Boulton Death Medal Commemorative, 55mm. By Pidgeon, after Rouw.
The reverse of this medal is essentially the same as the 63mm production medals. The obverse is quite different. Instead of "Matthew Boulton" above the bust, it has "Boulton" vertically to the left of the bust, and his birth and death dates below the bust. It is surmised that these finished medals were rejected by M. R. Boulton, but kept by him.
At present, two are known. Both of them are pictured here. Both are in paper boxes, with "M. Boulton" written on the lids. As it is known that Boulton did not approve of a reverse design until 1817, these medals and boxes most likely were made in that year or the next. EX: Matthew Robinson Boulton holdings.

These three 40mm copper medals, dated 1809, were struck and passed out to Soho mint workers and other friends who were in attendance at Matthew Boulton's funeral. The mint report lists 530 struck. Two of these are original strikes. The final medal, with the presentation shells, is a later striking, with a new or re-worked reverse die. Close inspection of the photo with the three medals will reveal some differences in the letter "Q" -- the originals have the tail coming from the bottom of the letter, the later strike (leaning on the paper wrapper) has the tail of the Q originating inside the letter. EX: James Watt Jr. holdings. Morton & Eden, 14 Nov 2002, Lot 257.

James Watt commemorative death medal. Bust of James Watt/Steam engine.  This 45mm medal is in copper, by G., Mills. BHM 983. Not a Soho product, but extremely interesting considering that the medal pictured was held in the personal collection of the son, James Watt Jr., in memory of his father.
Ex James Watt Jr. collection. Morton and Eden, Nov 2002, Lot 270.

In 1809, when Matthew Boulton passed away, the Funeral Medalets (Obsequies, above) and this medal were the only two produced by the Soho mint. So far, none of these have surfaced for sale from the Boulton or the Watt families. The photos at left and in the middle are of the copper example by Kuchler, done in 1809. Of average scarcity, it was purchased at the London Coin-Ex from Howard and Frances Simmons in 2004. The photo on the far right is of the reverse of a white metal example purchased in London in 2004. This medal is not listed in the catalogues as existing in white metal.

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