The Art of Devastation (AoD) is a new research tool designed to help in the identification, cataloguing, and contextualization of the abundant and varied types of non-monetary numismatic items issued during and immediately after the First World War (1914-1918). These items include art medals, commemorative medals, and tokens, but do not include military decorations. The Art of Devastation aims to be the first comprehensive, easily searchable, linked data catalogue of the c.10,000 different types of medals and tokens produced in response to this major conflict.
Before the War began, medals and tokens had served for centuries as a significant means of communication where easy and durable forms of mass communication did not exist. Whether issued by states, organizations, or individuals, their commemorative and propagandistic function was already well known and understood. Increasingly, by the turn of the century, the medal had also become an important medium of more reflective and private artistic expression. Art medals could be distinguished from traditional types of medals by their frequent lack of words, non-elite representation, greater emotional intimacy, experimental shapes, and cast production rather than striking. During the War, these various public and private functions continued, converged, and were greatly intensified by the enormity of the conflict. Thousands of different types of medals and tokens were produced on both sides, consuming scarce metallic resources. This outlay underscores the fundamental role that these items played in feting heroes, marshaling support, directing public opinion, and, more poignantly, expressing grief and disgust. That these items could attain such importance is largely lost to modern audiences due in part to the seriously diminished role that they play in today’s societies, and in part to the fact that medals and tokens have been overshadowed by more artistically accessible, public, and still viable forms of communication like the poster.