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Gold Medal

Gold Medal.  A medallic item made of gold, often as an award – usually the highest in rank – and infrequently that highest ranking award, but not necessarily made of gold.

Such quasi gold medals usually bear an inscription calling itself a gold medal (Olympic, exposition and medals awarded in quantity fall in this category). There is no requirement to identify the metal components on the medal itself, unless, of course, the item does indeed have some gold in the composition.

Early gold medals were hallmarked; 20th century gold medals would be edgelettered with a karat number (unless it was made by a national mint which do not abide by the legal requirements applied to private makers). But the first test of a gold medal is its apparent weight, it should be heavier than any similar medal of the same size. More exact information would be revealed by a specific gravity test – this could determine the fact the item is gold and even the exact karat content. Of last resort (but all too often performed) should be the test cut to observe if the item bleeds a different color proving it was one that was goldplated (rather than solid gold).

Nonaward gold medals were made as early as the Renaissance, goldsmiths were the makers of these. Often these were embellished with jewels and more often an ornamental object than a medallic item. Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) was the first goldsmith, medallist and engraver who made coins (scudo of Alessandro de'Medici), medals (Pope Clement VII, Pietro Bembo), seals (for Ercole Gonzaga, Cardinal Ipoolito d'Este) in addition to gold ornamental objects (his saltceller of Francis I is most famous).

The ownership of gold medals places a responsibility upon the owner to protect them, as gold medals are subject to melting during unsettled times. Only a small number of any originally issued survive. (The survival ratio of gold medals is as low as that of gold coins.) Thus the gold bullion medal, created during the last quarter of the 20th century provides the investment media, where this function was provided by gold coins and medals in the past. Gold bullion medals can be melted without any cultural loss experienced when gold medals (particularly if they are inscribed are melted.

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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