Why Collect Medals?

A Primer for the First-Time Medal Buyer

By D. Wayne Johnson

Rarity beyond your fondest wishes!

Unlike coins made by the multi-millions, medals are often struck in minute quantities, sometimes only a dozen or so. Also, award medals with a recipient's name, are unique - one of a kind - specimens!

Condition and grading.

Condition and grading of medals are better than you might expect. Unlike coins, medals do not circulate. Six classes of condition based on wear are not necessary. Grading standards for medals is even different from coins: For coins you grade the wear and overlook the abrasions. For medals you grade the abrasions and overlook the wear (usually absent).

Open your eyes - enjoy the beauty!

Recently examining coins requires higher power microscopes. Medals, however, are viewed for their total image - the beauty of the entire medallic design. And you can do this with unaided normal vision!


Sure you can buy coins for investment; but you can also buy medals for the same reason, if you so desire. Medal prices do rise for the same reason: supply and demand. But the most important buying advice is - see next item:

Buy what you like!

Personal choice is the major factor in choosing to purchase a medal.

Stop visiting the bank so often.

For two reasons: You can spend less for medals - you get more for your money - and medals don't need to be placed in safe deposit boxes.

Live with your medals.

Select several of your favorite medals to place them in a highly visible place - on a shelf, a mantle, in a curio cabinet. Both you and your friends can view and enjoy them. Place the rest in a cabinet and rotate the ones for viewing.

Become interested in people on medals.

The most frequent device on medals is, not surprisingly, people! Hundreds of thousands of portraits appear on medals. Who is your idol, hero, or professional celebrity? You are apt to find their portrait on a medal.

Build a balanced collection.

Seek medals from different periods and artists, not just those that are current. You will enjoy the variety of styles, designs, patinas, finishes - in addition to the topical interests.


Yes, indeed. Your medal collection can be sold nearly as quickly as any other collection. There may not be a medal dealer in your city, but there are ample specialized dealers in medallic art.

Fakes and copies.

They do exist, just as in coins. But medals are not as devious. Copies of coins are made by crooks. Copies of medals are often made by museums for serious numismatists to study.

For the history buff in all of us.

Medals are a supreme source of history and symbology. Medals are unrivaled if you like the thrill of uncovering their history, their special stories. Research to your heart's content.

Bargains abound!

You can purchase medals from many sources. Often the sellers are unaware of their value to a collector. There is no price guide. Sellers set their own prices, oftentimes at prices very much undervalued as a collectible. Don't overlook internet auctions, flea markets, antique dealers in addition to the medal dealer members of MCA.

Protected surface.

Unlike coins, most medals made in the last century have a patina, or a highlighted finish. After which they are given an unseen coating of lacquer to ward off nicks and wear.

Pick a topic!

Since medals are issued for so many events and subjects, you can virtually pick any topic and build a medal collection around that. Pick as many topics that interest you; find how many medals you can acquire on those subjects.

Free reign.

No holes to fill in an album. Build a medal collection at your own personal pace and direction. Define your specialties as you wish.

Ideal collectible.

You could not ask for a better collectible. Medals are permanent metal, highly artistic (often by famous artists!), easy to acquire, easy to store and display. Ideal physical objects for a collection. Public museums and institutions have recognized this for ages!

Meet some of the nicest people

-- other medal collectors. Intelligent, knowledgeable, willing to share their common interests and experiences, medal collectors are some of the best numismatists in the field.

And great medal dealers!

The handful of medal dealers are great people. My former competitor when I was a medal dealer is now one of my best friends.

Medals require a minimal amount of care.

You don't have to feed 'em, or cloth 'em but you do have to take care of them. Medals don't ask for a lot of attention, however, and can best be stored in trays or cases.

Forget slabbing.

You can still touch medals! Except for proof surface medals you can handle 'em. Feel their relief. They are unfazed by finger oils (unlike coins). Thrill to their tactile feel!

Leave your mark in numismatics.

Of all the numismatic literature, medals are the least covered. Tremendous opportunities exist for forming a topical medal collection and writing a catalog based on your collection, even creating the "standard work." This will benefit other collectors and place your name in permanent numismatic history.

Well respected.

You don't have to brag. But as a collector of medals others in the field will automatically know of your advanced numismatic knowledge, collecting taste and skills.

For sheer enjoyment!

Having been a collector for sixty years and involved with medals since 1962, I have collected just about everything in numismatics. I can say without fear of contradiction, nothing has given me more sheer enjoyment than collecting medals! That will be true for you too!