20 March 2019
A unique collection of medals containing over 120 different varieties including an unpublished example showing the Capture of Portobello is to be auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb in April.
The ‘Merchant of the Islands’ Collection of Admiral Vernon medals is one of the largest ever put together.
One extremely fine and rare medal in the auction (pictured top) depicts the Capture of Portobello and dates from 1739. It is made of a pinchbeck metal (a form of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, mixed in proportions so that it closely resembles gold in appearance) and it is unsigned. It depicts the motto 'brave Vernon made us free' and also features a half-length figure of Vernon holding a baton with a cannon and arms in front of him. The reverse shows ships entering Portobello harbour.
Also included in the sale is an extremely fine copper version depicting the Capture of Fort Chagre, dating from 1740, which is expected to fetch £400-500. It shows a three-quarter length figure of Vernon facing to the left, and Fort Chagre and ship to right, while on the reverse are six ships outside Portobello harbour.
Admiral Edward Vernon
Tim Wilkes, Specialist in the Coin department at Dix Noonan Webb, explains the context of the collection: “Admiral Edward Vernon was a British naval commander during the War of Jenkins’ Ear between England and Spain. In 1739 he captured the Spanish port of Portobello (now in Panama) with only six ships. This feat made him a popular hero in England and the American colonies, and many medals were struck to commemorate it; in fact more different medals were struck of him than of any other 18th century Englishman.
"The majority of the medals commemorate Portobello, while others mark later actions at Fort Chagre and Cartagena; the latter was portrayed on the medals as an English victory despite the fact that in reality the opposite was true. Portobello and Vernon became widely used for place names - for example Portobello Road in London and George Washington’s estate Mount Vernon in Virginia. What makes this particular medal unique is the cannon and arms in front of Vernon on the obverse.”