Libby Prison War Museum Medal, 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago


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Libby Prison War Museum Medal, 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago – This extremely rare commemorative medal was issued during the 1893 Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago. The medal, quite dense and heavy, was made of a copper plated white metal and was minted in honor of the acquisition of the infamous Libby Prison, which was completely disassembled and taken from Richmond to Chicago at the time of the Columbian Exposition. In the late 1880s, a group of wealthy Chicago businessman and capitalists agreed to finance the complete dismantling of Libby Prison, transportation of its architectural components to Chicago and its total reconstruction, in time for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The cost of this venture was estimated to be $200,000. Among these capitalists was Charles F. Gunther, the wealthy candy manufacturer, who possessed probably the largest collection of Civil war relics at that time, including the chisel used to dig the escape tunnel from Libby prison. The enterprise was incorporated as the Libby Prison Museum association on Feb. 4, 1888, with a capital of $400,000, and the Wabash Avenue site, between 14th and 16th streets was purchased as the site for the prison’s reconstruction. Gunther became president of the company. The vice presidents were Albert Hayden and A. G. Spalding, the star Chicago baseball player who made a fortune selling sporting goods. Gunther was an outstanding citizen of Chicago. A native of Germany, he served in the Confederate navy, later moving to Chicago; by 1868, Gunther had become an extremely successful businessman. By the late ’80s, Gunther had amassed a fortune and a great collection, not only of war relics, but of paintings, objects of art, rare books, and incunabula, all of which became housed in the Libby museum. With the undertaking financed, Libby prison was purchased and its removal to Chicago commenced in December, 1888, under the direction of Louis M. Hallwell, a Philadelphia architect.


This rare medal 2 11/16 inches in diameter and is in excellent condition. The medal is listed in the Columbian Exposition Eglit catalog (published by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation or NGC) as #477. The obverse reads: “LIBBY PRISON – WAR MUSEUM – CHICAGO 1893” and shows a view of the prison with tents in front of the prison. On the reverse side, around the rim, reads: “NO SECTIONALISM 1861 – NO NORTH – NO SOUTH – 1865 – NO ANIMOSITY”. In the center, is an inscription detailing the history of Libby Prison, the former warehouse used to confine Union officers, and that Charles F. Gunther and others had the prison dismantled, rebuilt, moved to Chicago and turned into a museum.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation