the metal in medals

bronze medal by Marcel Rau

Bronze is by far the most commonly used metal for medals. Bronze is a metal alloy of copper with 5% tin .

silver medal by Paul Wissaert

Silver, more precious and expensive, is the second most frequently used metal. Sterling silver is 925 silver and 75 copper.
Gold medals are extremely rare.


stainless steel medal by Henri Navarre

Other metals are not frequently encountered. There are examples of stainless steel, copper and aluminium medals.


cast iron medal by Arno Becker

When more precious metals were scarce, especially during WWI, medals were made of iron.




 cast and struck

Medals may be cast or struck. Early examples were always cast. The original wax model sculpted by the artist has the same dimension as the medal.

cast silver medal by Arnold Zadikow


A struck medal is usually a mechanical reduction of the original sculpture.

bronze cast of original sculpture by Ewa Olszewska


The design is reduced and engraved on steel in positive (called a "punch"). Of this, a negative mould is made (called a "matrix").

punch and matrix

The matrix is used to strike medals in a hydraulic press.
Often, a lead trial strike is made.



the finished medal

Cast medals may be single or double sided

The mahatma Gandhi, biface cast medal by André Galtié

They are mostly bronze, but may be silver or iron. The surface of the cast medal is not as smooth as the struck medal; a more or less fine grain can be observed. In some cases it is difficult to tell the difference.
Cast medals are more scarce, as their manufacture demands more work.

the patina


The patina on medals, compared to ivory or wood, is not a surface gloss that comes with age and wear. It is a finish that is deliberately applied to the medal. The color depends on the chemical used.

green patina, medal by Francine Somers

black patina, medal by Godefroid Devreese

two-tone patina, medal by Marcel Rau

this is achieved by applying the dark patina first, then rubbing it off at the prominent parts while still wet

The patina is a thin layer, that is easily damaged or removed, so one must be careful when cleaning a medal. Excessive cleaning takes away the patina, and with it, most of the value of the medal. If necessary, a soft cloth and liquid wax may be used.

The patina can also be damaged by sweat (always hold the medal by its rim) and by saliva speckles.

The patina on those parts of the medal that are most exposed often wears off from rubbing.

Medals should be kept in their original boxes if possible, or on soft cloth. They should not be allowed to come into contact with each other.




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