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1867 Canada Confederation Medal in Bronze, LeRoux-1185, Breton-90, Presented to J.G. Hodgins With Original Box.

1867 Canada Confederation Medal in Bronze, LeRoux-1185, Breton-90, Presented to J.G. Hodgins With Original Box.


Bronze. 76mm. The argument could be made that no other numismatic item is more connected to the founding of this country than the 1867 Confederation medal.

The medal was the idea of Sir John A. MacDonald, first Prime Minister of Canada, who thought it appropriate to have a medal struck to commemorate the establishment of the Dominion of Canada. MacDonald made arrangements for J.S. and A.B. Wyon, Chief Engravers of Her Majesty’s Seal, to design and produce the medal some time before June 3, 1868. The Wyons were paid $2,000 to strike one example in gold for Queen Victoria, fifty in silver, and 500 pieces in bronze. 

The obverse features a portrait of Victoria facing left, crowned with a scarf draped from the diadem down to her shoulders. A legend around reads VICTORIA D : G : BRITT : REG : F : D :  with the design’s name J.S. WYON SC below the bust. The reverse displays Britannia and a lion, representing England, at left, with a scroll in Britannia’s left hand that reads CONFEDERATION. Allegorical figures of the four provinces appear at left. A female representing Ontario appears at the top, holding a sickle and wheat sheaf. Below her is Quebec holding a canoe paddle and identified by a fleur-de-lis on the shoulder. Nova Scotia follows, holding a shovel for mining, as does New Brunswick with an axe for forestry. JUVENTAS ET PATRIUS VIGOR and CANADA INSTAURATA 1867 appear around the border, meaning “Youth and Patriotic Strength” and “Canada Instituted 1867.” Both designers’ initial are under the foot.

The medals were struck expressly to honour those involved in the process of Confederation, and later, those who served publicly in various capacities. Some collectors, like Gerald E. Hart, made requests to acquire the medal for their collections, but this was impossible. Recipients were awarded solely for merit. 

Meticulous records were kept for each recipient. The Governor General approved the first list in November 1869. For example, recipients of the silver medal included each of the 16 members of the conference held in London in 1866-67 discussing the conditions of Confederation, the four members of the first federal government who did not participate in that conference, H.R.H The Prince of Wales, Sir George Brown, and other dignitaries. The first list also asserted who should receive a copy of the bronze medal, like each of the 181 members of the House of Commons, the 72 members of the Senate, members of the Quebec and Charlottetown conferences, and 69 educational institutions across the four provinces.

Once all this was settled, it remained up to the Department of the Secretary of State to distribute the remaining medals. The first medal awarded during this second round was to the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal on December 7, 1869. Medals continued to be awarded periodically through the mid-1890s. As of 1937, 22 examples remained on hand, one of which was presented to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Unfortunately, the provenance for most medals available today is unknown. Over the years, as pieces are bought and sold, their original recipients are usually forgotten, the information not getting passed along from one owner to the next. This example is a rare exception.

It was given to Dr. John George Hodgins (1821-1912). Hodgins immigrated to Upper Canada from Ireland in 1832 or 1833 and was educated at Upper Canada Academy and at Victoria College, Cobourg. He served at the Department of Education for Upper Canada from 1844 and was Deputy Minister of Ontario from 1876 to 1889. From then until his death in 1912, Hodgins was librarian and historiographer to the department. For more on J.G. Hodgins, please see The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Hodgins was awarded the Confederation medal on December 17, 1885. Other recipients that day were the Honourable Chief Justice J.H. Hagarty, who helped swear in the first Governor General and the Honourable Gideon Ouimet, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Quebec. 

Hodgins’ medal is inscribed on the edge: PRESENTED TO DR. J.G. HODGINS BY GOV. GEN. (Ld. LANDSDOWNE) IN APPRECIATION OF HIS SERVICES AS A PUBLIC OFFICER & A MAN OF LETTERS. 1885. As far as we can tell, this is very possibly the only Confederation medal known with such an inscription. 

We are aware of an 1886 letter from the Reverend Henry Scadding, the prominent 19th century Toronto historian, which reads, in part: 

“I was taken greatly by surprise in November last by being made the recipient (by post) of one of the large bronze Confederation medals, with an official letter accompanying it, from the Under Sect. of State, informing me that it was sent to me by direction of ‘His Excellency in Council,’ in recognition of ‘public useful labours as a man of letters.’”

There is no proof that Henry Scadding’s medal was similarly inscribed, but his letter illuminates how these medals would have been presented – by mail with an accompanying letter from the Governor General. The wording of the Scadding letter, “public useful labours as a man of letters,” is similar the inscription on the Hodgins medal, though it is not exactly the same. It may be that Hodgins’ medal was presented with an inscription, but he may have had it inscribed privately for posterity.

The Hodgins Confederation medal is fully struck with glossy bronze and golden-brown surfaces that include glints of iridescent blue, peach-orange, and violet patina. There are a few small hits in the lower-right obverse field and a couple of unimportant edge nicks. The edge inscription remains strong. An original Wyon box is included. The hinge is in perfect working order, though there is some minor roughness along the edges.

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