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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An example of a medal that was awarded by Cecilia Gonzaga to political allies, a common practice in medieval Europe. This particular example was designed by Pisanello in 1447.

A medal, or medallion, is generally a circular object that has been sculpted, molded, cast, struck, stamped or some way rendered with an insignia, portrait or other artistic rendering. A medal may be awarded to a person or organization as a form of recognition for athletic, military, scientific, academic or various other achievements. Medals may also be created to commemorate particular individuals or events, or even as works of artistic expression in their own right; artists who focus their talents on the creation of medals or medallions are termed a medalist. There are also devotional medals which may be worn as a matter of religious faith. Medals are popular collectible items either as a form of exonumia or of militaria phaleristics.

The word 'medal' is derived from the Latin medalia, which was a copper coin.[1] 'Medallion' comes from the French word médaillon, a term applied to round food rationings because of their similar shape to a médaille, and has come to be applied to particularly large medals.[2] Medallions are occasionally referred to as "table medals" because they are too large to be worn and can only be displayed on a table top, desk or cabinet. Medals may also be produced in a rectangular shape, though these would more correctly be described as a placque, and a smaller version as a plaquette. In colloquial use, a medallion is sometimes improperly used to refer to a pendant of a necklace.

There are idioms that exist in both British and American English that are sarcastic in nature and which asks if a man believes he "deserves a medal", or has a man demand he should "get a medal", for his actions or suffering. The statements imply that his achievements or deprivations are more significant than they actually are, and in turn exaggerating his situation to a point of ridiculous merit.



Various prize medals. One may see the obverse designs, suspension rings and ribbons, and are typical of medals intended to be drapped over the head and hung from the neck.

The main or front surface is termed the obverse, and may contain a portrait, pictorial scene or other image along with an inscription. The reverse, or back surface of the medal, is not always used and may be left blank or may contain a secondary design. It is not uncommon to find only an artistic rendering on the obverse, while all details and other information for the medal are inscribed on the reverse. The rim is found only occasionally employed to display an inscription such as a motto, privy mark, engraver symbol, assayer’s marking or a series number.

Medals that are intended to be hung from a ribbon also include a small suspension piece at the crest with which to loop a suspension ring through. It is through the ring that a ribbon is run or folded so the medal may hang pendent. Medals pinned to the breast use only a small cut of ribbon that is attached to a top bar where the brooch pin is affixed. Top bars may be hidden under the ribbon so they are not visible, be a plain device from which the ribbon attaches or even decorative to compliment the design on the medal; some top bars are elaborate and contain a whole design unto themselves.

Bronze has been the most common material employed for medals, due to its fair price range, durability, ease with which to work when casting and the ample availability, but a wide range of other media have also been used. Rarer metals have been employed, such as silver, platinum and gold, when wishing to add value beyond the mere artistic depiction, as well as base metals and alloys such as copper, brass, iron, aluminum, lead, zinc, nickel and pewter. Medals that are made with inexpensive material might be gilded, silver plated, chased or finished in a variety of other ways to improve their appearance. Medals have also been made of glass, porcelain, coal, wood, paper, terra cotta, enamel, lacquerware and plastics.

Military medals and decorations

The Victoria Cross is a British military decoration, though at times is referred to improperly as a medal.
For a full treatment on military decorations, please see the article Military awards and decorations.
For a full treatment on orders as military decorations, please see the article Order (decoration).

The first known instance of a medal being awarded comes from the historian Josephus who, writing long after the event, accounts that in the fourth century BCE the High Priest Jonathan led the Hebrews in aid of Alexander the Great, and that in return for this, Alexander "sent to Jonathan... honorary awards, as a golden button, which it is custom to give the king's kinsmen." Another early example of medals is found used by the Roman Republic, which adopted an elaborate system of military awards that included medals called phalerae to be issued to soldiers and units for a variety of achievements.

In Europe, from the late Middle Ages on it was a common practice for sovereigns, nobles and other influential people to commission medals to be given simply as gifts to their political allies. The purpose was to either maintain or gain support of an important person with a medal that was elaborately decorated by a skillful artist, as art was highly sought after and valued, or with a medal made of precious metals, such as silver or gold. The gift-type of medals were usually made about three inches or smaller and produced of all kinds of metals, the cost correlating to the status of the recipient, and are often found to included a portrait or a personal emblem of the donor. Such medals were not intended to be worn, although some particularly prized examples were set as pendants upon necklaces nonetheless. Medals made to commemorate specific events, including military battles and victories, continued to be commissioned and awarded in the Roman fashion, and from this grew the practice of pinning such military medals onto one's uniform.

Many military decorations are often mistakenly referred to and confused with true medals. 'Military decoration' is an all-encompassing term that includes medals, but is generally applied to the other types of awards that do not meet the qualification of a true medal. The technical difference is that these other decorations take on a different shape, such as a cross or star, other than the generally circular one that is required. This difference does not necessarily imply any lessened honour for military decorations, as the Victoria Cross demonstrates, which is technically a decoration, as it is the highest British award for bravery in war.

The three versions of the Medal of Honor. Each displays a unique medal upon a star-shaped badge.

