Ten types of medals and medallions that should be on your collector’s list

Sarah Heath

The studying and collecting of medals and medallions has been popular for a very long time. The sheer amount of heritage, patriotism, knowledge and achievement tied up in historical medals and medallions is both fascinating and vast.

What are some of the main types of medals?

From medals with royal connections to military honours; sports and education prizes to religious artefacts, there is something to intrigue and inform even the most seasoned of collectors. Here are five historic medal categories that are worth a closer look:

Political and military medals

Politicians have long had a significant impact on how historical events have shaped the country they serve. A number of medals have been struck to reflect such events. These give us invaluable insight into historic leaders, their appearances, achievements and motivations. Equally, military medals have always been highly prized, given as they were for heroic and memorable deeds that showed valour above and beyond the call of duty.

Discover The Collection: Political Medals - Military Medals

Coronations, jubilees, births and deaths

Buckingham palace

Significant life events for key figures such as the Royal family and aristocracy were often marked with a commemorative medal. From births, marriages and deaths to coronations and jubilees. This type of medal was the precursor to souvenir mugs and tea towels. They serve as a reminder of important unions, powerful families and key dates in a reigning monarch’s life.

Discover The Collection: Coronation and Jubilee Medals - Births, Deaths & Marriages

Prize medals for art, education, sport etc.

City of London school - Prize medals for art, education

While there are fewer medals struck for prizes and awards when compared to military or royal versions, this type of medal remains both valuable and fascinating to collectors. They recognise prowess in a certain field of study or endeavour. Some medals were awarded to prize-winners (e.g. Olympic medals and Nobel Prize awards), while others were created to celebrate achievements and made more widely available.

Discover The Collection: Prize Medals

Architecture and engineering medals

Britannia Tubular Bridge - Architecture and engineering medals

This type of medal was more popular in the 19th Century and the dawn of the Industrial age. Medals were struck to celebrate feats of engineering and construction excellence, such as the railways, bridge-building, architecture or industrial advancements. 

Discover The Collection: Building & Architectural Medals

Religious medals

Religious medals

Religious medals have been worn across the world as an outward sign of inner faith. Examples include Catholic medals depicting saints and Biblical scenes that were used in prayer and devotion. Religious medals often come with a rich and highly personal backstory of previous owners and their motivations for owning such a piece.

What are some of the medallions you should be looking out for?

For many people, the charm of medallions comes from a mix of beautiful designs and fascinating history. Here are five areas where both of these factors are present in abundance: 

British medallions

Tower of London - British medallions

Britain’s Royal Mint was world-famous, attracting master engravers from around the globe to its premises near the Tower of London from the 15th Century onwards. By the 17th Century, machinery enabled large medallions to be made with vastly improved detail and design intricacy. Many of the medallions produced by the Royal Mint commemorated key royal and political events, making them highly significant pieces of British history. 

Discover The Collection: British Medallions

European medallions

French Railways - European medallions

Much of France’s military history is depicted on medallions crafted by French master engravers lauded for their talents and techniques. Notable French artists included Nicholas Briot, Jean Duvivier and his son, Pierre, Alexis Depaulis and Albert Barre. Meanwhile, over in Italy, medallion production was at its height during the Renaissance period in the 15th Century medallions were large and highly detailed. The art form spread from Italy into The Netherlands and Germany, alongside finding popularity in Britain.

Discover The Collection: French Medallions - Italian Medallions

Medallions from the rest of the world

Michael Collins practicing in a simulator for Apollo 11 launch

Medallions produced in North America celebrate historical events such as the Apollo missions and the Moon landing of the late 1960s. In addition, sporting, arts, medical, maritime, political and military medallions from America, Africa, Asia and elsewhere can come onto the market and offer great interest and insight into global events and cultures. They showcase many different engraving techniques, design work and metal materials.

Discover The Collection: World Medallions

17th and 18th Century medallions

18th Century medallions

The early 1700s saw commemorative medallions become more widely used as a way to celebrate or mark an important event. These included coronations, royal marriages and deaths. However, they were mainly used to mark military victories, political events and acts of bravery. As the 18th Century progressed, medallions were struck to mark medical advancements, artistic talents and explorers. 

Discover The Collection17th Century - 18th Century

19th and 20th Century medallions

19th Century Engraving

Medals and medallions were hugely popular by the time Queen Victoria was on the throne. As well as royal and military life, they commemorated achievements and events in the arts, education, sports, industry, medicine, agriculture and the Commonwealth, amongst other areas. Medallion production carried on into the 20th Century, although it slowed down after the Second World War when metal resources were more stretched. Today, medallions and medals are prized as much for their historical significance as for their metal content or design.

Discover The Collection19th Century - 20th Century

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