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Decorations, Decorations of Honor

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.

Decorations Relation To Other Medals

            Closely related to this collecting field are military medals, sometimes called

war medals, the most select are valor medals or bravery medals awarded for distinction in action (as a Congressional Medal of Honor), or wound medals (as the Purple Heart). The largest group of military medals – campaign medals or service medals – are those bestowed to military personal who participated in specific military or naval campaigns.

            Medals have distinctive colored ribbons, sometimes with stars, or bars indicating some supplemental action. When multiple medals are worn in a group, they

are placed together on a broach. Multiple ribbons without the pendant medals are placed on a ribbon bar; uniforms are often seen with multiple rows of ribbon bars for personnel who have served in many campaigns.

            When all these are worn at one time, as for a formal occasion or ceremony, there has been established a rank and order of which is worn above or to a more honored position to the left than another (listed in a precedence chart). Valor medals rank higher, obviously, than campaign or service medals.

            Decorations are always worn intact (there are no miniature versions). However, for other medals there are miniature medals to be worn on formal and ceremonial occasions. The miniature medals are the same design as awarded medals in smaller size, usually one-half the size of the regular medals; their ribbons are half width as well.

            Some countries, England is an example, have the recipient’s name and rank engraved on the edge of military medals bestowed for bravery or wounds. Infrequently there is a number (M number) engraved on the edge as well indicating a serial of medals of this type awarded. This aids greatly in cataloging, where all the edge lettering is recorded along with the recipient’s achievements.

            Any medal awarded by a government, organization or society not intended to be worn is called a table medal – that is to “lie on a table.” By extension a table medal could be any medal, awarded or not, that has no suspension and cannot be worn (this could include many kinds of medals – historical, commemorative, commercial, even art medals – so table medal is not a precise term).

History of Decorations

            The manufacture of early decorations predate milled coinage (1553) and were created by goldsmiths. As the creation of decorations became more exotic – and often jewel encrusted – they were made by jewelers and ultimately this privilege was granted to jewelers who became know as court jewelers or royal jewelers. 

            The equipment used by the goldsmiths, these jewelers and early medallists were all similar. The development ran parallel as the technology of one was applied to another with the technology used by the court jewelers the most advanced of all because they were required to produce the most exotic medallic items of differing designs, shapes, color, attachments and suspension.

Cataloging Decorations

            Reverses of decorations are considered of less importance, perhaps because they are seldom shown when worn. Early books on decorations did not illustrate the reverses. But the reverse is important enough to show

 

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Word List #13 

Some Famous Decorations

 

 

 

 

 

Word List #14 

Terms in Describing Decorations

angles

awarded

appurtenance

badge

ball loop

ball-tip

bar

barrette

battle star

bob loop

breast star

brooch

brooch bar

cabochon

Campaign bar

campaign medal

canton

cap badge

cased

center emblem

chain

champlevé

Citation

civil award

clamshell hanger

clasp

class

cloisonné

cluster

coat of arms

collar

component

concealed bar

cordon

coronation medal

costume jewelry medal

cotter pin mount

commendation

court mounted

cravat

crimped clasp hanger

crimp marks

cross

crowned

current issue

custom copy

decoration

decoration of honor

deluxe copy

denazified

device

drop

early issue

edge lettering

edge numbering

emblem

enamel

engagement bar

erased

faceted

fixed suspender

fob loop

formée

french pin

gallantry medal

garter

gemstone

grand cordon

grand prix

group

hallmark

hanger

header, header bar

identification bar

institute of heraldry

jeweled

jeweler’s copy

jump ring

knob type

loop

M number

maker’s mark

miniature medal

mounted

named

neck decoration

neck ribbon

numbered

oak leaf

oak-leaf cluster

obliterated

obsolete

order

original ribbon

palm

pendant

pierced

pierced for suspension

pinback

points

precedence chart

prefix number

rays

reissue

renamed

replacement medal

replacement ribbon

reproduction

riband circlet

ribbon

ribbon bank

ribbon bar

ribbon drape

ribbon fastener

ring type

rosette

sash

soldered loop

specimen

standard issue

star

stem and clasp

supporter

suspension bar

sweetheart pin

swivel suspension

table medal

triangle fold ribbon

unawarded

unit badge

unnamed

unnumbered

unofficial decoration

valor

veteran’s medal

VICTORY MEDAL

war m edal

with swords

wound medal

year bar

 

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators

COMPILED AND WRITTEN BY D. WAYNE JOHNSON

Roger W. Burdette, Editor


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