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Relic Metal

Relic Metal.  A numismatic or medallic item formed from metal or other material which was previously an artifact of a different form. Relic material is usually salvaged from its previous state, reformed to be part of a new coin or medal, the new item bearing an inscription indicating its relic status (often this says "made from" and collectors call these items made froms because of this).

Five types of relic items exist:  (1) the entire composition is of relic status; (2) a small amount of relic metal is added to a larger mixture during alloy formulation, (3) the relic material is made into a plug and inserted in a frame or opening in a medallic item, (4) a small piece of relic material is laid on the planchet – or struck medal before the final blow – and impressed into the surface, or finally, (5) made into a drop hung from a header or pendant medal, or attached by some other method of mounting.

Metal of relic status has to come from some object of previous form (as a man-made artifact, or manufactured item). Rarely it can be notable bullion; but it is not newly mined metal (the German word ausbeutemunzen means struck in metal from a particular area – this is not a relic status).

Relic metal usually has aged and is very hard (work hardened). As such it is very difficult to strike in untreated state. It is often necessary to melt the metal, reformulate it, roll and blank into new form rather than use in original state. In 1872, an attempt to use a captured Confederate cannon for striking the Washington Grays 50th Anniversary Medal at the U.S. Mint (CM-1), led mint officials to reject this idea because they knew the difficulty of working with such relic metal.

Relic medals.  Medals are ideal for relic metal use. Typical relic medals are made from captured cannon, the bronze propeller or other marine hardware from a famous ship, the metal from a bell or roof, or metal from a famous object, such as the Statue of Liberty.  Bronze, iron, precious metals, space alloys have been fashioned into relic medals.

In 1880 the Vienna medalist Anton Scharff engraved a medal with a portrait of

Joseph Hilarius Eckhel on the centennial of his appointment as curator of the Habsburg Imperial Coin Cabinet in Vienna. Eckhel is considered the father of scientific numismatic study for his 8-volume work, Doctrina Nummorum Veterum, a catalog of Greek and Roman coins. The medal was struck from worn and abraded melted coins of this ancient time making this a relic metal.

In 1975 the scrap copper sheeting was available from the refurbishing of the Statue of Liberty. Despite the knowledge of this difficulty, an edition of medals was struck in this untreated copper. All medals bore an inadequate impression because it was so hard (the long weathering had caused the metal to be work hardened). Even despite increased pressure during coining they still looked worn as they came from the press. The full relief in the die could not be reproduced in the struck piece.  See composition (2).

Relic decorationsCaptured war material was often employed for the composition of war medals and decorations. Perhaps the most famous was the Cannon Cross of Imperial Austria, 1813-1814.


Relic coins.  Rarely have coins been struck from famous salvaged metal, even fewer are marked with their relic status, but this has occurred. The first recorded instance

was in Athens in 407 bc when gold statues in the Acropolis were melted after the Spartans had suppressed the supply of silver to Athens from Asia Minor. Instead gold coins were struck in the gold formerly the composition of the statues.

The most famous relic coinage is the Vigo coins of British Queen Anne in 1702-06. British and Dutch forces under Sir George Rooke in 1702 captured Spanish galleons in the Bay of Vigo (near Galicia, Spain). The ships contained precious metals and gems from America. Great Britain struck coins in silver and gold from this bullion, including shillings, crowns, half crowns and sixpence, plus gold five guinea, guinea and half guinea pieces. All coins have VIGO beneath the queen's bust to celebrate the naval conquest over the Spanish during this battle.

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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