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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.


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