Bowers on collecting: American medals to the fore — medals, tokens, and medalets

By Q. David Bowers

Welcome to the second installment in my series on the subject of American medals. I highlight some of those featured in the best-selling Whitman book, The 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens, now with additional comments and updates. Today I discuss medals in general and their definition.

What is a token? What is a medal? Kenneth Bressett, long-time editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins and always a good source for consultation, suggests that, for starters, coins are metal pieces “issued by a government or other authority to serve in commerce as money.” Tokens are “issued by entities other than governments, but have a value in exchange for goods or services.”

Medals form a separate challenge, and it seems that in checking around, definitions suggested by well-known experts can vary widely. Medals and their little cousins, medalets, might be — per our thoughts — created for awards, commemoration, recognition, and tradition with no exchange value of any kind. Medals did not circulate. They were usually sold as souvenirs or mementos and are usually seen today in Mint State grade (or close) or in Proof format.

Issued by Augustus B. Sage in 1858.

A medalet, or small medal, has a rich tradition. Political campaign medalets sized mostly below 29 millimeters were struck in quantity beginning in the 1830s. In the 1850s, George H. Lovett and Augustus B. Sage called certain 31 millimeter (approximately) pieces medalets, such as in the Odds and End series started with one depicting the blaze that destroyed the Crystal Palace in October 1858. Perhaps a medalet should be a medal measuring 32 millimeters or smaller. We’ll leave it up to numismatic lexicographers to decide.

By Anthony C. Paquet, 1860 Mint Cabinet.

Some contributors to the 100 Greatest book suggested that tokens are tokens and medals are medals, and never the twain should meet. However, this defies tradition. For a long time — indeed, back to the cradle days of numismatic auctions in the 1850s and 1860s — they were usually collected by the same specialists. Someone interested in political medals usually finds Hard Times tokens to be interesting, and whether certain medalets of the late 1850s should be called tokens, medals, or medalets succumbs to various opinions. Perhaps the very name of the Token and Medal Society says it all. R.W. Julian, in the introduction to Medals of the United States Mint: The First Century 1792-1892, reminds us that exonumists “are those who collect tokens and medals.”

Civil War token Fuld 17/338a.

In 2015, when the Civil War Token Society published the United States Civil War Store Cards, 3rd edition, a lot of medals were added. The work was the result of many contributors. I did most of the narrative in the front matter. Others wanted more things added; I did not. I agree with Ken Bressett’s definition: A token is intended as payment for goods or services (plus strikes in off-metals made for numismatists using the same dies).

The Medal Collectors of America group publishes the MCA Advisory, which is quite focused on medals, with no Civil War or other tokens in sight.

In continuing with this column I will stay with medalets, medals, and tokens — which I love dearly — and they will be the subjects of articles elsewhere.

Returning to the 100 Greatest book, to have suggested that the greatest medals are those with the highest market values would have been an insult to history and art — being simply a nod to the commercial arena of the moment — which might be different a generation from now. To have suggested that the greatest pieces are the rarest would have been a similar discredit — rarity really says little about the importance of a medal. Last week’s medal, the Libertas Americana, was neither the rarest nor the most expensive. It was voted number one primarily for its historical significance.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Facebook Twitter Email


  1. KEITHSTER says

    I’ll put in My vote for his next book (( love tokens of the America’s)) But would settle for one on just the peace medals to go with a pressing of the same from the mint in the 5oz. silver !!! well a guy can dream rite? Good Luck To Us All”>”>”>”>”><"<"<"<"<"

  2. Buzz Killington says

    OT — Got a 2018 Pt Eagle today. Packaging is MUCH improved. Just a cheap clamshell box, same as everything else. Now, if only the savings were passed on…

  3. MarkInFlorida says

    I too prefer the cheap packaging but they raised the price by $20. They should have lowered the price by $10.

  4. So Krates says

    Hey Buzz, congrats on the acquisition

    Platinum seems to be picking up a bit of momentum lately suddenly narrowing the gap with palladium.

    How does the beak look in hand? (Not the eagle’s)

  5. datadave says

    Fed leaves rates unchanged. Who thinks that the Trump team has had an affect on how many times the Fed raises rates over the next year? He also has a few more open positions to fill. Trump’s background indicates that he will always like easy loans, real estate lives on easy money. He also wants the economy to grow faster. Easy money will make that happen, at least in the short term.

  6. Buzz Killington says

    @SK —

    I am satisfied with how this Pt coin looks. There is something interesting going on with the eagle’s head on the reverse. I didn’t read that much about this coin, so maybe this was a known feature.

    I’m still not sold on Pt long term. I figure there are worse things that getting one Pt. proof every year — it’s not a bad series to buy and hold.

  7. So Krates says

    I meant Liberty’s schnoz.

