History professors I know love medals. No matter what era, or what nationality, or what subject of their interest, they can certainly find one or more medals that intersect with that interest. The number of medals issued over the centuries, since the mid 1400s, is so great that it seems every event in man’s history has a medal to commemorate it. From Creation – to man’s latest award, or event in space – you are bound to find a medal of that subject.
No disrespect to historians, but one writer has even stated “I would rather quote a medal than a historian,” alluding to the accuracy of the images and inscriptions on medals. Whoever, it appears, goes to all the trouble to create a medal makes certain of its correctness. Often a medal is created near the time of the event further insuring its literal rendition in factual permanent metal form.
But historical accuracy is not alone in the appeal of a collection of medals. There is a spectrum of pleasure enjoyed by the person who gathers and forms a collection of well selected and preserved medals. One of the author’s greatest pleasures in life is to open a tray in a collector’s cabinet to view medals selected around a theme that the owner himself choose to define and form a collection to amplify that theme.
Today I would like to list the pleasures of building and owning a medal collection. Let’s see if we can identify ten of those pleasures.
1. Only you can select you want to collect. Define your collecting specialty. This is called a topic in America, or a thematic in England. Collect what interests you, what really turns you on. If it doesn’t give you pleasure, no need to collect it. Thus your selected topic is of your strongest interest. As stated, there are so many medals in existence, you are bound to find a number of these within your topic.
Building a medal collection gives a collector a sense of accomplishment of his own choice.
2. You can learn from your collection. Often collectors choose a topic of their profession, or their heritage, their ethnicity, or nationality. Your medal collection will give pleasure by learning more about that subject. Also, the greater information you bring to your medal collecting, the more you will get out of it. Medals often provide portraits of the people and illustrations of the major events in that field of interest. With each medal acquired it often spurs research into these people and events. Researching and learning about your medals provides great pleasure.
3. The thrill of the chase can last a lifetime. Forming a medal collection is not a short-time event. Once a collector decides on his topic, he can spend a lifetime searching for, gathering, and acquiring desired specimens. Called the “thrill of the chase” – it is a human activity unlike any other. To learn of a new item that could possible fit within your topic and seek after it. Often these come up in auctions, from a previous owner’s collection. To bid and capture that item is the thrill. That’s a pleasure that can be repeated, experienced often, as long as you own your collection.
4. Capturing a bargain. Everyone loves a bargain. Because there is no standard catalog of medals, bargains are more apt to be found. Seek out antique dealers, flea markets, even coin dealers. They all have, on occasion, medals for sale. If you are lucky you may find one of your topic. You captured a bargain.
5. You can enjoy the beauty of the medals. Once you become knowledgeable about the technology of medals – how they are designed and made – you will appreciate their medallic beauty. There are art medals, those that are created for their art qualities alone. But there is art in historical medals and other medals as well. Often these medals are by some quite famous artists, Leonardo da Vinci to Leonard Baskin, from Albrecht Durer to Augustus St-Gaudens. Beauty in permanent metal form.
6. Pleasure from show and tell. Many collectors achieve pleasure by exhibiting their medal collections: Formally at national conventions or in the privacy of their home to a visiting guest. To be able to discuss and talk about a favorite piece or the entire collection is always a pleasure.
7. Knowledge you are custodian for future collectors. By owning a medal collection you have the knowledge you are caretaker for future generation. Your duty is to preserve for a future collectors to protect and to pass on these cherished specimens. There is a rare pleasure that you can do this by being able to pass on this rare heritage. After all, medals are the most permanent form of man’s artifacts. Coins and medals have great longevity.
8. Meet new people, dealers and other collectors. There is pleasure in the camaraderie of meeting people, dealers and other collectors, with a shared mutual interest. The exchange of ideas and information is often pleasurable to those that have special interests.
9. Opportunity for cataloging. For those collectors who have formed a collection that has no existing catalog, you can catalog your collection for be benefit of all other collectors. You have undoubtedly gathered some valuable information along the way plus a lot of collector lore. Record that. Write the catalog. Your name will go down in numismatic annals – long associated your specialty. Also, of all the fields within numismatics, medal literature has the greatest potential for specialized catalogs. Seeing that catalog, that book, in print is of extreme pleasure.
10. When you sell your collection or it is sold by your estate it will almost always sell for more than what you paid for it over the years. While building a medal collection is not encouraged as an investment, it is often the fact. If a collection is held for a decade or more, chances are it will sell as collectors’ items to other collectors. If you like it, someone else will as well. Thus, more often than not, well chosen collectors’ item increase in value in time. That is a benefit to keep in mind. You might, indeed, find that pleasurable
Well, I named ten pleasures in owning a medal collection. I just compared it to a list I composed in 2004 of 24 reasons to collect medals. I guess ten of those are similar and pleasurable. If you would like to read more go to Medal Collectors of America.