SOCIETY OF THE CINCINNATI BADGE: THE DELAWARE EAGLE

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Item Code: 30-2175

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Established in 1783, the Society of the Cincinnati was formed of American and French officers who had served in the American Revolution (with some limitations based on terms of service, etc.) Membership is hereditary and passed down to the eldest son or, if that line fails, to the claimant deemed “most worthy.” The organization named itself after the Roman politician and general Cincinnatus, supposedly given dictatorial powers that he laid down as soon as the crisis had passed, returning to a peaceful life on his farm. Parallels with Washington’s refusal to seize power at the end of the Revolution were overt. The stated goals of the Society were to preserve the liberties for which its members had fought, maintain friendships among officers, and to provide charitable assistance to members, but public suspicion of such an elite, hereditary group, arose from time to time. Some little motive in its founding might also have been to press for back pay from Congress.

Henry Knox originally envisioned a medal for Society members. This was transformed into something more of an “order,” with the French Order of St. Louis as an influence. The insignia ultimately adopted was based on a design by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who served in the Continental Army as an engineer, and is known for later laying out the city of Washington. The insignia has a number of variations. This one seems to be the “Delaware Eagle,” Number 68 in Myers’s compilation, based on a designed adopted by the Society’s Delaware chapter when it was revived in 1895. Manufactured for a while by Bailey, Banks and Biddle of Philadelphia, the manufacture was taken over by the A.M. Ross jewelry company of Jenkintown, PA, who we believe are the makers of this example. (Those made by the Parisian firm Arthus Bertrand, however, are very similar (Myers Number 40.) Ross was founded in 1955. Both firms are still in business.)

The eagle’s head is encircled by a wreath, which has a small twisted fastening loop at the top. The wreath has some touches of green. The eagle has white enamel on the head and feathers and bears a central oval medallion on obverse and reverse, both with white enamel borders with gold lettering and a central scene with a medium blue sky. The obverse medallion shows three senators handing a sword to Cincinnatus. Behind them is the plow he was using in his field when they arrived to summon him to duty. Around the perimeter of the medallion is, “OMNIA RELINQUIT SERVARE REMPUBLICAM” (“He leaves behind everything to save the Republic.” A few variations have the Latin in the past tense: “he left behind…” One French maker, apparently thinking one Latin motto as good as another, substituted “omnia vincit…”)

The reverse portrays Cincinnatus, victorious, having laid down his dictatorial powers, returning to his plow and farm. Overhead a cherub or angel blows a trumpet celebrating his victory, the sun rises, in the background are ships and buildings of a prosperous Republic and at bottom are two clasped hands symbolizing peace or fidelity. Around the perimeter is, “SOCIETAS CINCINNATORUM INSTITUTA A.D. 1783.”

Measuring about 1 ¾ inches by 1 3/8, the obverse is excellent, showing just a tiny chip to the white enamel of the lower central tail feather. The reverse shows a little rubbing to the green of the wreath just above the eagle’s left shoulder and a small bit of the white enamel missing from the bottom of the central feather, wear natural to the side of badge worn against the body. This is a very nice example of an insignia not made for collectors.

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