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Grading Military Medals

Sooner or later every military medal collector will sell medals on eBay or some other form of indirect sale where the condition of the medal must be described.

First thing to keep in mind is that medals were made to be worn so condition is not as important as it is with coins. Also many military medal collectors are not familiar with basic coin grades; F, VF, EF, Unc, BU. I use my own system which has worked very well for me and is based on the word ‘used’ like very nice used, slightly used or near mint. In addition any flaws must be described including any problems with the ribbon. I use near mint even for medals in mint condition because I don’t have the time or patience to argue, with every wisenheimer and novice collector, that not every medal is flawless at the time of issue. This is especially true when the medal is made by a private manufacturer. A prime example is the WWII service medal from Utica New York that I currently have listed on eBay and which is illustrated below. At first glance it appears to be worn or cast but the medal is actually in near mint condition! What makes the medal look so misleading is that it is a weak strike that was struck from pitted dies. If that wasn’t bad enough it was then given an antique golden bronze finish in an attempt to make it look like it was made with a higher grade of metal. The weak strike is most likely due to the fact that the center of the medal is much thicker than the arms which also slope downward and away from the center. Since this is one of the most common of the WWII local issue service medals I am sure that there were at least two production runs. Between the production runs the dies were probably stored on a shelf somewhere and quickly became rusted. Rust when removed leaves pitting and the cleaning also softens the resulting image giving the newly struck medals a worn and cast look. When the false finish was applied to the medal even more detail was lost. The fact that this medal is on a crimped broach proves to me that this medal was not part of the original 1946 production run. So as we can all see, the grading of military medals requires some thought and technical knowledge. It also helps to be a numismatist.

About Fred Borgmann

Retired from KP after nearly 31 years as new issues editor and the Standard Catalogs.
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