Using the Archives

Collecting Toronto: Striking Toronto

Collecting Medals

Larry Becker assembled an important collection of nearly 4000 medals, badges, and other numismatic memorabilia related to Toronto's history, the highlights of which are displayed here.

A silver medal from the 1879 Industrial Exhibition which is a person's profile

Some of the finest Canadian sculptors of the 19th and 20th centuries designed these artefacts. They are excellent examples of the medallist's craft, and preserve the artistic values of their era for our enjoyment. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these objects are important for what they can tell us about the city's history and the people who gave and received them.

Another fascinating aspect of the collection is the insight it offers into Becker as a collector. He organised most of his medals in small trays with closely related artefacts to explore a particular person or event (such as the 1962 Stanley Cup). He also put together objects in exhibit trays to illustrate historical sequences (such as the Canadian National Exhibition awards). Furthermore, Becker carefully documented the stories behind his acquisitions, and thus dramatically increased their value as tangible links to our past. When the collection came to the City, we recorded the precise relationships among the artefacts in Becker's groupings, often using such 'archaeological' techniques as photographing each tray 'as found' in order to preserve his 'curatorial vision.'

Making Medals

There are two major manufacturing methods for producing medals: striking and casting.

A struck medal is one produced by a metal blank being placed between one or more engraved metal stamps under tremendous pressure. This mass production method commonly is used where large numbers of identical medals are required. Struck medals most often can be identified by the mirror-like finish to their surface.

The second method of producing a medal is casting. This method is generally used where only a small number of medals are required. Each medal is made separately by pouring molten metal into a mould. Cast medals can be identified by the imperfections in their surface or the presence of mould lines.

After a medal is made a number of techniques might be used to enhance its appearance. Gilding or plating can make a base metal appear to be gold or silver. The surfaces of medals are often chemically treated to give them a specific colour. Enamelling might be used to highlight a design. Silversmith's techniques (chasing, engraving or etching) might also be used to embellish the final product.

Medals, Badges and Tokens

Not everything on display is a medal, some are badges, and others are tokens. Even though two artefacts may have been produced by the same techniques, from similar materials, and have a very similar appearance they may actually be quite different things. The distinction among them is their differing functions.

A medal is a commemorative statement. It recognizes an individual's or group's participation in a specific event. Examples on display include military and sports medals, and academic awards.

A badge is a symbol of identification. It identifies an individual's membership in a group or place in a social hierarchy. Examples include committee ribbons and military insignia.

A token is a currency substitute. Unlike medals and badges a token can be spent like money. Milk tokens from various Toronto dairy companies are a good example of these artefacts.