Colonial Williamsburg has acquired a rare and iconic Danish abolitionist medal that commemorates a royal edict to end the slave trade.
The bronze medal was struck in 1792 and is one of only a handful known to exist, according to a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation press release. Two of the medals are in Danish museums and the others are in private collections.
The coin depicts a man’s head, which is believed to be the oldest Danish portrait of an African. A Latin phrase meaning “Woe is me” is imprinted around the border of the profile.
The medal’s creation marked Crown Prince Frederik VI’s Edict of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, considered the beginning of the abolitionist movement in Europe.
“The items of Colonial Williamsburg’s collections capture tangibly our complex, shared history,” said Mitchell B. Reiss, Colonial Williamsburg’s president and CEO. “In this rare 1792 medal we see an Atlantic power affirming the humanity of a people exploited as property, as well as a foretelling of abolition in America.”
The prince’s decree ended slave trading on ships carrying the Dutch flag, although it would be nearly ten years before the ban took effect.
Colonial Williasmburg acquired the coin as a gift from Lasser Numismatics Fund and as a partial gift by John Kraljevich, a currency expert.
The medal will be displayed beginning in 2020, after completion of the $41.7 million expansion of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
“Objects in the Colonial Williamsburg collection are remarkable not only for their aesthetic qualities, but for the history they illustrate,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the foundation’s vice president for collections, conservation, and museums and its Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator. “This medal sheds light on some of the first steps toward the end of slavery, a painful chapter in the Atlantic world’s history.”