Heritage Crafts

Medal making

The making of medals, medallions and insignia, typically in cast metal.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
London and Birmingham (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Area practiced currently
UK (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Origin in the UK
16th Century
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
21-50 art medal makers. Unknown number of production medal makers.
Current No. of trainees
1-5 (See ‘other information’ for further details)
Minimum No. of craftspeople required


Medals are two-sided, small-scale sculptural objects, often made from cast metal, and available as an edition. Medal making falls into production medal making for regalia and ceremonial use on the one hand and art medal making on the other.

Medals as an art form originated in the late Renaissance period in Italy. The characterisation of the medal as an art form as we consider it now, is attributed to Pisanello, an Italian painter and medallist of the fifteenth century.

Most medals will portray a relationship between the obverse and reverse, and can also include detail around the edge. Medals are usually hand-held and therefore tactile. They can address political, social or historical issues, and depict text, abstract forms or figurative imagery, including portraiture. Contemporary medal-makers have questioned what defines a medal, experimenting with alternative materials, scale, and the use of modern technology.


The techniques used in the craft of medal making range from plaster carving, modelling, wax working, patinating and many other techniques depending on the requirements of the medal. Often, the craftsperson will make a positive pattern, which will then be moulded and lost-wax cast, or sand-cast. Struck medals are made by the technique of die engraving.


Coin engravers, sculptors or jewellers often employ the skills of medal making.

Issues affecting the viability

  • Training issues: Medal-making skills are rarely taught in colleges.
  • Market issues: Medal-making is constantly facing the problem of lack of demand. Few organisations realise the potential of medals and commission them. Even the Royal Mint appears to have ceased making commemorative medals.
  • Market issues: Whilst there is a niche market of medal collectors who collect contemporary art medals, as well as a number of organisations world-wide which help promote and support medallic art, there is not enough demand for a medal craftsman to create a living from medal-making as their sole profession.

Support organisations

  • The British Art Medal Society (BAMS). This is the central British organisation for medallic craft. Annual conferences and monthly lectures take place. An annual student medal competition is held throughout a number of universities, helping teach new generations of art and craft students about medal-making. BAMS also publish a journal twice yearly, and regularly commission new editions of medals from sculptors, jewellers and other artists. The BAMS New Medallist Award sponsors a new medal artist every year, helping continue the craft of the medal; the awarded person receives mentoring from a skilled medal artist, as well as a period of study abroad, a period of study at the Royal Mint, and the opportunity to study the historic archives of medals in the British Museum and the V&A.
  • Fédération Internationale de la Médaille d’Art (FIDEM). This is an international organisation for the promotion, support and international exchange of issues related to the art of the medal. Bi-annual symposiums are held at different locations around the world.
  • British Museum. The museum hosts BAMS and houses the UK’s national collection of commemorative medals. It actively acquires contemporary medals made by artists around the world.
  • Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. The company regularly commissions portrait and other medals and has an important collection of modern medals.

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

Historic area of significance: London and Birmingham have been the main places, although other centres have been important at different times as a result of the activities of individual artists, e.g. Ron Dutton in Wolverhampton.

Area currently practised: Medal making is practised throughout the UK, in artist’s own studios, as well as universities. Contemporary medal art exhibitions, conferences and lectures are held in different locations around the UK. Monthly BAMS lectures are held in London.

Number of trainees: According to the Goldsmiths’ Company, medal and insignia/regalia making is of least concern, and there have been 3 apprentices known to the Company in recent years.


  • Scher, Stephen K, (editor) The Currency of Fame: Portrait Medals of the Renaissance
  • Jones, Mark, (editor) Designs on Posterity: drawings for medals
  • Syson, Luke, Size immaterial: hand-held sculpture of the 1990s
  • Attwood, Philip, The British Columbia Medals of John Lobban
  • Attwood, Philip, and Powell, Felicity, Medals of Dishonour
  • Jones, Mark, Contemporary British medals. Mark Jones.
  • Attwood, Philip, British art medals 1982-2002
  • Leavitt Bourne, Marcy, and Vandenbrouck-Przybylski, Melanie, The New Medallists
  • Video clip of the Toye, Kenning & Spencer Factory in 2014: From Hidden Histories. Britains oldest Family businesses. Episode 2 of 3:  Toye the Medal Maker. 2014. BBC.
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

Craft inspiration direct to your inbox

Become a Heritage Crafts Fan and receive a free monthly newsletter about craft announcements, events and opportunities.