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Medalist, Medallist

Medalist, Medallist.  A designer, engraver, maker or collector of medals; one knowledgeable in medals; also a recipient of a medal. As a creator of medallic art, the medalist must not only be a highly creative artist but also know the many techniques in the field. This talented person must be proficient in producing the patterns required for any medallic item and the working knowledge must include design, relief, the capabilities and limitations of die striking and art casting, and, certainly, patina finishes.

The first medalist was Pisanello, who in 1438 created the first sculpture of what was to be called a pendant medal, a portrait of John Palaeologus. Early medalists had to prepare the entire production of a medal, from pattern to casting the final item, and to patina it. They had to know – and do – every step themselves.

With the introduction of the screw presses for striking coins, in 1530, medals were also struck, but the diameter was necessarily small. Few medalists existed at this time. Those that did had to do their own engraving, by hand, and have some mint strike their creations. Thus medalists were concentrated at the national mints of Italy, France and England. One enterprising medalist from Belgium (a doctor!), Joseph Pierre Braemt (1796-1864) in 1824 even developed his own reducing machine, where he could model oversize and cut a medal die on his machine.

Medalists since then have increased in number, as the appeal and demand for medallic art spread. It should be noted however, medalists have always been resourceful. This is lessened somewhat today with the ease of having private mints and medal makers produce what the medalist creates in his own workshop.

Famous medalists.  In addition to Pisanello, famous early medalists include Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Benvenuto Cellini, Leone Leoni, all Italians, and somewhat later, the German artist Albert Durer. In England Benedetto Pistrucci and the Wyon family of engravers were most noted. French medalists of note is quite lengthy, but mention should be made of David d’Angers, Augustin Dupré, Charpenter, Louis Roty, others. In America: Augustus St-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Guston Borglum, Herbert Adams, Laua Gardin and James Earle Fraser, Paul Manship, Frederick Macmonnies, Victor David Brenner, Anna Hyatt Huntington, many others, were famed for their medallic work.

For other meanings of medalist see MEDAL COLLECTING and RECIPIENT. The word is spelled with one or two lls – both are correct.

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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