Did you know that the United States Mint not only makes coins but medals too? Coins and medals are both good items to collect. Some collectors like coins better. But some prefer medals. It’s up to you!

Coins and Medals

What’s the difference between a coin and a medal? After all, they’re both disk-shaped, made of metal, and have words and pictures stamped into them.

Here are some of the differences:

  • Coins are “legal tender,” and medals are not. This means you can buy soap and soda with coins, but not medals.
  • Medals don’t have denominations like “quarter” or “dollar.”
  • Medals are used as souvenirs or awards to honor people or events, not to spend.
  • Medals usually are made of precious metals like silver or gold, while today’s coins usually are made of more common metals like nickel and zinc.

And there are other kinds of awards besides medals.

  • A medallion is a large medal.
  • A decoration is an award that is worn, not just displayed, and can be made of other materials like cloth or ribbon.
  • A certificate is a statement about a person that is written on heavy paper and signed by authorities to say that the statement is true.

Medals at the Mint

Since medals are not money, they can be made by other organizations besides the United States Mint as long as they’re not official United States Mint medals.

When the Mint makes national medals on behalf of Congress, they commemorate major national events or honor people who have done things that made our country or the world better.  The kinds of medals that the Mint makes include:

  • Commemorative medals (which includes the Congressional Gold Medal)
  • Mint and Treasury medals
  • Presidential medals

Maybe you’ve heard of our nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor. Congress gives this medal to soldiers, sailors, and airmen who have risked their lives being brave and helpful, and the Mint helped design the first one. The President presents this medal on behalf of Congress, and sometimes to people who were not soldiers.

Congress also awards a medal known as the Congressional Gold Medal, which the Mint makes. This medal also honors great events and people, but the people are usually not in the armed forces.

Each Congressional medal requires a law, and if the law allows it, the Mint strikes bronze copies (90% copper, 10% zinc) called “list medals”—often in two different sizes—that the public can buy.

The Mint’s Medals

Want to learn more about medals at the Mint? Explore our collection below: