When I was hired in 1966 by William Trees Louth, then president of the Medallic Art Company, I was charged with the task of cataloging all the medals that the company had made. There were no rules on how to catalog medals. I faced a chore of large proportion without any owner’s manual, without any guide book about how to do it.
In all, I cataloged 6,121 medals before I left the firm ten years later, then I cataloged 25,000 lots as a medal dealer in 35 auction catalogs. I had to name – or instruct assistants – on how to create a name for every one of those medals!
Thus I had to learn rather quickly how best to name a medal and put this in writing. I had to hone my technique with each new problem name. Those written statements became rules I could follow which made my task easier and provide uniformity in style of medal names for any large group of medals, any collection.
Three elements in medal names. Every person and object in the world has a name. Medals are no different. An early concept I learned was that medal names could be formed from three elements, with one, two or all three of those elements in one name. These are:
- A person’s name – The person portrayed, or a person’s memorial, or a person honored, or a sponsor, or even the issuer of the medal. A person’s name could also be the name of a medal.
- An Event – an anniversary, a convention or meeting, victory in a battle, any of hundreds of events in man’s history can be the subject of a medal, and therefore become the medal’s name.
- Issuer or sponsor. An issuer is a person or organization which publishes a medal, pays to have it made and is in control of its distribution whether it is free or if it is sold. A sponsor is a person or organization that pays for the making of a medal, as for, say, a contribution to a non-profit organization, as a corporation underwriting the cost of a professional organizations award medal.
Five major families. Then I learned every medal has a last name. That name is the medallic form of the item. It is as if the item belongs to a family, all of which are of similar type or form, all related. Like Smith for humans the most common name for medallic items is “Medal.”
Closely related to this family are the siblings “Medalet” and “Medallion.” Medalets are under one inch (25.4mm), medallions are large medals, over 3 1/16-inch (80mm). Cousins are “Plaquette” with longest side under 8-inch (20.32cm), “Plaques” over 8-inch.
Other family names in the world of medallic items are: galvano, relief, decoration, badge, emblem, ingot, medallic object, paperweight, plate, seal, token, key fob, watchfob.
The field is growing as multi-part medals and mixed-media medals were first created in the later part of the 20th century. Medals have been modified in several creative ways, by colorizing, by attaching items to make fabricated medals, and embedding material on the surface from relic metal to crystals. Each of these could be included in the medal name.
Rules for naming medals.
Here, then, after all my experience are 15 rules for naming medals (from my list for cataloging):
4.1 Last Word. All medallic items have a last name. It is the type of item it is. Obviously these include medal, medalet, medallion, plaque, plaquette, and the less common ones: galvano, relief, decoration, badge, emblem, ingot, medallic object, paperweight, plate, seal, token, key fob, watchfob. One of these is the last word in a medal name.
4.2 Put last name first of the name of a person that is also the name of the medal; all other elements of that personal name within parenthesis. A second person’s name in the name of the medal can be given in normal sequence. This rule grew out of a need to alphabetize thousands of names of quickly and accurately.
4.3 Capitalize the first letter of each word in the medal name (articles are exceptions – a, the – and some pronouns – of).
4.4 No abbreviations in the name of medals. Spell out everything. Saint, Street and all abbreviations.
4.5 No personal titles in medal names (no admiral, no doctor, no mister, no reverend, no military rank – exception made for Cardinal, however – use full formal names). Otherwise we have too many President X or King X medals in alphabetical lists).
We have three “General Washingtons” for example, it is more precise to identify George [who had no middle name], from John Macrae Washington and from William Henry Washington.
4.6 No nicknames in personal names; use full formal names. (Exception: Jimmy Carter who insisted on “Jimmy” on his Inaugural medal – how informal and ignorant of medallic custom!)
4.7 Identify pseudonyms and stage names within parenthesis. If Mark Twain is the name of medal, put Samuel Clemens within parenthesis.
4.8 Use minimal punctuation in names. (A firm with three or more names with a comma or two in the firm’s name is the only exception that comes to mind.)
4.9 City identifiers are used to identify certain types of medals (e.g., storecards) and certain themes or devices; use name of city – and sometimes state where clarity is necessary – in name of medal to indicated such things as: expositions, monuments, public statues, conventions, buildings, churches, newspapers, Olympic Games (and bridges). And if it is in Springfield, the state must be added.
4.10 No comma between city and state in medal name (this is a name, not a mailing address).
4.11 Names of things – books, plays, songs, ships, airplanes, statues, works of art and such – which are italicized in normal text are not italicized in medal names. They can be italicized in description.
4.12 Omit the word “Award” in a medal name. Such award medals are identified in descriptions by giving data within parenthesis. It is the Pulitzer Medal not the Pulitzer Award Medal.
4.13 Omit the word “Official” in a medal name. A description should be sufficient to identify the medal from any non-official medal.
4.14 Keep medal name as brief as possible. Keep the number of elements of a name to no more than three such elements if possible. As: issuing organization, named after person’s name, type of medal or award. (If there are four or more elements, pick the three most important.)
4.15 Proper sequence in naming a medal. Most medals are easy to name by the person or event featured. Other medallic items have as many as four elements that are necessary to be incorporated in the name, as: the sponsoring organization, its parent organization, the name of the award and perhaps an individual portrayed or honored. Here is an example:
The Edward F. Adolph award in physiology of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester contains four elements (in 19 words).
Its proper name as a medal (reduced to 13 words):
University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry Edward F. Adolph Physiology Medal
Note: the word “award” is not included in the name. The medal is the award.
4.16 Omit legal forms in medal names. No “Inc,” “ LLC,” “Corp.” in medal names. Identity of the organization is satisfactory without this designation.