The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 28, July 14, 2019, Article 10


Dick Johnson submitted this entry from his Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Terminology. Thanks. Actually, this is only the first part of an extensive entry - see the Newman Numismatic Portal link below for more. -Editor

Decorations, Decorations of Honor. An elite class of medals, usually those of exceptional design, shape, composition and embellishment – including suspension by ribbons, chains or sashes – bestowed for exceptional service or tenure, and sometimes granting the recipient special privileges. All decorations are intended to be worn. Thus a variety of suspension systems have been created to attach a medallic item to clothing, uniform, hung around the neck, oe about the body. Color has been added by the wide use of enamel and enameling; color and exclusivity has been further added, particularly in the higher classes, with gemstones.

Considerable attention is given to the design of a decoration with extensive use of heraldry and symbolism. Every aspect of a decoration's design is employed to make it as distinctive as possible – with unusual shape and openwork – in addition to color in its design. It should be obvious for inspection and identity revealed even from a distance. It is an attempt to make the decoration unlike any other, and yet it is often designed to have several classes with its highest class often reserved only for royalty. Thus the design of a decoration must be distinctive from all other decorations, and with different classes within that decoration, distinctive from each other.

Decorations are widely employed in countries that are monarchies. Even in countries that are not monarchies, as is the United States, decorations are widely used by the government as awards for military achievements, called war decorations. Since Americans do not emphasize class distinction it seldom has different classes of any decoration (but do have rank and order, see below). Hereditary societies and fraternal organizations have created nonmilitary decorations for their members.

Decoration Characteristics

1) Image (Honor, Award, Membership).
2) Beauty (Artisticness).
3) Shape (Distinctiveness).
4) Cost (Precious metals).
5) Ornamentation (Jewels, Enamels).
6) Display (Wearability).
7) Longevity (Long lasting).
8) Permanence (Hard Form).
9) Bilateral (Two-sidedness).
10) Exclusiveness (restricted membership)

Decoration Terms
This field is commonly orders, decorations and medals or orders, medals and decorations bringing together three somewhat similar items based on the fact they are awarded by a government or some honorable society or organization and intended to be worn. The three terms are related by the metallic insignia or badges created for the recipients or members.

The terms differ in the following aspects: Decorations are the finest medallic insignia of a highly select group of recipients that form some honored class. Orders are not only the name of the insignia but also the name of the body of persons bound together for some religious, chivalrous, or more recently, some fraternal nature. Medals are the insignia for an honored group usually with the medal suspended from a cloth drape in color so it can be worn (called ribbon drape, these medals have a pinback to attach it to a uniform).

Decorations often have many components, as the insignia suspended from a chain to be worn around the neck, or a breast star, often with a sash to be worn across the body hung over one shoulder and attached to the opposite side of the body. Design of each of these elements is distinctive to that decoration.

The elaborate shapes of decorations adds greatly to that distinctiveness as well.

The insignia part of many decorations is called a badge, particularly those that have the attachment on the back for affixing to clothing or uniform. Some components of uniforms or headgear are the badge alone, also considered part of the field of military medals, as the unit badge, cap badge and such (but these are not classed as decorations).

The Orders and Medals Society in America, and their publication, The Medal Collector, is mostly concerned with collecting decorations. They do include, however, other medallic items mentioned here.

To read the complete entry, see:
Decorations, Decorations of Honor (

Book lovers should be word lovers as well.

Looking for the meaning of a numismatic word, or the description of a term?  Try the Newman Numismatic Portal's Numismatic Dictionary at:

Or if you would like a printed copy of the complete Encyclopedia, it is available. There are 1,854 terms, on 678 pages, in The Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology. Even running two a week would require more than 19 years to publish them all. If you would like an advance draft of this vital reference work it may be obtained from the author for your check of $50 sent postpaid. Dick Johnson, 139 Thompson Drive, Torrington, CT 06790.

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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