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Benjamin Franklin recognized that by the magic of compound interest he could will a sum of money that would provide a continuous stipend of funds that could underwrite the cost of an award in perpetuity, forever. He did exactly that in his July 17, 1788, will by directing his executors to provide “100 pounds Sterling” to the superintendent of Boston Schools for an award medal to be presented to the most deserving male student each year.

This was to become known as the “Boston School Medal” the first of which were hand engraved silver discs. Later, dies were made and medals were struck, and even later the medals were struck by the Philadelphia Mint, but ultimately by a metal working firm in Boston.

What must be noted, however, was the administrators of Franklin’s funds did not adhere strictly to Franklin’s original intentions. Boston grew to have more than one school, and a medal was bestowed at each school. Then the school administrators wanted to award a medal to the most deserving female student. The need for medals increased and the funds available ate into Franklin’s endowment.

The female medals – which they named the “City Medal” – required raising additional money. Even so, Franklin’s endowment eventually ran out. To their credit, Boston City Fathers assumed the obligation of continuing to bestow Boston School Medals and Boston City Medals. To their discredit they had mismanaged Franklin’s endowment.

Thus, one of the first medal award programs in America became a textbook example of the need for better management of such recognition activities.

A medal award program – the plan for the administration of the bestowal of medals for some beneficial purpose to mankind or some field of endeavor – should include a number of activities. These include how often the medal will be awarded, the criteria for selection of the recipients, the ceremony for the presentation, the form of the medal, and whether the medal is bestowed alone or with a certificate and/or a monetary award as well. A final activity is the publicity of the award, the presentation is a public relations goal to benefit, not only the medal recipient, but also the sponsoring organization.

Money for the program needs to be certain. Often a fund is established – occasionally specified in a will by a sponsor or donor – for the long-range bestowal of the medal on a periodic basis. Otherwise the sponsoring organization must assume the total cost on a yearly basis.

The medal frequently takes on a memorial to either the benefactor or to some notable person in the field. One or the other of these is often chosen to be portrayed on the medal, and the medal is named for this person.

The most famous of these award medals in existence – Nobel of worldwide fame, or prominent American awards such as the Carnegie, Pulitzer, Caldecott, Newberry, and Peabody – are known to promote scientific, medical, literary or beneficial achievements such as lifesaving or peace. To this list of famous medals can be added the thousands of medal programs that are perhaps known only within their own immediate field.

Two entities are prominent in establishing and maintaining medal award programs: nonprofit organizations for one; colleges and universities for the other. In each case medals are awarded for the personal activities of individuals the sponsor wants to encourage. In most instances these are beneficial activities for the betterment of mankind but it can also be for the advancement of the sponsoring organization.

It is the most beneficial method of rewarding good behavior. Every mother knows this for every child: reward good behavior, punish bad behavior. Medal awards could be considered an institutional form of this parental activity. Plus the medal is an honored object, widely respected, with a long heritage of rewarding outstanding activity. The recipient’s pride is boundless.

Award medal administration. All too often, it has been noted, the administration of medal programs is assigned to inexperienced employees of the organization. Thus the sponsor is not obtaining the full benefit it should receive from its medal award program.

The biggest mistake is not recognizing the most important tenants of medallic art:

Bestow a medal to an individual; bestow a plaque to an organization.

The next biggest mistake is to think that the bigger the medal the greater the prestige. Wrong! A six-inch medal does not intrinsically have twice the prestige of a three-inch medal, because prestige is built over time. It starts with the quality of the medal in its creation, the choice of a top medallic artist, the preparation of an exquisite design, and often the portrait that appears on the medal. Prestige is also developed by the caliber of those who received the medal.

The present writer is familiar with the administration of the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal. Here is an example of the best in award medal management. It has adhered to founder Andrew Carnegie’s desires, set about in his will, for over one hundred years. [I was a consultant for their 2004 Centennial Medal.]

First, the organization has managed the original funds well, seeing that the endowment has grown. It has awarded Hero Medals to qualified recipients as often as needed, sometimes as many as a dozen in one year. It has a policy for vetting each recipient, an investigator who examines each candidate’s case, sometimes after the death of the individual.

In cases of extreme need, as for the education of children of the recipient, the Carnegie Hero Fund provides funds for those educational costs. Other such needs are provided on an individual need basis. The Fund is well managed to be able to do this.

In contrast, when I was a medal dealer, one of my customers was the president of a southern university (which will remain nameless). He purchased from me selected medals: the name of an organization or a reason for their issue could not appear on the medal, but they had to be somewhat generic in nature. He then issued these as his institution’s award medals. That was cutting corners to the extreme!

Really good ideas need not always come from big organizations. In one case of which I am familiar – numismatic coin columnists – the sponsoring organizations sent a plaque to the columnist intended for his newspaper, and a medal to the newspaper, intended for the individual columnist. Along with this was the instruction for the newspaper to conduct a ceremony for each to exchange the proper awards.

One of my best friends was Thomas Haney, who wrote the coin and medal column for the New York Times. One year he won that award and he later told me: “I had worked for the Times for over twenty years and had never even been on the executive floor. I was called to the publisher’s office one day to exchange awards, and it was the finest day of my life!”

Credit that idea with good medal award program management.

