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Exposition Medal, Expo Medal

Exposition Medal, Expo Medal.  A medallic item bestowed either as a prize for a display or activity at an exposition or fair, or one issued for attendance or purely to commemorate the occurrence of the event. Exposition prize medals are highly cherished by their recipients; they have been awarded to individuals, business firms, organizations, government departments and even to foreign governments. Exposition medals of all kinds are popular and desired as well by collectors, perhaps for the large number that have been issued for expositions at many levels – local, state, regional, national, international. The term became shortened in mid 20th century; now "expo" is universally understood.

The first such expositions grew out of the local fairs in Germany, where local wares were exhibited accompanied by activities occurred with a holiday flare. It wasn't long before merchants found they could sell their wares at these local fairs. From this has grown the fair at increasing larger geographical areas, until 1851 when the first such international exposition was held in London.

Two years later, in America, New York City tried to emulate the 1851 London exposition, even building a similar building to house the exposition's activities, a mammoth glass edifice called the Crystal Palace. Almost immediately in America smaller expos were held with a central theme of agriculture or mechanical arts.

Expo award medals.  Medals were first issued only to the prize winners, for the best agricultural product, or the best mechanical product. Recipients of these award medals attempted to publicize their winning expo medals, by including illustrations of the medal in their advertising, on their stationary and, often, on their products themselves. For nearly eighty years the Campbell Soup Company illustrated the medal they won in 1900 at the Paris International Exposition. This medal became the company trademark, this gold symbol was placed on every one of their red and white soup cans. (The medal, however, was removed from labels in 199x).

A few firms had medallic copies made of their winning medal. In effect they created a new and separate class of numismatic items, advertising replicas, giving these out as liberally as they could afford.

The expositions themselves realized they could publicize their own event with medals. One of the most popular was the bird’s eye, or aerial view medal. This could give the viewer an overall concept of the total fairgrounds within one view, in a pocket item the viewer could carry with him. From this other souvenir medals evolved to promote the fair. Expo buildings shown on these souvenir medals were popular.

Columbian Exposition.  America's first major expo of note was the Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World's Fair of 1892-93. This one expo spawned tremendous activity in the coin and medal field and the innovations created for this event alone are legion.

The first commemorative coins were issued by U.S. for this exposition in three denominations: quarter, half and silver dollar. The first hollowback  or stamp and stencil medals were created for this expo, as were the first product medals – those made of the composition they were promoting. Aluminum was widely used for the medals at this expo (previously it had been an expensive alloy to make anything, but it had only recently become available because electricity had become available, see aluminum).

The activity – industrial, commercial and artistic – generated by this event is unprecedented in history and is reflected in the coins and medals issued for this event. The expo also spawned new medalmakers to come to America, some immigrating, others creating their medallic products and shipping them to America. Modern medalmaking industry in America dates from the Chicago Columbian Exposition alone.

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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