Skip to content

Inaugural Medal

Inaugural Medal.  A medallic item issued on the occasion of a new administration, era or term. Inaugural medals are issued in the United States for inaugurations of presidents (infrequently for governors) and are an outgrowth of coronation medals issued for the coronation of newly crowned royalty. The issuing of such a medal is recognition of the installation of the new official; they imply a new beginning, and are an important part of the celebration. The United States event occurs on Inauguration Day (January 20th after a president election, it was March 4th prior to 1934).

A button was created as the public memento for the inauguration of George Washington in 1789. Early in the 19th century the United States Mint created Inaugural medals (but often long after Inauguration Day). It wasn't until 1889 –on the centennial of the George Washington Inauguration –that a medal on a ribbon was specifically created for the Inaugural Day festivities. The medal (actually a badge) bore portraits of President Benjamin Harrison and Vice President Levi Morton on the obverse and first President George Washington on the reverse.

That 1889 Inaugural badge was made by private medal industry, as is the case for most of these in the 20th century. The U.S. Mint made the official inaugural medals only in wartime or when a Mint official was on the medal committee (this occurred in 1929, 1941 and 1949). Private medal manufacturers could strike medals quicker and in more varieties needed than the U.S. Mint.

Prominent American sculptors have created the official Inaugural Medal designs; Augusts Saint-Gaudens (1905), Jo Davidson (1941, 1945), Paul Manship (1933, 1961) Gilroy Roberts (1973), Ralph Menconi (1969), Carl Paul Jennewein (1949), Walker Hancock (1953, 1957), Felix de Weldon (1965), Mico Kaufman and Frank Eliscu.

Some traditions for Inaugural Medals have developed in the 20th century, while unwritten, are becoming part of the Inaugural Medal heritage. For a president's first inauguration his portrait appears alone on the obverse, for a second term, both president and vice president appear on the obverse.

For each inauguration both president and vice president are given the medal in gold. The public can purchase replicas of the medal in either silver or bronze (the bronze slightly larger than the silver to prevent silverplating and sales by unscrupulous persons). Smaller sizes in gold, silver and bronze are offered for wider sale to all segments of the public. Goldplated silver (vermeil) and medals mounted in creative ways have also been offered to the public in recent years.

The President's Medal was the title of a book on the inaugural medal from Washington to Jimmy Carter in 1977; and a collectors; guide was published in 1981.


O22 {1977} MacNeil.

O23 {1981} Levine,

X3   {1967} Luscomb, Washington Inaugural buttons, 214-218.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.