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Commemorative.  A numismatic or medallic item which is issued to recall a noteworthy person, place or event of a previous time, usually, but not always, accompanied by a celebration. The remembrance can be of an honorable nature (a founding, birth, incorporation, coronation, baptism, or such); of an unpleasant nature (death, disaster, siege, war, assassination, or such); of an event of such importance

that man has chosen to preserve its memory in numismatic or medallic form. Commemoratives are most frequently issued on significant anniversaries (see anniversary medals).

Commemorative coins are issued for memorializing an event, most often on an anniversary. As coins, they have denomination and are legal tender in the country of issue. They are often issued for a fund-raising purpose, selling at a premium over face value for he needs of the sponsoring organization. In the United States they must be authorized by Congress and approved by the president; all U.S. commemorative coins are the same diameter, weight, and fineness of similar legal tender coins. Other countries with national mints and a strong sense of historical perspective have issued commemorative coins as well.

Commemorative medals are virtually the same as historical medals that, in a sense, are any medals bearing a date. They are also virtually the same as souvenir medals – medals issued to commemorate a public event or ceremony and distributed to those who take part or attend the ceremony. All forms of commemorative medals, including historical and souvenir, differ from those of purely artistic, or those of completely commercial nature.  See art medal.

Beginning in the later 19th century and continuing into the 20th century, issuing commemorative medals has taken on a fund-raising function and the profit from the sale of such medals – both to those who participate and to the public in general – underwrite some benevolent or public purpose of the commemoration. This royalty may be substantial should the event be popular, or the total amount raised may fall short

of promoters' expectations. Such royalties have paid for presidential inaugurations, civic monuments, exposition buildings, or simply the operating expenses of the ceremony.

The commemorative medal is more than a receipt for a donation at its time of issue, however. It is a permanent artistic memento of the event often displayed with the treasures and awards of a recipient or his or her family. Owning such a medal is a tacit endorsement of the commemoration and a personal joy to recall the celebration. The artistic design of the medal further heightens the symbolic significance to the owner and to all who view it. While important to its original owner it ultimately becomes a historical artifact in itself.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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