Designed to amaze and advertise, organizational art medals (from
nonprofit and for-profit businesses and professional organizations)
typically strive to inspire feelings of security and trust.
This is especially true for banking, insurance and pharmaceutical
companies. As they deal with issues of money, security and health,
they must show themselves to be strong and trustworthy. However, their
medals can only accomplish this if they can first catch the eye of the
consumer and encourage further word-of-mouth advertising; hence the
impressive size and creative designs.
Organizational art medals come from many different nations but many
of the most innovative examples hail from Portugal and the United
States, along with nations like France, Finland, Denmark, Sweden,
Argentina, and Italy.
Portugal home to medal arts
Medalhistica Disart is a company in Porto, Portugal, that
manufactures medals and decorations. Founded in 1935, its Facebook
page displays the motto: “The Art of the Medal for 79 Years.”
A 1985 Disart promotional bronze medal contains two movable halves
totaling 90 millimeters in diameter that are split by a smaller
12-millimeter medal that spins. The larger halves have wording that
celebrates the company’s 50th anniversary while the lettering on the
smaller medal translates as “The present for the future.”
The 22nd Congress of Portuguese Cardiologists met in April 2001 and
issued a three-part square medal to promote the event, and to provide
the doctors a souvenir. The obverse of the medal is the cityscape of
Porto with the iconic Clerigos Tower. The text inside the medal
translates “With Porto in the Heart.” The removable 33-millimeter
center is shaped like a human heart with anatomically correct details.
Sizewise, this medal is in a class by itself. A typical 3-inch
bronze medal weighs 4 to 6 ounces and has a width of about 5
millimeters. This 3.75-inch square (97-millimeter) behemoth tips the
scales at 76 ounces and is 27 millimeters thick. It is signed by José
Joaquim Rodrigues. Born in 1936, he is one of Porto’s most famous
A Lisbon bank, Fomento Nacional, celebrated its 20th anniversary in
1980 with a medal that incorporates — what else — coins. The
85-millimeter-diameter medal has two moving coin-like objects that
remain within the medal. This small feat of engineering is enough to
cause consumers to wonder how the coins remain on the medal.
Vertical bars extending beyond the medal’s edge on both sides give
it a modern look but the antiqued bronze finish conveys age and
stability. It is signed by Dorita de Castelo-Branco (1936 to 1996).
Neo-Pharmaceuticals, a Portuguese company, issued a medal to
advertise its product called Homenagem. Their undated 90-millimeter
bronze medal is a flowing circle that contains a spinning
lightning-bolt-shaped snake in the center. The snake, a nod to the
ancient caduceus, has long been a symbol for hospitals and pharmacies.
The text reads, HOMENAGEM DA, NEO-FARMACEUTICA, IDA, and the medal is
signed by Girao.
Elsewhere in Europe
From a pension bank in France, a 35-millimeter bronze medal dated
1900 celebrates the bank’s 50th anniversary and encourages saving.
Signed by Henri Dubois, it shows a small child in her father’s arms
who surrenders her coins to an allegorical female figure representing
savings. This was created for and issued during the Universal
Exposition in Paris.
A high relief 39-millimeter 50th anniversary medal dated 1921 is
from Sweden and the North Star Insurance Co.
It is illustrated with family values in the form of a mother
partially draped in classical fashion and feeding fruit to her child.
The other side is a nest of birds caring for their young. The wording
translates as “Wise concern keeps away trouble.”
American medals also option
Many of America’s most beautiful bronze organizational medals were
made during the heyday of the art form, between 1920 and 1970. One
3-inch masterpiece in high relief was manufactured by the Medallic Art
Co. to commemorate the 150th anniversary (1812 to 1962) of the First
National City Bank of New York.
The large nude figure with arms extended in a protective stance is
meant to represent the spirit of the American people. He is surrounded
by figures that represent: Family, Culture, Commerce, Transportation,
Industry, and Agriculture. The medal was created in Barcelona by
Enrique Monjo (1896 to 1976), a Spanish sculptor.
Another MACO classic organizational art medal was commissioned by
Standard Insurance of Oregon in 1963 and sculptured by Avard Fairbanks
(1897 to 1987). This 70-millimeter medal has an all-American vignette
of a wagon train going through a mountainous pass, the wagons pulled
by oxen, and one of the men, dog by his side, pointing the way. A
larger version of this same design, called “Will to Achieve,” was made
in 1929 for Standard Insurance and is 2.5 feet across.
Radio, television, magazines and the Internet have eclipsed medals
as advertising outlets for businesses today, but for a time, the
organizational art medal thrived. Luckily for us, a few are still made
today, and many more vintage examples survive to be collected.
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