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Ribbon.  The narrow cloth strips from which small medals are suspended. Medals of valor, military decorations, campaign medals, Olympic, some sports and educational awards, as well as others, have medallic items suspended from such cloth ribbons. The ribbons are a means of adding color, class, distinction, identification and substitution for such medallic awards in addition to providing a means for suspension for the medal to be worn.

An elaborate color code has evolved for American military medals, and this is true for England, France and nearly every country with military forces. Ribbons include other significance as well. The Victoria Cross, for example was bestowed to soldiers with red ribbon, for sailors, the ribbon was blue.

Ribbon terms.  The largest of such cloth ribbons is the sash, which hangs over one shoulder across the body to the opposite side at the waist. This is substantial enough to support a heavy pendant medal.

The neck ribbon supports a medal hung around the neck. This is most popular

and is the one used for Olympic and other sports awards.

But the most popular one is the ribbon drape that supports a medal and is attached to a stem and clasp by which it can be fastened to a garment. There are several ways of folding the ribbon drape and the ends are sewn together after a ring is placed in the fold. A second ring (as a jump ring) supports the medal.

When a medal is intended to be worn in front of the ribbon (as both elements suspended from the same header) the ribbon in this position is known as the backribbon.

Its color should be in contrast to the color of the medal.

Ribbons are made of cotton or silk, and more recently of rayon; they can be flat or braided. The finish of the cloth can be of several kinds – gros grain (most durable), satin finish, moire and velvet. Ribbons are decorated with bullion embroidery, metal thread, often made into tassels.

Some ribbon substitutes have been used. Indian Peace Medals have been suspended with thongs of leather. Other ribbon substitutes include cord and colored string.

When designing a ribbon for a medal it should be kept in mind that the ribbon should be the same width as the medal, the ribbon drape and medal should be no wider than 1 3/4- inch. A neck ribbon may support a wider medal but the weight should be taken into consideration.

Ribbons do tend to soil and fray with extensive wear. They have the advantage that they can be replaced with fresh ribbon. Original ribbon and replacement ribbon are terms used by collectors to differentiate these when it can be so determined.

Cataloging ribbons.  It is usually sufficient to identify the color of ribbons in cataloging such medallic pieces. Numismatic custom is to identity the colors from left to right. Hyphens (sometimes slash marks) are used to connect the colors:  red-white-blue-white-red. Such a ribbon would have a single blue stripe down the center and the border color is red on both sides.

Ribbon as design elements.  Infrequently a coin or medal will contain a ribbon as part of their design, often having lettering appearing on them. Such ribbons show folds, waves, and their ends are frequently notched for artistic effect. They are also called banderole.

Ribbons are also found in wreath designs, as a tie at the bottom; these are called ribbon ties. A circular ribbon, often with lettering and with a buckle below is known as a riband circlet or ribbon circlet.

Ribbon Bank.  An accumulation of many ribbons for use by collectors and others to draw upon when desirous of replacing a worn or tattered ribbon drape, neck ribbon or such. The Orders and Medal Society of America maintains such a ribbon bank for their members. Also private ribbon banks exist, and, infrequently medal manufacturers may have a small cache of unused ribbon. Ribbon manufacturers are generally not a source of short length of ribbon, demanding a sizeable minimum order (500 yards or more) to manufacture new ribbon. They cite the huge effort and expense to setup their looms to make such ribbon.

CLASS 13.3

6210-(009)10.6           Illus: Photos

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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