New medals exhibition reveals unique moments in history

New medals exhibition reveals unique moments in history

Issued: Wed, 09 Mar 2016 16:10:00 GMT

Moments in History: William Hunter’s British Medals
10 March 2016 – 29 January 2017
Hunterian Art Gallery
Admission free

A new exhibition dedicated to William Hunter’s collection of British medals will open at the Hunterian Art Gallery this week.

Moments in History is the first exhibition dedicated to Hunterian founder, Dr William Hunter’s British medals and offers an extraordinary opportunity for visitors to see the best of his collection which is considered to be one of the finest in the world.

Many have never been on public display and some are extremely rare – one of the highlights, James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, is the only know example of its type in the world.

There are 932 British medals in Hunter’s collection and this special new exhibition highlights 108 of them. The beautifully crafted, intricate works of art in gold, silver and bronze date from 1524 to 1781 and have been divided into a wide range of themes, from the pomp and pageantry of royal events, through to the bitter chaos of the English Civil War, dramatic Jacobite risings and the flourishing of the arts and sciences during the Enlightenment.

Highlights include Henry VIII, Supremacy of the Church, one of the earliest medals made in Britain in 1545; Dangers Averted, a medal given by Elizabeth I as a reward to naval officers after the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588; the only medal to be struck relating to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the Charles I Scottish Coronation, one of only three surviving in gold from 1633.

Medals are just one artistic medium through which an individual or event can be remembered, celebrated, or even satirised and used as propaganda. This exhibition brings to life the personalities and stories behind the medals, each one capturing unique moments in history that shaped our world.

Further information
Dr William Hunter (1718 – 1783) collected over 30,000 coins and medals in the last thirteen years of his life. However, up until last year, his collection of British historical medals had never been formally sorted or catalogued. Thanks to generous funding by Museum Galleries Scotland’s Recognition Fund, a Curatorial Assistant was taken on in the summer of 2015 to arrange the collection. Moments in History is one of the outcomes of this project, and is the first ever exhibition dedicated to William Hunter’s British medals. Further research will contribute to the tercentenary of Hunter’s birth in 2018. A comprehensive fully illustrated online database of the medals in Hunter’s collection will be available from August 2016.

Exhibition Highlights
• A truly unique medal and the only known example in the world – James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, who was executed in Edinburgh in 1650 for his active support of the Royalist cause during the Civil War
Henry VIII, Supremacy of the Church, one of the earliest medals made in Britain in 1545
Dangers Averted, a medal given by Elizabeth I as a reward to naval officers after the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588
• The only medal to be struck relating to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605
Charles I Scottish Coronation, one of only three surviving in gold from 1633
Battle of Dunbar, the first ever British medal given to ordinary soldiers in 1650 to mark their participation in a battle or campaign
Peace of Breda, a medal that started a war
American Indian Peace Badge, an extremely rare medal struck in New York in 1764

History of Medal Collecting
Medals were, and still are, created to celebrate an individual or mark notable events.

The first truly British medals appeared during the reign of Henry VIII. They were given as gifts to dignitaries, high ranking members of society or court favourites. During the Tudor period, medals were struck for distribution to the public at coronations, and this tradition was continued by future monarchs.

But it was only much later, in the Stuart era, that medal making established itself in England, and collecting them became more popular. The power of the medal as an instrument of propaganda, and as potent symbols of loyalty and reward, became readily apparent during the English Civil War and later Jacobite risings.

The Georgian age saw more medals being issued than ever before, and interest in collecting them took off as they became more affordable. Demand was high. Responding to this trend, artists began to produce medals specifically for the collectors market.

Medals had turned from royal gifts into profitable commercial enterprises.

Why William Hunter collected medals
Hunter collected for pleasure, but he also saw the potential that medals could play in what he described as ‘the illustration and confirmation of history’. He believed passionately that the continued expansion of his collection was a public duty, and that when the time came for the items to be donated to the University of Glasgow upon his death, they were to be used ‘for the improvement of knowledge’.

Hunter obtained his medals at auction, through donations and by means of contacts in Europe. Whole collections were also purchased outright. Hunter was quite willing to sell duplicates to fund further acquisitions. His collection of coins and medals was described at the time as being second only to the French Royal Cabinet. In building and arranging his collection, Hunter was always willing to take advice from other collectors and experts.


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