In an article published on Coin Update, Dave Bowers takes a look at American medals.
What is a token? What is a medal? Kenneth Bressett, long-time editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins and always a good source for consultation, suggests that, for starters, coins are metal pieces
issued by a government or other authority to serve in commerce as money. Tokens are
issued by entities other than governments, but have a value in exchange for goods or services.
Medals form a separate challenge, and it seems that in checking around, definitions suggested by well-known experts can vary widely. Medals and their little cousins, medalets, might be — per our thoughts — created for awards, commemoration, recognition, and tradition with no exchange value of any kind. Medals did not circulate. They were usually sold as souvenirs or mementos and are usually seen today in Mint State grade (or close) or in Proof format.
Issued by Augustus B. Sage in 1858.
A medalet, or small medal, has a rich tradition. Political campaign medalets sized mostly below 29 millimeters were struck in quantity beginning in the 1830s. In the 1850s, George H. Lovett and Augustus B. Sage called certain 31 millimeter (approximately) pieces medalets, such as in the Odds and End series started with one depicting the blaze that destroyed the Crystal Palace in October 1858. Perhaps a medalet should be a medal measuring 32 millimeters or smaller. We'll leave it up to numismatic lexicographers to decide.
By Anthony C. Paquet, 1860 Mint Cabinet.
Some contributors to the 100 Greatest book suggested that tokens are tokens and medals are medals, and never the twain should meet. However, this defies tradition. For a long time — indeed, back to the cradle days of numismatic auctions in the 1850s and 1860s — they were usually collected by the same specialists. Someone interested in political medals usually finds Hard Times tokens to be interesting, and whether certain medalets of the late 1850s should be called tokens, medals, or medalets succumbs to various opinions. Perhaps the very name of the Token and Medal Society says it all. R.W. Julian, in the introduction to Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century 1792-1892, reminds us that exonumists
are those who collect tokens and medals.
Civil War token Fuld 17/338a
In 2015, when the Civil War Token Society published the United States Civil War Store Cards, 3rd edition, a lot of medals were added. The work was the result of many contributors. I did most of the narrative in the front matter. Others wanted more things added; I did not. I agree with Ken Bressett's definition: A token is intended as payment for goods or services (plus strikes in off-metals made for numismatists using the same dies).
The Medal Collectors of America group publishes the MCA Advisory, which is quite focused on medals, with no Civil War or other tokens in sight.
To read the complete article, see:
Bowers on Collecting: American medals to the fore — medals, tokens, and medalets
Wayne Homren, Editor
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