American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Drachmas Doubloons and Dollars: The History of Money

The Art of the Medal

Medals in the 19th Century

Under the emperor Napoleon I of France, medals took on a new life. The Roman Empire served as a major source of inspiration, and medals in a neoclassical style chronicled events of the age. Exhibitions where medals and other artworks were shown helped to make artists known to a wider public. Towards the end of the century, art nouveau and social realism influenced medallic design.

This gigantic medal by the Italian artist Pistrucci was too large to be struck and only exists in electrotypes. It shows the victors of the battle of Waterloo (1815) where Napoleon was defeated: George IV of England, Francis II of Austria, Alexander I of Russia and Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia.


These small medallettes commemorate every British victory over Napoleon between 1808 and 1814. They are kept in a modified shell casing.


In 1815, Congress awarded Andrew Jackson this gold medal for his extraordinary victory over the British troops. It was given to the American Numismatic Society by a collector who had acquired it in a pawnshop.


Papal medal of Pius IX, commemorating the consecration of San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome in 1854 following its rebuilding. The original church was destroyed by fire in 1826. Such architectural medals, popular in the Renaissance, were taken to new heights in the 19th century.


On this medal, Alexandre Charpentier (1856-1909) shows masons shifting blocks of stone. It does not commemorate a particular person or event. As in paintings and other art forms of the time, social realism was expressed on medals by showing ordinary people at work.