The term “exonumia” was coined in 1960 by numismatist Russ Rulau. He was seeking a term to cover all the items numismatists might collect that are not coins. At that time a new organizations was being established just for the collectors of these noncoin numismatic items.
At first, it was planned to include paper money, but this class of numismatic collectibles was quickly spun off; paper money collectors ultimately formed their own specialized organization. Everyone then recognized that paper money did not fit with what the organizers had in mind, the tokens and medals that were to be the prime interest of the new organization.
But should the new organization be called Tokens and Medals or Medals and Tokens? Numismatist Eric Newman spoke up at the organizational meeting noting the inevitable use of initials for the organization’s name. He said: “TAMS are what you put on your head, MATS are what you step on.” So tokens took top billing.
Russ Rulau reasoned he wanted a single word to apply to this class of collectibles, and their adherents, even if he had to coin a new word. He chose exo- a prefix meaning from or outside of, and numia, meaning money or coins. The person, therefore, would be an exonumatist.
At the time I was editor of Coin World, where I took a slightly different view of exo- plus numia. To me it meant outside of numismatics. I said so in a Coin World editorial, criticizing the term.
Time has been kind to Russ’s coined word – it has been accepted by all numismatists and even included in Webster’s dictionary. He has had the last laugh over my original criticism (and he doesn’t let me forget it!).
But more to the point, in the intervening five decades, the Token And Medal Society has concentrated more on tokens than on medals. The pages of its journal – and the books it has published – have weighed far heavier on the token scale than on is companion medal side.
This was evident when, in 1998, a new organization was established for medal collectors alone, Medal Collectors of America. This was intended to fill the niche, the void, that the medal field was not adequately covered by a national specialized collectors’ organization.
Collectors of medals, particularly art medals, embraced the new organization and it has prospered. It now has its own monthly organ, MCA Advisory, still somewhat slim and devoid of advertising, but the content is strictly medal oriented. No tokens are to be seen.
This brings us to the point: Just what are the differences between the two similar collectibles? Mostly they are both struck from dies, but differ in their use and intent. Tokens have a value, expressed or implied, intended to serve a local area, in effect, a substitute for coins. Granted, some of their expressed value is in merchandise or services – good for a loaf of bread or some service. Collectors call these “good fors.”
Medals have no expressed value. They are not substitutes for coins – despite the fact they sometimes look like coins, made of the same compositions, and are often struck on the same presses. They serve a commemorative, historical, or award purpose. Or, they are medallic items of art.
In a previous post on September 6, 2010 – I explained this difference between art medals and token medals in an attempt to develop a definition of art medals. The difference is the press on which they are struck. Token medals are struck on a coining press, art medals require a far more sturdy press, often with greater pressure, and often require multiple strikes.
It is this later class of art medals I would like to single out, to separate from the class of single-struck tokens and token-like medals struck on coining presses. It can be stated, the field of medals is so large that it covers a broad spectrum. Also medals have been produced by every method possible. In addition to being die struck – on every type of press – to casting by every method of casting.
The adjacent chart lists the differences, but of more importance is the preparation of the dies. Token dies are often of simple design, sometimes of lettering alone. Medal dies are of more complex design, with devices and symbols, often with portraits, in addition to the required lettering, requiring far more artistic preparation.
Token dies require little planning and brief execution. A competent diesinker can make a token die in a few hour’s time. With simple equipment as letter punches, or more elaborate equipment, as tracer controlled pantographs, a diesinker can make even a pictorial die in a morning’s time.
By contrast, medal dies require more planning. It is not unusual for a medallic artist to mull over in his mind a proposed medal design for weeks, often while doing other work, before he attempts an initial sketch. At the sketch stage he may modify the design over and over until he views the outline of what he will render into glyphic form later.
One seasoned medallic sculptor, Carl Paul Jennewein, prepared over one hundred sketches for a proposed medal for the Museum of the City of New York centennial. Often the element of symbolism on a medallic item is of supreme importance. Not only must it be pictorial, it must be significant in its symbolic meaning, appropriate to the subject at hand.
The medallic artist has the luxury of unlimited examples he may try out before he accepts one he is most comfortable with. He modifies and polishes the images until he is satisfied. Then he renders the sketch into bas-relief form, either in clay, or more recently, on the computer.
Token makers employ none of this artistic effort. So the contrast between tokens and medals can be great. For this reason, the author proposes the field of art medals should be separated from the field of token interest. Since the field of tokens and all their related collectibles are so closely related to the term exonumia, the only path seems for art medals to go it alone, to distance the field from the exonumia field.
Therefore, I proposed the field of art medals be a separate field unto itself, and no longer be lumped in with all the items of exonumia. I do not propose that any collector limit what he collects, I could never presume to do that. Every collector chooses his own topic, collect both, collect all in that topic.
Please consider, however, art medals in a class above exonumia objects. If that is considered elitist by others, so be it. Art medals are a class above token-medals.
|Type of medal||Art Medal||Token-Medal, or similar.|
|Typical creator||Artist, sculptor||Craftsman, diesinker|
|How made||Struck, cast, other||Single struck|
|Type of Press||Medal press, Hydraulic, Knuckle-joint||Coining press|
|Impressions||Multiple struck||Single struck|
|Relief||Full range of relief, intaglio to high relief||Very low relief only suitable for coining|
|Edge||Full range of edge treatment, often lettered||Reeded or smooth by type of collar used|
|Finish||Full range of finishes, and patinas in color||No finish, known as “coin finish”|
|Publication||MCA Advisory||TAMS Journal|
|Organization||Medal Collectors of America||Token And Medal Society|
|Prominent collector, author, spokesman||Donald Scarinci||Russ Rulau|
|Typical topic||Society of Medallists||So-Called Dollar|
|Reason||Highly artistic, created by top American sculptors.||Size of silver dollar|
|Medallic forms||Medals, medaletes,medallions, plaques, plaquettes, reliefs, medallic objects, multiple-part medals, mixed-media medals, decorations, charms.||Merchants tokens, Civil War tokens, vending machine, parking meter and transportation tokens, game & casino chips,bullion coins / medals encased items, others.|
|Other topics, types||U.S. Mint medals, Presidential Inaugural, Olympic medals, Commemorative medals, Historical medals, Portrait medals, Award medals, Anniversary medals, Prize medals, many others.||Store cards, Bryan Money, Coal scrip, Lumber Co tokens, Billiard tokens, Sales Tax tokens, Elongated coins, Doubloons, Spinners & Flippers, Play money, many others.|
Topical medal collecting. The author has compiled a list of topics of all types of token and medal collecting. There are over 350 topics ranging from advertising and aviation to zodiac and zoology that numismatists collect. These cover both tokens and medals, although medals are far more diversified than tokens, with more actively collected topics.
However, it can be said, once a collector chooses his topic, he will collect all forms of numismatic items that fall within that topic. That is how compelling a chosen topic is to a collector.