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The Ties That Bind: George Peabody Opened Gift from U.S. on Christmas Day, 1868

George Peabody was in London on Dec. 25, 1868 when he first saw the gold medal presented to him by the U.S. Congress for his $2 million gift to establish the Peabody Education Fund in 1867.

George Peabody opened the package “before gathered friends (including Massachusetts statesman Charles Sumner) who admired the delicate workmanship and sent it for permanent display to the Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, Mass.”

The Peabody Press on February 3, 1869 reported: “The President (Andrew Johnson) sent to Congress lately a correspondence between Secretary (William H.) Seward and George Peabody, relative to a gold medal presented to him by order of Congress in consideration for his munificent donation for the promotion of education in the Southern States.

“Mr. P says, 'Cherishing as I do the most sincere affection for my country, it is not possible for me to feel more grateful than I do for this previous memorial of its regard, coming as it does from thirty millions of American citizens through their representatives in Congress with a full accord and co-operation of the President. This medal, together with the rich illuminated transcript of Congressional resolutions, I shall shortly deposit in the Peabody Institute at the place of my birth in apartments especially constructed for their safe-keeping, along with the public testimonials with which I have been honored. There, I trust, it will remain for generations to attest the generous munificence of the American people in recognizing the efforts, however inadequate, of one of the humblest of their fellow countrymen to promote the enlightenment and prosperity of his native land.'”

The Danvers Monitor on June 16, 1869 described the medal“One of the most exquisite works of art ever produced in America, and which, both in design and workmanship, connoisseurs declare to be equal to anything of the kind ever made by European goldsmiths, is the Peabody medal, now on exhibition in the Peabody Institute, and which was brought here by the Committee who went to New York to welcome Mr. Peabody on his arrival.

"This medal has been made by order of Congress as a testimonial to Mr. Peabody, that the people of the United States fully appreciate his noble-hearted munificence in giving a liberal fund for the education of the poorer classes in the South and Southwest (the Peabody Education Fund), and consists of a massive gold plinth resting on a pedestal of velvet, which in turn is supported by another of ebony. On the center of this plinth, which is about six inches long and three inches wide, rests, on its edge, the medal, which about three inches in diameter, and half an inch thick, the Gold Medal presented by U.S. Congress.

"On the front of the medal is carved in basso-relievo, an excellent profile of Mr. Peabody. At the right of it stands a statuette, representing Benevolence with her right arm resting on the top of it, and holding in her hand a laurel branch which she appears about presenting to Mr. Peabody, while on the left is a clump of palmetto trees entwined with Northern ivy, representing the mutual dependence of the two sections of the country, and the kind feeling which Mr. Peabody's generous gifts tend to restore between them.

"In front of the trees are two little boys, one white and the other colored, in very graceful attitudes. The first is leaning forward, and seems to be rapt in admiration as he gazes at the portrait, while the other is rising from the dust, and with a look of pleasure and surprise, points towards himself, as if asking if he really is to have  a part in the education offered. The figures, the trees, their leaves, and the ivy, are most delicately wrought. On the front of the plinth is the United States shield, the stars and stripes being composed of enamel. On either side of the shield are the words:

            EDUCATION                            BENEVOLENCE

"On the other side of the medal, are inscribed the words:

"THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES TO GEORGE PEABODY IN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF HIS BENEFICIENT PROMOTION OF UNIVERSAL EDUCATION.

"Scattered about the top of the plinth are some of the emblems of education, such as movable globe, square, compass, map of the United States, Bible, etc. The whole is accompanied by a rich casket of ebony and birds-eye maple. The gold weighs 30 ounces, the whole has been wrought by hand, and the entire cost is $7,000. The media accompanied by a beautiful copy of the resolution passed by Congress.”

Peabody’s medal is routinely on display at the Peabody Institute, alongside the portrait of Queen Victoria on porcelain requisitioned by the queen herself as a gift to George Peabody.

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