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Oval Medal

Oval Medal.  An ellipsoidal shaped medal. This unusual shape is aesthetically pleasing, more so if the oval shape is meaningful to the subject or topic of the medal, as an oval halo of a religious medal. Struck oval medals are created by striking within special collars, or by the use of special trimming dies; cast medals can easily be made in oval shape. Among oval medals vertical ovals are slightly more popular than horizontal. Most cameo medals are likely oval in shape; oval medals makes excellent pendant medals.

Oval die problem.  Oval medals present somewhat of a problem to the diesinker, engraver or sculptor not present in round medals, in that the shape of the obverse must exactly match that of the reverse (the contour of the oval is not too round or too narrow). This can easily be resolved in modeling by preparing two background plates or basins of the exact congruent and matching shape before building up the relief. See modeling.

Oval Indian Peace medals.  The first American Indian Peace Medals, bearing the standing figure of George Washington, were all oval shaped. These hand engraved medals were probably designed this way for their intended purpose of being pendants to be worn by American Indian chiefs as recipients.

Beginning in 1879, when the United States Mint created a series of struck Indian Peace Medals, five of these retained the oval shape (IP-43 through IP-47). All others in the series were round. The oval shape required all pieces to be struck with oval collar dies used with oval collars (an innovation of the U.S. Mint in 1879).

Modified ovals.  If a vertical oval has one pointed end, shaped like an almond, it is called a mandorla. If it has two pointed ends, it has a name in Latin, vesica piscis. Both of these oval shapes are symbolic for saints, the Virgin Mary, or other religious themes.

Some oval medals were created with a separate wreath usually attached to it afterwards; this was often done in Latin American countries. These were enclosed with a surround, the separate wreath was not in the die but soldered to the medal after both were struck. Oval medals made as pendants and given to wedding guests in 17th century Germany were called gnadenpfennig.


excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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