Medal Casting & Striking

Casting a medal

This article outlines the stages involved in designing and casting a contemporary medal. As an example, it uses the John Charles Robinson medal that the V&A commissioned from the artist Felicity Powell in 2002. Robinson was Curator of Sculpture at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) and acquired many important works for the collection in the 1850s and 1860s.

At its simplest, a medal is cast by pouring molten metal into a mould and letting it solidify. The process usually begins with preparatory drawings. From these, the artist develops a model. This may be made from plaster, beeswax or, as was common in Germany during the Renaissance, carved fruitwood or stone. When the models for each face are complete, a negative mould is taken.

The casting is usually done by a specialist foundry. Gold, silver or, more commonly, a copper alloy such as bronze are the preferred metals. Once the metal has solidified, the medal is freed from the mould and cleaned. Fine detail is enhanced (chased) with metalworking tools and the surface of the medal may be patinated by applying chemical solutions to give different colour effects.


Striking a medal

Struck medals can be made in large numbers. Each medal is formed mechanically by the force of two engraved metal dies pressing the image on to a blank disc of softer metal held between them. Struck medals are generally designed in low relief and have crisp, sharp outlines.

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