Marketing Proposal. May I make a suggestion? Since Medallic Art Company is the leading award medal manufacturer in America, and award medals are a major segment of its production every year, that the firm underwrite the cost of preparing a Manual of Medal Award Management.

This book should be written by a seasoned writer with experience in both business and art. It should be on the shelf of every nonprofit organization in America and the president of every major college and university.

That one book could lead to more business than any other activity I could name, save for having a salesman call on each of those institutions every month.

Resources. There are a number of books on American awards. Below is a list of these from my databank on American Artists.

A W A R D S,    A W A R D   M E D A L S    A N D     R E C I P I E N T S

{1956}  Brook (Herbert)  The Blue Book of Awards. Chicago: Marquis–Who’s Who, 186 pages.

{1969}  Gale Research Company. Awards, Honors and Prizes. Detroit: Gale Research Company.
Volume 1 (American) 16 editions through 2000.

{1969}  Gale Research Company. World of Winners; International. Detroit: Gale Research Co.
Volume 2 (Foreign):

{1977}  Stuart (Sandra Lee)  Who Won What When; the Record Book of Winners. Secaucus, NJ:
Lyle Stuart Inc. 488 pages.

{1978}  Walter (Claire)  The Book of Winners. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 731 pages.
Published & copyrighted by Facts on File.

{1979}  Europa. World Dictionary of Awards and Prizes. London: Europa. 386 pages.

{1988}  Gregory (Gregory W.)  Awards & Decorations of U.S. State Military Forces.
Vandenberg AFB, CA: Patriot Press. 530 pages.

Award medal study. Attached below is a study I started on an analysis of the first book listed above (the first 20 pages of Brook’s Blue Book of Awards). It was more useful to me for its historical aspect rather than its current status of these awards. It dramatically reveals that sponsors don’t understand the basic tenant: give a medal to an individual; give a plaque to an organization.

M  E  D  A  L  S
Medal Name Composition Page
Abel (John J.) Award bronze 1
A.C.A. Advertising Awards 4 silver, 1 gold 1
Acheson Medal gold medal, bronze replica 2
ACS Award in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry gold 2
Adams (Herbert) Memorial Medal bronze 2
Addams (Jane) Medal actually a plaque 3
Agassiz (Alexander) Medal gold 4
Air Force Exceptional Service Award gold 4
Air Force Medal of Freedom bronze 4
Air Force Medal for Merit bronze 4
Air Mail Flyer’s Medal of Honor bronze 4
Alexander (W.A.) Trophy gold 5
Alfaro (Eloy) Award Medal bronze 5
All America Selections
Horticultural Achievement Medallion
silver 6
Allied Artists Oil Painting Honor bronze 6
Allied Artists Gold Medal of Honor gold 6
Allison (Irl) Piano Guild Medal gold 6
Alpha Chi Omega Achievement Award Medallion gold 6
Alpha Delta National Writing Awards gold, silver 7
Alpha Epsilon Delta Distinguished Service Award gold 7
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Award of Merit Medal
bronze 7
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Gold Medal
gold 7
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Medal for Good Speech on the Stage Medal
bronze 7
American Artist Magazine Citation Medal bronze 8
American Automobile Association
National Champion Drivers Award Medal
gold, platinum & diamonds 9
American Cancer Society Award silver 9
American Cancer Society Divisional Award bronze 9
American Citizen Award gold 9
American College of Chest Physicians Medal gold 9
American College of Radiology Medal gold 10
American Farm Bureau Federation
Distinguished Service to Agriculture Medallion
gold 10
American Home Achievement Medal oblong bronze 12
American Hospital Association Award of Merit gold 12
American Humane Assn Medal gold, silver, bronze 12
American Institute of Architects Craftsmanship Medal bronze 12
American Institute of Architects Fine Arts Medal bronze 12
American Institute of Architects Gold Medal gold 12
American Institute of Architects School Medal bronze 13
American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal gold 13
American Institute of Graphic Arts Medal bronze 13
American Irish Historical Society Gold Medal gold 13
American Iron and Steel Institute Medal bronze 13
American Iron and Steel Institute Regional Technical Meeting Medal stainless steel 13
American Legion Auxiliary Distinguished Service Badge bronze on ribbon 14
American Legion Distinguished Service Medal gold 14
American Medical Association Distinguished Service Medal gold 14
American Medical Writer’s Association
Distinguished Service Medal
gold & plaque 15
American Medical Writer’s Association Honor Award Medal gold & plaque 15
American Petroleum Institute Gold Medal gold 16
American Rhododendron Society Gold Medal gold 16
American Society of Mechanical Engineers Medal bronze 17
American Society of Metals Gold Medal gold 17
American Society for Metals Medal for Advancement of Research bronze 17
American Underwriters’ Medal gold 19
American Watercolor Society Gold Medal of Honor gold 19
American Watercolor Society Silver Medal silver 19
America’s Democratic Legacy Silver Medallion silver 20
Anderson (Hans Christian) Prize Medal bronze 20
American Society of Heating & Air Conditioning Engineers F. Paul Anderson Medal gold 20
ANNA Painters’ Competition Medal gold, silver, bronze 21
Appert (Nicholas) Medal of Institute of Food Technologists bronze 21
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