“Odessa, I just lost a ship in the Baltic Sea…” Bee Gees, “Odessa,” Atco Records, 1969
Collecting shipwreck medals and lifesaving medals seems to be a popular pursuit, though the discipline falls perhaps somewhat under the radar with mainstream collectors. I recently purchased a silver medal for resale, my first ever, a shipwreck-lifesaving combination medal that has an interesting story to tell.
On the 24th of October, 1874, the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald printed a story of great nautical catastrophe and local heroism. The Chusan was a new iron paddle-steamer ship built just a year earlier by Elder and Co. of Govan, Scotland for use in the China Trade by its owners, the China Steam Navigation Company. Weighing 1,000 tons and measuring some 300 feet in length, the Chusan was but 33 feet wide, and not entirely suited for its intended use of plying the stormy ocean route from Glasgow to Shanghai.
Called in the Herald’s article “one of the most appalling shipwrecks ever,” the Chusan went aground on October 21, 1874, in a violent storm just outside the harbor entrance in Ardrossan, Scotland. After being battered mercilessly for hours, she lost her ability to steer and was dashed mightily once, twice, and a third time against Crinan Rock, some 400 yards off the harbor entrance, until finally splitting neatly in half while locals looked on in horror.
There were 48 crewmen and a handful of passengers aboard the Chusan that horrific night, and though many were saved, several crewmen were lost during their heroic efforts to save the ship, some of them washed overboard into the raging North Atlantic, never to be seen again. There were heroic efforts from those on shore, including fishermen who took their boats out to aid in the rescue. The entire history of the evening’s events can be found on the internet, and it makes for good reading.
The medals awarded to locals for their help during the disaster are nothing short of spectacular to behold. My specimen is 53 mm across and weighs in at 41.70 grams, a hefty piece of sterling for sure. The medal consists of a smooth center surrounded by a beaded rim which is in turn surrounded by a high, flat rim, and that is ultimately surrounded by a braided cord-like rope, all in nicely toned silver.
The front of this medal reads SUBSCRIBER’S MEDAL / PRESENTED / TO MR. CASSEY / FOR HEROIC EFFORTS IN SAVING LIFE / AT THE WRECK OF THE / CHUSAN / IN ARDROSSAN HARBOR / 21ST OCTR. 1874, all with engraved flourishes throughout. The flip of the medal is a tribute to the art of hand-engraving. Its nautical scene involves the sinking Chusan and the scene from the local dock on that morning, complete with heavy seas and dark, ominous clouds – it really is a masterpiece.
On line I have found a few other examples of this medal, all, of course, awarded to other individuals. One such piece had a fancy nautical bale attached to it for wearing, and recently sold in London for the lordly price of 800 pounds – sorry, but I don’t know how to type the “pound” sign.
The more I admire this medal, the more I’m convinced it’s not going anywhere but to my personal collection. Since going into business a year ago, nearly all my collections have gone as inventory, but I will be holding this beauty close to my chest for a while yet.
For the record, I had absolutely NO takers on my contest offer…oh well, I guess I’ll live with NBAR as its title, especially since evidently nobody reads this hogwash anyway. The good news? I won’t have to give away a $50-60 silver shilling token from the early 1800s. Until next time!