The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 15, April 15, 2007, Article 24


Regarding last week's question from Sam Pennington about the
definition of medal sizes, Ron Abler writes: "I pursued an answer
to Sam's question, initially by asking Joe Levine, whose expertise
I trust implicitly.  Sam had already asked him, and he had referred
Sam to Dick Johnson.  I hope Dick has all the answers (he usually
does), but I'd like to add more to the question:

1) what is the official distinction between a plaque and a plaquette?
2) Are there other types or shapes within exonumia that would be
included in a definitive list such as this?

"My two cents' worth:

Medalet -- less than 25mm.
Medallion -- variously, over 2, 2.5, or 3 inches, depending on source.
Medal -- whatever lies between the two.
Plaque -- rectangular, more than 8 inches at its longer dimension.
Plaquette -- less than 8 inches."

[Thanks also to Bill Murray who snail-mailed me photocopies of medal
size definitions from the Coin World, Macmillan and Frey dictionaries
of numismatic terms.  In these, 'medalet' is typically defined as
less than 35mm. -Editor]

Henry Scott Goodman writes: "I think Sam was thinking about the FAQ
page of the Medal Collectors of America website.  Our own Dick Johnson
wrote many of the answers for these FAQ's.

[The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is lengthy, so I've
excerpted answer to "What is the difference between medal and
medallion?" here. It was indeed written by Dick Johnson.  -Editor]

"It is a matter of size, medallions are large medals. Numismatists
in Europe say medallions have a diameter of 80 millimeters or larger;
this equivalent in inches (3 - 3/16-inch) is the dividing line
between medals and medallions in America. But "medal" and "medallion"
are used so indiscriminately by the public that these definitions
are blurred in most people's minds (who may not even be aware that
the concept of size is the distinction).

"Another term for medals, “medalet” is a small medal, under one inch
(25.4mm). Two other terms you should know: “Plaque” and “plaquette.”
Generally square or rectangular medals. The dividing line between the
two – eight inches (20.3 cm). If a plaque gets too big it's called a
tablet (these are measured in feet and are rarely collected). I cut
off medallic items at 18 inches or less as collectable (at least in
my directory of American Artists)."

To read the complete medal FAQ, see: medal FAQ

Dick Johnson adds:  "The medal dimensions in that FAQ are still

"When I cataloged Medallic Art Company's medals I took the diameters
from the files and only occasionally did a measurement. But I learned
these could be off somewhat. The answer was that medals struck in
collar dies do not vary in diameter. Round medals struck with Open
Face dies (which caused excess flash to extrude between the dies) have
to be trimmed on a lathe. This is a manual operation and depends on
the operator. A 3-inch medal could vary up to 2mm smaller or 1mm larger
than exactly 3-inch.

"When I was a medal dealer I measured every medal - perhaps 50,000
such measurements in all. All that time I wished there were some kind
of ruler or calipers or something that would give me both millimeters
and inches (aliquot). I like millimeters since they are more accurate.
Inches have to be rounded off. I ended up measuring only in millimeters
and looked that up on a chart I prepared for the rounded off inch
measurement. I put both in my catalog descriptions.

"Why?  You can see in your mind the width of a millimeter, and even
a tenth of a millimeter (.1mm). Can you imagine in your mind 1/64th
of an inch, let alone 1/128th or smaller. I rounded off to the
nearest 1/32th of an inch.

"When compiling that FAQ I devised what I call an "M-Chart." It is
an expanded version of that old chart that answers all the questions
about medallic sizes, and gives a lot of tips like 'don't include the
loop in the measurement', 'give height first then width' (the opposite
of postage stamps in philately). It would be handy for medal
collectors, curators and such.

"The board of the Medal Collectors of America learned of my project
and offered me a grant to publish it. I learned, however, it would
cost three to four times the amount of that grant to produce it. I
did not accept the grant, and set the project aside. Perhaps now is
the time to revive it."

Harry Waterson writes: "Here is a little glossary I put together
after the discussion of tondo last fall. This grid represents my
understanding of the terms as I use them but are certainly subject
to correction and/or emendation by the wider readership of
The E-Sylum.

"Medallic Size Words Glossary

Medalet - Round - up to 25mm
Medal - Round - 26mm to 80mm
Medallion- Round - 81mm to 30.5cm (usually two-sided)
Circular Relief - Round - over 30.5cm (usually one-sided)
Tondo   - Round - over 30.5cm (used architecturally)

Plaquette - Square or Rectangular - Longest side under 30.5cm
(may be two-sided)

Plaque - Square or Rectangular - Longest side between 30.5cm
and 61cm (usually one-sided)

Tablet - Square or Rectangular - Longest side over 61 cm
(usually one-sided)"

Katie Jaeger writes: "I spent a great deal of time and consultation
on my definition of these items, written for my Whitman Guide to
American Tokens and Medals. All of my manuscript reviewers had
something to say about it, and it was revised and reworded many
times.  Sam Pennington may have read his size definition in Q. David
Bower's and my 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens; he was invited
to review the manuscript for us, and that text is comparable to this.

Dick Johnson has been trying to establish a standard terminology that
everyone will use.  I hoped to take that approach in my Guide as well,
but my manuscript reviewers took exception and I came to agree with
them.  There were just too many medal and token makers doing their
own thing in the 19th century, to create definitions that cover

[In the next item we reprint the text of Katie's section on the
definitions of medals, tokens and coins. -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

Google Web
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization 
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor 
at this address:

To subscribe go to:
Copyright © 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society.



Copyright © 1998 - 2005 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster