Medical Commemorative Medals

Sculpted by artists in relief, commemorative medals are intimate aesthetic objects. They are created by casting from molds or, more economically, by stamping or engraving upon a blank medal disk or plate. A portrait bust usually adorns one side of the medal (the obverse) and an allegorical scene or narrative is found on the reverse. Commemorative medals bearing portraits were first produced in the Italian Renaissance as a result of heightened interest in antiquities. Medals of physicians and scientists experienced a surge of popularity during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century and were avidly collected by physicians. Medals might be created to commemorate a retirement or other milestones in the career of a living scientist, serve as a special award of a medical school or society, or on the occasion of a medical congress, anniversary, or special event. In other instances they commemorate events such as epidemic disease, famine, or specific medical discoveries such as vaccination.

The Medical Historical Library’s collection of commemorative medical medals includes items dating from the eighteenth to twentieth century. A small but diverse collection, it encompasses pieces representative of each genre of medals. Many physicians, including Harvey Cushing, John F. Fulton, Samuel Clark Harvey, and George Milton Smith, contributed to the Historical Library’s collection.

Finding Aid

Medical Medals Finding Aid Obverse of a vaccination medal presented
to the doctors of the "Bureaux de Bienfaisance,"
Paris. c. 1830-1840.

Bibliography

Appel, Toby. The Medal [A history of the William Beaumont medal designed for the XIIIth International Physiological Congress, Boston, 1929], Federation Proceedings 44 (Jan. 1985): 1.

Freeman, Sarah Elizabeth. Medals relating to medicine and allied sciences in the numismatic collection of the Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore : Evergreen House Foundation : 1964.

Kisch, Bruno. Collecting Medical Coins and Medals. Ciba Symposia 9(10) January-February 1948: 794-806

Kisch, Bruno. Famine and Food Provisions in Numismatics. Ciba Symposia 9(10) January-February 1948: 811-817

Kisch, Bruno. Plagues and Coins. Ciba Symposia 9(10) January-February 1948: 807-810

Kisch, Bruno. Suggestions for arranging a collection of Medicina in nummis. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 33(1) January 1945

Rich, Joseph P. Smallpox in Medals. Ciba Symposia 9(10) January-Feburary 1948: 818-822

Storer, Horatio Robinson. Medicina in nummis; a descriptive list of the coins, medals, jetons relating to medicine, surgery and the allied sciences. Boston : Wright & Potter printing company, c1931.