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Gallantry Medal

Gallantry Medal.  A medallic item bestowed for noble and chivalrous behavior; early such medals were bestowed to knights, in modern times moreso to heroes of military action. Gallantry medals have followed the change in the definition of the word gallantry since the time of the crusades.

History of gallantry medals.  In feudal times gallantry meant the chivalrous actions of men toward women, as the knight who was charged with the protection of ladies (as during travel). This noble action was the basis for some early orders, societies of men whose purpose was civilized behavior. (Makes one wonder what uncivilized conditions existed during feudal times!) These orders (societies) sometimes took on a religious manner, in others a military nature. They were often organized by royalty. The lowest rank was the knight or chevalier, with as many as four to seven classes, the highest class would be that of the king.

The badges of these orders were considered gallantry medals and each class was more distinct than those below it. Thus the class of the badge indicated the rank of the recipient, differing by larger size, more elaborate design, more jewel encrusted, in more precious metal and such. These decorations were usually made by jewelers and employed much of the technology of medal making (diestruck blanks, enameling, goldplating, fabricating, suspension and such).

Modern gallantry medals.  In the middle of the 19th century medals were created and bestowed for gallantry – exceptional or brave action in military battle. England established the Distinguished Conduct in the Field Medal in 1854, the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal in 1855, the Sea Gallantry Medal and others as military actions dictated, or with a new monarch (the Victoria Cross bore the portrait of the queen and was a gallantry medal). With the introduction of air battles, a gallantry medal for the Royal Air Force was established. Other countries followed in similar fashion in Germany, France and most combative countries of the world.

In the United States gallantry medals include the Congressional Medal of Honor, Purple Heart. These are made at the U.S. Mint and by private medal manufacturers; here again using much of the same technology of medal making discussed in this encyclopedia.

Gallantry medal distinction.  To add distinctiveness (and exclusiveness) to a gallantry medal they are purposely designed with the full range of medal characteristics in mind. They are designed in unusual shape sometimes with exotic trimming, with openwork, sometimes with multiple enamel and enameling. Their suspension is more detailed, often with elaborate ribbons, headers and devices.

Since gallantry medals are the highest rank of a nation's decorations, they are purposely designed to look distinctive by shape and elaborate decoration. This is in contrast, say, with campaign medals or victory medals, which are both usually round and usually widely distributed to all who participated in a campaign or military service.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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