NGC Certifies Carnegie Hero Fund Medal

Graded NGC MS 65, it is the first Carnegie Medal ever certified by NGC.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission (CHCF) was created by Andrew Carnegie on April 15th, 1904, to honor those “who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.” Those honored by the commission receive a medal that features a striking bust of Carnegie on the obverse and their name engraved prominently on the reverse.

1904 Carnegie Silver Hero Medal Awarded Posthumously to Ivah J. Coles
obverse (left) and reverse (right)
Click images to enlarge.

Only 617 of these Carnegie Silver Medals have been bestowed, including one to Ivah J. Coles, who lost his life trying to save his drowning friend. The medal honoring Coles recently surfaced in an unusual place and was subsequently certified by NGC. Graded NGC MS 65, it is the first Carnegie Medal ever certified by NGC. On June 8, 1904 Ivah J. Coles, a 21 year old man from East St. Louis, and his friend Richard Crumwell decided to go for a swim in a reservoir near Gillespie, IL. What was meant to be a fun outing turned tragic however, when Crumwell fell from a steep embankment and sank below the surface. His friend waded in to save him, but unfortunately he too would succumb to the chilly water. According to a Pittsburgh Daily Post article from May 21, 1908, “Coles had comparatively little knowledge of swimming” which makes his attempt to save his friend all the more brave.

Close up of the 1904 Carnegie Silver Hero Medal Awarded Posthumously to Ivah J. Coles
obverse (left) and reverse (right)
Click images to enlarge.

Recently however, the medal resurfaced in the unlikeliest of places: eBay. It was put on sale by a jeweler in O’Fallon, Missouri; only some 40 or so miles away from East St. Louis. Clearly, at some point the historical significance of the piece had been lost and it was sold for its silver content. Luckily, the medal was saved when it was purchased by Matthew Campbell, a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN). Campbell visited the Hero Fund’s offices in nearby Pittsburgh to learn the intriguing story behind the medal.

Campbell was moved by the narrative and sought more information on the man behind the medal. He contacted the Macoupin County Historical Society (MCHS) for assistance in his research. Surprisingly, the society was actually able to locate Coles’ grave, which it turned out had no headstone. This led PAN, MCHS, Campbell and others to launch a fundraising campaign to install a memorial plaque and “Carnegie Hero” grave marker there.

Thanks to their efforts, which all started with Campbell’s purchase of this medal on eBay, the memorial plaque and grave marker will be installed on August 24, 2016—112 years after Coles sacrificed his life to try to save his friend.

Sources:

1. http://www.carnegiehero.org/auction/
2. Pittsburgh Daily Post, Thursday, May 21, 1908
3. http://www.themedalcollector.com/uploads/Medals_of_the_Carnegie_Hero_Fund_Commission.pdf




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