    She must’ve told a lie somewhere along the line because her nose grew larger in the artwork as things progressed

  8. cagcrisp says

    @Einbahnstrasse”, where did you get the gold content of the pink coin? I still haven’t seen any official confirmation of the coin’s overall weight–some people are assuming it’ll be a standard-weight $5 with less gold, and others are assuming it’ll have the standard gold content with a larger total weight. Do you have any official information on this, or are you just calculating based on an assumption of standard weight?”

    Here is your answer…

    From CW article: “…The pink gold coins are to retain the same diameter of .900 fine gold coins at 0.85 inch, or 21.59 millimeters, and the same thickness at 1.75 millimeters, but will be 5.6 percent lighter at 6.741 grams.”…

  9. So Krates says

    Fascinating how the mint sends out an email promoting Black History Month and points to the new 1/10th Liberty coming out but in the product description makes no reference to the fact she’s black….a “modern” rendition.

  10. Achmed says

    the five dollar commemorative gold coins 2017 have a weight of 8.359 grams. When the weight of the pink gold coins is 6.741 grams the difference is much more than 5.6%. Would be nice if cagcrisp could make a new calculation.

  11. Einbahnstrasse says

    Hmm…yeah, that doesn’t add up. I was thinking maybe they meant it had 5.6% less gold content–which would make sense as 85/90 = 0.9444…–but 6.741 grams is too light to be either the gold content or the total weight. Unless the whole coin is thinner, but they said it wasn’t.

    I don’t think we’re any closer to knowing the true specifications of this coin. All we’ve got is bad data.

  12. cagcrisp says

    @Achmed and Einbahnstrasse…

    @Achmed, “the five dollar commemorative gold coins 2017 have a weight of 8.359 grams. When the weight of the pink gold coins is 6.741 grams the difference is much more than 5.6%. Would be nice if cagcrisp could make a new calculation.”

    From CW article: “…The pink gold coins are to retain the same diameter of .900 fine gold coins at 0.85 inch, or 21.59 millimeters, and the same thickness at 1.75 millimeters, but will be 5.6 percent lighter at 6.741 grams.”

    Here was my First comment on the Gold content of the $5 Breast Cancer Awareness “First and Only Pink Gold coin the Mint has ever issued. First and Only Gold coin with ~ .22844 oz. of Gold…”

    @Achmed, here is how the CW article came up with the 5.6% number:

    Gold content in Normal $5 Gold commemorative = .24187 oz.
    Gold content in $ 5 Gold Breast Cancer Awareness commemorative = .22844 oz.

    .24187 oz. – .22844 oz = .01343 oz.
    .01343 oz. / .24187 oz. = 5.6%

    The CW article was stating that the Total weight of the $5 Gold Breast Cancer Awareness was 6.741 grams and the Gold content went down 5.6%…

  13. cagcrisp says


    I never said the CW article was Correct.

    6.741 must be a typo…OR… a transposition…

  14. KCSO says

    “The CW article was stating that the Total weight of the $5 Gold Breast Cancer Awareness was 6.741 grams and the Gold content went down 5.6%…”


    Price is STILL going UP,

    And going UP Relatively to past $5 Comm gold content –

  15. KCSO says

    Or.., if Au crests $1,350 on the ole pricing grid –

    Proof $5 BCA – $448.25

    Yeah.., that’s $448.25.

  16. KCSO says

    Cag, perhaps you’d be kind enough to calc the % & $ pop on BCA WRT to BT $5,

    And what the differential would be on an equal Au weighted basis.


  17. KCSO says

    On its last day of sale,

    The Boys Town Centennial 2017 Proof $5 Gold Coin was $417.60

    Au was priced in the $1,250 to $1,299 range on the pricing grid.

  18. cagcrisp says

    @KCSO, “Cag, perhaps you’d be kind enough to calc the % & $ pop on BCA WRT to BT $5,

    And what the differential would be on an equal Au weighted basis.”

    Gold Proof BT Last cost $417.60 for .24187 oz. Gold or $1,726.55/ oz.

    Gold Proof Breast Cancer Awareness @ $1,345.00 Spot would cost $436.00 for .22844 oz. Gold or $1,908.60/oz.

    $18.40 for .01343 Less ounces…OR…an Increase of 10.5% from the Last time the $5 Gold BT was Sold…

  19. KCSO says

    $5 BCA Price went up $6.15 on an equal price grid basis, that’s not too bad.

    Though if it ends up being $448.25, that’s no fun.

  20. cagcrisp says

    “$18.40 for .01343 Less ounces…OR…an Increase of 10.5% from the Last time the $5 Gold BT was Sold…”

    But look at Glass Half Full…

    Some don’t think the Pink Gold is a Gimmick.

    I Hope they sell 50,000 @ $436.00

    The only thing better would be for the USD to keep going Down and Gold go to $1,400.00…

    …Then you would pay $460.50 or $2,015.85/oz…

  21. Buzz Killington says

    Define gimmick.

    The Korean Bank is selling identical 1/10 oz. gold medals BUT they are embedded on 4 different color cards, each with a serial number, so you need to buy 4 of the same medal to have a “complete” set.

