Numismatic Museum of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru

(Informative Panels)

Antecedents of Republican Medals

A commemorative medal is a round disk usually without purchasing power, issued in honor of an important event.

Commemorative medals are commonly made to celebrate official public events, although they may also be associated with private occasions.

The use of dies or matrices allows mass production of medals, although they can also be handcrafted; i.e., engraved by hand.

This exhibition shows several dies and medals produced by the Lima Mint, evoking Peru’s history since the beginning of the Republic.

During the Italian Renaissance, medals were made popular by artist Antonio Pisano, known as Pisanello, who cultivated the art of engraving the effigies of prominent figures on metal disks. The practice of making medals was brought to Spain under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, known in history as the Catholic Monarchs. In Peru, there are reports of medal making in colonial times, the oldest of which is by the Spanish chronicler Agustín de Zárate in his “History of the Discovery and Conquest of Peru”. Zárate mentions a medal in honor of Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of conqueror Francisco Pizarro, proclaiming him “King of Peru”. None of these medals, engraved before Gonzalo Pizarro’s death in 1548, have survived.

As information about medals coined before the 18th century is sparse, perhaps we can trace the tradition of commemorative medals in Peru back to the Fidelity Pledges to Spanish Monarchs, starting with Charles III in 1760. Several towns in the Viceroyalty of Peru used to commission Fidelity Pledges to the Lima and Potosí Mints. They used to be thrown to the crowds during accession celebrations or distributed in the colonies.

Dies and Medals Until the War of the Pacific

The first medals of the Republican Period were made in homage to the declaration of Independence on July 28, 1821. The dies used to make these medals were carved by Atanasio Dávalos. Over time, several medals were minted as pledges of allegiance to the National Constitution.

This period also saw the production of medals in honor of freemason lodges and battles led by military leaders. Examples of this are the “Liberation of Callao” (1826) and “Homage to Orbegoso” (1834) medals.

Under the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, medals in commemoration of the battle of Socabaya, the creation of the state of South Peru, and Generals Santa Cruz and Gamarra, were created.

In 1839 the Peru-Bolivian Confederation collapsed and the Republic of Peru was restored. A coin-medal without a face value, but with the weight and content of a two-peso coin, was issued in 1840. It commemorates the restoration of the Republic of Peru, and shows the national flag on the obverse and the legend “Coin in Honor of the National Flag” on the reverse.

Dies produced in Peru until 1857 used to be handcrafted. Since 1858, medals were designed at the Lima Mint using a modern pantograph, which provided greater detail and better finish.

Production of medals accelerated since 1860. The quality of designs improved considerably thanks to the work of engravers Robert Britten, Charles Bryant, and Enrique Gris. Since 1862, many medals of remarkable beauty were made to commemorate the massive public works undertaken in that period.

During the war against Spain in 1866, a medal featuring four mythical warrior women (symbolizing the four South American Republics involved in the conflict) was commissioned in London.

The first medal commemorating a railway inauguration was issued in 1868. Apart from large public works, there were medals for numerous other occasions, such as church repair works and the construction of bridges.

During the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), the government issued medals in honor of the victory over Chile in the naval combat of Iquique, Peruvian battalions, and Peru’s fallen heroes. One of the most beautiful medals ever to be made in Peru, entitled “From the Ladies of Lima to the Foreign Urban Guard”, was issued in 1881 in recognition of the protection provided by foreign powers against the Chilean invasion of Lima.

Dies and Medals From the National Reconstruction to the Present

The end of the War of the Pacific marked the beginning of a period of national reconstruction. Initially, in 1883 and 1884, medal coinage was sparse, but towards the end of the 19th century it reached around 30 commemorative medals per year.

This was the “golden age” of medals. They were made to celebrate almost all important events, thus becoming an extensive register of national life and a valuable instrument for history.

The memory of political events, elections, and Presidents has been preserved thanks to the work of experts such as Juan Francisco Rodríguez Whalen and Guillermo González Moreno.

This “golden age” continued until the mid-1940s. Even Lima’s prominent families commissioned the Lima Mint with the production of medals to celebrate family events such as christenings, first communions, weddings, and deceases.

The tradition of coining medals to mark events carried on until the 1960s, although since the 1950s it became gradually confined to the celebration of public works.

Since 1929 and until the 1970s, Peru’s most outstanding engraver was Armando Pareja Landeo, who can be credited with transforming the classical style of the old masters into modern art. His early works in plaster, made as a fine arts student, attracted the attention of President Augusto B. Leguía, who immediately enrolled him in the Lima Mint.

Towards the mid-20th century, other factories for the coinage of medals were established. However, production costs were high, so this manner of marking events gradually fell into oblivion.

Nonetheless, the exquisite beauty of the coins and medals made in our time to celebrate important events bear witness to the skill of the artists working currently at the Lima Mint.

This exhibition shows how these art works can contribute significantly to preserving Peru’s historical legacy.

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