Antique Medals and Orders

Antique Medals and Orders

Under the generic (and certainly incomplete) name of antique medals we usually encompass all kinds of badges and decorations. However, this field is very broad and constitutes a very interesting type of collecting: all these pieces have behind them an interesting history, which is usually crowned by the awarding of the distinction for heroic de...

Under the generic (and certainly incomplete) name of antique medals we usually encompass all kinds of badges and decorations. However, this field is very broad and constitutes a very interesting type of collecting: all these pieces have behind them an interesting history, which is usually crowned by the awarding of the distinction for heroic deeds, distinguished services or victory in competitions or contests. Thus, instead of calling them "antique medals" it is better to use the term "antique decorations". These include pieces awarded by military or civilian institutions, public or private.

Within the distinctions awarded for distinguished service, the truth is that the terms "decoration", "order" and "medal" are often used interchangeably. However, there are important differences that a good collector should be aware of. The orders are military and their delivery implies the entry of the awardee in a corporate entity. The decorations, on the other hand, can be civilian and do not imply membership in any entity. Within the decorations we find different types, from lesser to greater relevance: Medal, Knight's Cross, Officer's Cross, Commendation, Commander, Badge, Grand Cross and Collar. Thus, the medal would simply be a type of decoration. On the other hand, badges, pins and medals can also be of a sporting, artistic, decorative, etc. type. In fact, badges and pins are often used to indicate that the wearer belongs to some type of organization, club or similar. This is the example of the badges of soccer clubs, of political organizations (for example, the quoted old badges of the FE de las JONS of Franco's era or of the German SS)...


Brief history of antique decorations.


Ancient decorations have their origin in Egypt. Their direct ancestor are the gold necklaces that pharaohs gave to their subjects to reward extraordinary services. During classical times, the Greek civilization had a decoration known as taphalara, circular in shape and intended for soldiers who stood out for their heroism. Similar to it was the Roman phalera, which instead of being placed on the horse's harness (as the Greeks did) was placed on the soldier's breastplate. During the Middle Ages the most important ancient decorations were the military orders, among which are some as famous as the Order of the Temple or the Order of Calatrava. From the 17th century onwards the decorations entered the Modern Era, which began in France with the Military Order of Saint Louis created by Louis XIV. The hierarchy of this Order, with the degrees of Knight, Commander, Grand Cross and Pension, was continued by those that came later and also by those of other countries. In the 19th century it was established that the orders were awarded to all military ranks equally, according to their merits. During the twentieth century and up to the present day governments around the world continue to award decorations to civilians, military and institutions or figures from all walks of life.


Brief history of ancient medals.


Formerly, the medals were circular in shape and were minted on both sides. Over time the shape has varied and there are different types. We can find purely artistic medals, commemorative (as a souvenir to some special event), awarded by an organization for distinguished services given as a prize of a contest or competition, religious type or awarded by the government for services to the country (both civilian and military type). The term "medal" appears for the first time written in Tuscan texts dating back to the 13th century. Apparently, the first medals as such were minted during the time of Emperor Augustus (1st century B.C.), after which they fell into disuse and their manufacture became more rudimentary. In the Renaissance (15th century), the figure of Vittore Pisano Pisanello is instrumental in the revival of modern medals as we know them today. Pisanello recovered Roman minting techniques and improved them by carving the medals struck with a burin. In later centuries, great artists such as Albrecht Dürer created commemorative and artistic medals for commissions from individuals or institutions. Medals may or may not be decorations: such qualification depends on whether they have been awarded by the government or some civil or military institution as a reward for certain services, or for having won in a competition or contest.


Antique medals and antique commemoratives create fantastic collections with thousands of stories to tell and investigate. Their precious designs, colors and the noble materials from which they are made often turn them into real jewels, worthy of historical museums.

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