    I consider that a gimmick, worse than messing around with a gold alloy for a specific reason, however, that is not all bad either, because it discourages grading. Will someone get a 1/10 oz. gold Korean medal graded, and have “White Card” noted on the label? I guess it could happen.

  22. Tinto says


    I did comment about it in an earlier blog but didn’t post the link.

    I really liked this design when they had the competing designs being reviewed by CCAC months ago … and was hoping the Mint would choose it … ( CFA recommended this one, CCAC recommended another). Now that they have I’m going to buy it in all 3 finishes, UNC, proof and R Proof … too bad the Mint discontinued the C&C set (I liked the info that came with it) with the EU finish last year even though they made 225k of the $1 in EU finish .. don’t think they’ll resurrect it .. but if they do I’ll buy that too .. and the Mint didn’t screw up the design either….. a big plus

  23. earthling says

    Bitcoin $8567.65

    When I’m able to spend 2 Bits ( .25) and get 2 Bitcoin…. I might consider jumping in for a couple bucks. Hmmmm……………. but…… it’ll still be all imaginary…… nothing I can see …. except on a screen.

  24. earthling says

    Who was that that sang the song –

    ……. when the Bitcoins come tumblein down, when tne Bitcoins come tumblein tumblin…..

    Bitcoin $8483.00


  25. cagcrisp says

    @Buzz Killington , “Define gimmick.”

    From Wikipedia “A gimmick is a novel device or idea designed primarily to attract attention or increase appeal, often with little intrinsic value.”

    A Plain Gold Breast Cancer Awareness coin would Not be a Gimmick.

    A Pink Gold Breast Cancer Awareness coin is a Gimmick.

    The Pink Gold is “designed primarily to attract attention or increase appeal”

    The Pink Gold has NO “intrinsic value” compared to regular Gold. It has Less Gold than a regular $5 Gold commemorative.

    The Premium on the $5 Proof Breast Cancer Awareness is Higher than the Premium on the Proof 1/10 oz. American Gold Eagle.

    That has Never happened Before.

    It only happens Now because the Pink Gold is a Gimmick and people will Chase the Gimmick.

    That’s why the Mint will resort to More and More Gimmicks.

    People will Chase the Gimmick.

    Just like people will Chase Low Mintage Wonders…

  26. Daveinswfl says

    Avg. hr. Earnings up
    Avg. wkly. Earnings down
    So higher hourly rates = less $ in pocket to spend.
    How is that inflationary?

  27. ClevelandRocks says

    Funny, Modern Coin Mart was accepting Bitcoin in its ride up, now not not accepting Bitcoin on its way down….

  28. just another dave in pa says

    Cancer coins are a gimmick, pink or not.. If you’re not aware of breast cancer then you must be dead.

    Will they start a new series based on various diseases?

    New poppy coins to bring awareness to the opioid crisis? What about heart disease and the common cold?

    The organized charities and research organizations seem to profit from these diseases and the US Mint is right there with them. Susan G Komen is/was a scam and the others are not any better although the press releases will speak in glowing terms of all the great things these moneygrubbers do for so many people. It’s all a sales pitch.

    A pox on all of them.

  29. NcCoinCollector says

    Is the bond market bubble about to pop? Will there be a massive sell-off?

    Will the Fed be acknowledged to be insolvent when the value of it’s holdings decrease as it raises rates? Will it monetize all Federal Debt? Will interest rates skyrocket as the dollar falls in value?

    Our current administration should be careful shilling for a ‘weak’ dollar, they may just get what they ask for.

    I doubt Yellen had any desire to stay in office. I also think Mnuchin & McConnell had a very , very good reason to check in at Ft Knox.

    Cryptocurrencies are a plea for help from the masses.

    I hope I am wrong but just in case I plan to grab a few of the fractional liberties next Thursday.

  30. earthling says

    I wish I had a bunch of those fractional Liberties to SELL. But since that would require me to purchase a bunch to start off the festivities …. well… the whole Party is impossible.

    The US Mint, on the other hand. Well they can create the Party to any degree they want. Bake a bunch. Bake a little. Anything they want.

    Well I see the Bits are up a little. This morning they got a bit lower but as typically happens its a constantly moving quote. The manipulators are making fortunes on all the movement. Got to be better than a Vegas Slot Empire.


  31. Buzz Killington says

    @cag —

    If a gimmick is a “novel idea” used to “increase appeal” who can complain about gimmicks? The question with all of these things is whether you are getting your money’s worth, and unfortunately you rarely are. If coin collecting ever makes a comeback, these Mint products will be a great investment. But only in that case.

    @SK —

    I did not get out the loupe to look at the nose, but even with my bad vision, I see something that might be a little excessive.

    There is some kind of frosting on the eagle crown (the feathers around its head) on the one sent to me. I don’t dare to dream that it is one of the “frosted ribbon” patterns, but it does look very interesting, even to the naked eye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *