American medallic art has evolved dramatically from the end of the 19th century to today. The United States Mint relinquished its role as the dominant force in medal production and private companies were commissioned to strike pieces created by a new wave of artists. Founded in 1903, the Medallic Art Company (MACO) in New York City led the way in manufacturing as organizations like the Circle of Friends of the Medallion, the Society of Medalists, the American Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association (ANA) commissioned pieces from the outstanding artists of the time. The result was an explosion of new material that evolved from the Beaux Arts style and embraced new art movements including the Art Deco style that dominated medallic art for decades.
Changing artistic tastes in the latter half of the 20th century encouraged further diversification as medalists explored new materials, decoration, shapes and topics. Increased interest led to the formation of collector-based organizations including the Order & Medals Society of America (1950), Token and Medal Society (1960), American Medallic Sculpture Association (1982) and Medal Collectors of America (1998). Founded in 1937, the International Art Medal Federation (FIDEM) brings together medallic artists from around the world to exhibit their work and exchange ideas, including its only two U.S. congresses at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs (1987 and 2007).
As with all art, today’s medallic art is an intimate personal statement and expression. The departure from convention ensures that anything is on the table. If a technique or manufacture method works, the medal is admired and is successful, and if not, the artist learns and moves forward. Ceramic, clay, cardboard, paper, glass, plastic, polymer and wood are just some of the materials used. Medals are struck, cast, fabricated or a combination, and occasionally are three-dimensional. Some honor people or events, some serve as political or philosophical statements, and some are remarkable purely for their aesthetic beauty.
Collectors are attracted to art medals for many reasons. Their attractiveness and compact size make them desirable for display anywhere. They often honor people or subjects not featured on coins, accommodating a collector’s personal taste. And although they are often produced in limited quantities of 100 or less, they are usually affordable, making a rare and impressive collection attainable.
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