How to Identify Antique Medals

Written by lyle burwell
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How to Identify Antique Medals
Medal with lettering, dates and depictions. (medal ussr image by Astroid from

The bad news is that there are no hard and fast rules on how to identify antique medals. The good news is that today we have the Internet. Prior to the World Wide Web, identification of antique medals involved spending hours in libraries large enough to contain books on military and commemorative medals of the past. If that came to naught, one had no choice but to search out dealers or network with other enthusiasts. Today, we don't have just libraries, dealers and peers; today we have all that times 1,000, and we have it at our fingertips.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Pen and paper
  • Internet access
  • Metal cleaner
  • Tiny brush

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Identify the metal. This alone may help you narrow down the era. For example, if the medal is made of aluminium, it cannot be older than 1824.

  2. 2

    Clean the medal. Soak it briefly in a mild metal cleaner appropriate to the identified type of metal. Scrub it with a small brush; a toothbrush is fine.

  3. 3

    Inspect the medal with a magnifying glass.

  4. 4

    Note all identifying characteristics and list them in the following order of significance: lettering, dates, depictions, designs, edging and marks.

  5. 5

    Identify the language of any lettering using the Internet. If it is a foreign language, use the search engine translation option. Identifying the language narrows the list of countries from which the medal came.

  6. 6

    If a date is stamped on the medal, enter the language, the word "medal" and the date in a search engine. This will usually produce a reference work in which an identification may be made. For example, a search for Polish, Medals, 1945 will produce a number of medal identification reference sites.

  7. 7

    If a language and year search does not produce a reference that identifies the medal, your next step is to identify any person depicted on the medal and add that name (e.g., King Edward VIII). To determine the identity of any historical person, use the language as a search term along with the word "medal" and selected identifiers, such as Regent, King, Queen, President or Prime Minister.

  8. 8

    For medals that contain no lettering, date or depictions, use the shape of the medal (star, circle, cross, etc.) in the search string. For example, Polish medal star.

  9. 9

    If you find medals with similar identifying characteristics but of different sizes, measure the diameter and add that to the search terms. For example, Polish medal star 4cm.

Tips and warnings

  • Using quotation marks around a phrase when setting search terms causes the search engine to list hits with that exact phrase first.
  • Medals attached to ribbons used to attach the medal to a cloth surface are almost always military medals.

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