The Jernegan Cistern Medal and the Imagined Carolina Connection

The Jernegan Cistern Medal and the Imagined Carolina Connection

In 1735 Henry Jernegan, a London goldsmith, completed work on the finest wine cistern known to the world up to that time. The dimensions were impressive at over five feet in length, weighing just over 500 pounds and manufactured of .9584 fine silver (to the Britannia Standard, as opposed to the inferior .925 Sterling fineness) The feet of the cistern were composed of a pair of leopards couchant, while the body of the vessel was ornate paying homage to the Roman Bacchanalia in repousse form. An alternate scene depicted carriages pulled by leopards while vines and grapes adorned the edge.

The labor to produce the piece consumed thousands of pounds in workmanship alone, never minding the intrinsic costs of the metal. How was Jernegan to price such a great creation?

The decision was made the next year to offer the one of a kind cistern by lottery. 30,000 medals would be produced in gold, silver and copper and these would act as each participant’s “ticket” for the prized cistern. On one side of the medal, BOTH HANDS FILL’D FOR BRITAIN, and a content Britannia standing holding both a spear and palm over trophies of war with the words GEORGE REIGNING in the exergue. The opposing side, GROWING ARTS ADORN EMPIRE, above Britannia watering a garden of palmettos, with CAROLINE PROTECTING, 1736 to fill the exergue. “Caroline” serving as an obvious reference to the 1663 land charter of Carolina, so named under the reign of Charles II (Carolus).

These medals, measuring in at 39mm in diameter and catalogued as Betts-169, have always been popular with collectors and somewhere along the way picked up the moniker as ‘The Carolina Medal.’ Keep in mind that just seven years prior to the production of these medals the two Carolinas had been divided North and South, as two separate Royal Colonies. The palmettos depicted on the medal seem to suggest South Carolina (at least to this writer) but there was an entry in a catalogue by early coin and medal dealer W. Elliot Woodward in the 1860s that placed this medal forever into North Carolina numismatic lore. Woodward (incorrectly) cited that these medals were “authorized by the legislature of North Carolina.” This surely did much to intensify the claim that this was, in fact, The Carolina Medal.

The cistern itself was lost for a period of time, only to resurface again with a wealthy St. Petersburg (Russia) family. The medals have always been available, for a price, and today they remain an inexpensive way for a collector to own an example of the original Carolina Medal (even if that connection is a bit of a stretch!)

— Greg Capps


Kagin’s Auction, October 1983.

Rulau, Russell. United States Tokens from 1700 – 1900, 3rd edition. Krause Publications, 1999.

Photos Courtesy of Northeast Numismatics Inc. with permission.

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