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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 15, April 15, 2007, Article 25

WHITMAN GUIDE EXCERPT: MEDAL VS. TOKEN. VS. COIN

With permission (via a letter from publisher Dennis Tucker), we're
reprinting Katie Jaeger's discussion of the definitions of medals,
tokens and coins from her upcoming Whitman book, "A Guide Book of
American Tokens and Medals"

"Many of the items Russell Rulau lists in his indispensable Standard
Catalog of United States Tokens, 1700–1900, were called medals by
their makers. For example, he includes a great many store cards,
struck as advertising pieces for businesses to hand out like today’s
business cards. Other pre-1900 items (e.g., membership, souvenir,
and political campaign pieces) had no monetary or exchange value,
yet were small, inexpensive, and the same size as the tokens of their
era. These items might be collected along with tokens, but should be
termed medalets.

"Throughout history, the uses of coins, tokens, and medals have
overlapped somewhat, as this book will show. Most collectors agree
with Ken Bressett’s terminology: “I always use token to mean something
that has a value, or is a substitute for some other form of money.
A medal (in all its various sizes and forms) is a commemorative,
artistic, or instructive piece, with no intended monetary value.
A coin must be authorized by a governing body for use as money.”

"Factors of quality and size also come into play when defining objects
as tokens or medals. Generally, if a great deal of care and expense
went into producing the item, if it has high relief and a thick
planchet (that is, the blank disc of metal on which the designs are
struck), and if it is made of precious metal, it is a medal. Medals
almost always featured a high level of workmanship. If the item is
thin, lightweight, made of an inexpensive metal or alloy, and bears
a simple, single-struck design, it is probably a token.

"In his token catalogs, Rulau includes items 33 millimeters in
diameter and smaller, and most tokens do fall below that size.
American medals expert D. Wayne Johnson and political exonumia
specialist Edmund Sullivan set the cutoff between medal and medalet
at 25.4 mm (one inch). Broadly speaking, medals are bigger than
tokens, and as longtime numismatic writer Cliff Mishler says,
“Collectors tend to be expansive of size within their specialty
to embrace the issues they favor.”

"Very large medals—round medallions and square or rectangular
plaquettes (up to eight inches in diameter)—are easy to distinguish
from tokens. Some medal dealers stock sculpted bas-relief plaques
(greater than eight inches in diameter), especially if a smaller
version has been struck and sold as a plaquette, but such large items
really do not fall into the category of exonumia. They present
storage problems for people set up for collecting tokens and medals,
and they are too large to have been struck from dies. Exonumists
generally take greatest interest in die-struck objects."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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