An order tends to be the most elaborate of military decorations, typically awarded for distinguished services to a nation or to the general betterment of humanity. Orders are distinguished from other forms of decoration in that they often imply membership in an organization or association of others that have received the same award. This practice originates with the mediaeval fraternities of knighthood, some of which even exist into the present and are still awarded to persons. While these modern orders have no roots in knighthood, they still tend to carry over the terms of their historic counterparts, and terms such as knight, commander, officer, members and so on are still commonly found as ranks. A military order may use a medal as its insignia, however, most tend to have a unique badge or a type of plaque specifically designed for an emblem.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government, and is an example a decoration that is modeled as a military order, even though not expressly defining itself as one. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."[3] Each of the three branches of the American armed forces has a unique picture displayed on a medal, which is in turn displayed upon a star-shaped heraldic badge. The medal of the U.S. Army depicts the head of Minerva, the U.S. Navy medal shows a scene of Minerva doing battle with Discord and the U.S. Air Force depicts the Statue of Liberty upon its medal.

Military decorations, including medals and orders, are usually presented to the recipient in a formal ceremony. Medals are normally worn on more formal occasions suspended from a ribbon of the medal's colours on the left breast, while a corresponding ribbon bar is to be worn for to common events where medals would be inappropriate or impractical to wear.

Peter Pace in dress uniform 2005.jpg Szlaszewski Stefan.jpg Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge KG, GCB.JPG Georgeiiofgreece.jpg
General Peter Pace. Colonel Stefan Szlaszewski. Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. The Lord Inge. George II, King of the Hellenes.


A large bronze cast medallion, some 9.5 by 8.7 centimetres in measurement, created by the celebrated medalist Valerio Belli in the sixteenth century.

Generally circular, table medals are issued for artistic, commemoration or souvenir purposes, not for commerce. Tokens and Table Medals of coin-like appearance are part of the Exonumia subcategory of Numismatics, while Orders, Decorations and Medals are considered Militaria (military related). In the U.S. Military, modern medals are often referred to as challenge coins.

The Nobel Foundation, the organization awarding the prestigious Nobel Prize, presents each winner "an assignment for the amount of the prize, a diploma, and a gold medal..." This example of a medal would be displayed on a table or in a cabinet, rather than worn by the winner.

The Carnegie Hero Foundation is the issuer of a bravery medal, most commonly issued in the US and Canada but also in the UK. This large bronze table medal features Andrew Carnegie's likeness on the obverse and the name of the awardee and citation engraved on the reverse. It is usually issued for lifesaving incidents.

Also related are plaques and plaquettes. While usually metal, table medals have been issued in wood, plastic, fibre and other compositions. The US Government awards gold medals on important occasions, with bronze copies available for public sale.

Competition medals

A silver medal was awarded to the winner of each event during the 1896 Summer Olympics. Recent Olympic medals are suspended as a pendant from a ribbon, and are awarded in gold, silver and bronze.

Medals have historically been given as prizes in various types of competitive activities, especially athletics.

Traditionally, medals are made of the following metals:

  1. Gold (or another yellow metal, e.g. brass)
  2. Silver (or another grey metal, e.g. steel)
  3. Bronze

These metals designate the first three Ages of Man in Greek mythology: the Golden Age, when men lived among the gods; the Silver age, where youth lasted a hundred years; and the Bronze Age, the era of heroes. (The current age is called the Iron Age.) Note that the metals are progressively more prone to corrosion and also decreasing in rarity and thus value.

This standard was adopted at the 1904 Summer Olympics. At the 1896 event, silver was awarded to winners and bronze to runners-up, while at 1900 other prizes were given, not medals.

Medals as art

The first great artist to create medals was the Italian painter Antonio Pisano, known as Pisanello, who modelled and cast a number of portrait medals of princes and scholars in the 1440s. Many other artists followed his example, in Italy, the Low Countries, Germany and France. In the seventeenth century medals were extensively used to commemorate events and glorify rulers. In the eighteenth century prize medals became common. In the 19th century art medals became popular. In the early part of the century David d'Angers produced a great series of portrait medals of famous contemporaties and in the latter part of the century Jules-Clément Chaplain and Louis-Oscar Roty were highly regarded. The early twentieth century saw art medals flourish, particularly in France, Italy and Belgium while later in the century Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland produced much high quality work. The Sanford Saltus medal is the most prestigious award for art medals in the USA. It has most recently been won by Ron Dutton.

Colonial Expo 1896.jpg Medal xvolsona paris1900.jpg
1896 Colonial Exposition medal,
by Louis-Oscar Roty.
1900 Exposition Universelle medal,
by Jules-Clément Chaplain.

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Medal". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Medallion". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "Code of Federal Regulations". Department of the Army. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Cornhuskers by Carl Sandburg
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THE BRASS medallion profile of your face I keep always.
It is not jingling with loose change in my pockets.
It is not stuck up in a show place on the office wall.
I carry it in a special secret pocket in the day
And it is under my pillow at night.
The brass came from a long ways off: it was up against hell and high water, fire and flood, before the face was put on it.
It is the side of a head; a woman wishes; a woman waits; a woman swears behind silent lips that the sea will bring home what is gone.


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