Treasures: Medal is from 1800s British ‘friendly society’


Dear Helaine and Joe:

This is a presentation medal from the Ancient Order of Foresters. I have read these are rare, and some were made entirely of silver while some were gold-gilded – and some of the inserts were solid gold. I don’t want to test this piece for metal content because I don’t want to damage it. Are you able to shed some light on this?

Thank you,

D. M.

Dear D. M.:

This sort of piece is terra incognito to us, but the inscription on the back and the mark help a great deal.

The inscription reads (as best we can determine), “Presented to Bro. John Phillips PCR By Court 718 A. O. F. for Valuable Services June 14, 1870.” Also on the back is a mark used by the silversmith who made the piece. The “Lion Passant” signifies the object is sterling silver (i.e. 92.5% pure silver), while the leopard’s head indicates the medal was made in London.

The last mark is the bust of Queen Victoria, and the funny-looking mark that looks like a malformed “D” is really a curiously formed kind of Gothic “O,” which is the date letter used by London silversmiths in 1869-70. The maker’s initials “EL” were hard to track down, but one A. O. F. source says medals such as this were ordered from an Ezekiel Loewenstark. That is all we know about the maker, except that his “EL” mark was first registered in June 1850, and he was working as late as 1875.

Like D. M. we also found the reference to some of these being made from solid gold of various purities. The reference is maddeningly vague, and we looked at a number of similar medals and their center medallions were always gilt silver. This portion of the medal was originally covered with glass (similar to a watch crystal), and we believe this was to protect the gilding from wear, which would have exposed the silver underneath.

The Ancient Order of Foresters was founded in August 1834 as a British “friendly society.” It is said they evolved from 300 branches of the Royal Foresters Society, which was founded in the early 18th century. Each separate unit was called a “court,” and the head of the local organization was the “Chief Ranger,” who was sometimes referred to as “Robin Hood.”

In an A.O.F. initiation ceremony we found, the “court” is referred to as “Sherwood Forest,” and references were made to “Will Scarlet,” “Little John” and “Friar Tuck.” The initiation ritual seemed to our outsider ears to be a bit adolescent, but the work the A.O.F. did (and does) for its members in providing insurance for families and financial support is laudatory.

This particular medal is for Past Chief Ranger John Phillips, but unless this is the famous, ground-breaking geologist John Phillips (1800-1874, pardon the pun), this does not increase the value. The ribbon we see attached is not the original, which was red with two green stripes and a gold one in the center, plus various embossed designs in gold. Medals such as this one sell for about $100 at auction and should retail in the $175 to $200 range. Oh, it is OK to polish the rays of the star and the reverse side – just don’t touch the central medallion.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at [email protected]. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.

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