Great Religions of the World

WR-1: United Methodist Church
by Ralph J. Menconi
The first medal in the series issued in 1971.

The "Great World Religions" or "Great Religions of the World" series is one of my favorite medal series by Presidential Art Medals, Inc.

As told by Dr. David Poling in his book Why Billy Graham?, the indomitable Ralph Menconi had just completed a set of stained-glass windows in a Lutheran Church in Pleasantville, New York. He had developed a deep interest in the symbolism of religion and man's search for God. Now he was anxious to get started on a medal series that would focus on religions and the personlities that shaped religious history: Moses, Paul, Luther, and others. The series would be manufactured by the Medallic Art Company and marketed through Presidential Art Medals of Vandalia, Ohio.

Menconi's objective was to convey "the strong points of each tradition, both its feelings and its history, its spirit and its heritage" to followers of the other religions. While Menconi himself was a Roman Catholic, there was a deep oecumenical spirit behind this project.

Religion has of course always been a difficult topic. While a medal series that appealed to the faithful of many different religions seemed a worthy project as well as a smart business idea, there was also the risk of offending people of faith by using incorrect or offensive imagery. To treat all religions justly and reduce the risks of offending an entire segment of the population in one fell swoop, Menconi asked Dr. Poling to select an advisory board to assist with design decisions and make sure that religious symbols were used appropriately. The board was called the "International Advisory Commission of the Great Religions of the World Art Medals Series" (put that on a business card!) and consisted of:

WR-6: Buddhism
by Ralph Menconi
The sixth medal in the series, one of the more
striking designs.

Commissioners

  • Dr. David Poling
  • Dr. Billy Graham
  • The Reverend Fulton J. Sheen
  • Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
  • Erwin D. Canham
  • George Romney
  • Dr. Hans W. Florin
  • Dr. Mohammed Kamel Hussein
  • Rev. George Marshall
  • The Reverend Canon Edward N. West
  • Dr. A. Dale Fiers
WR-15: Islam
by Ralph Menconi
The fifteenth medal in the series, strategically
employing a transparent green finish.

Consultants

  • David Ben-Gurion
  • Dr. Charles Malik
  • Dr. Firuz Kazemzadeh

The full series was supposed to encompass 25 religions or religious organizations. The medals were to be released at a rate of one per month starting in 1971. Unfortunately, Menconi died in 1972 before he could complete the full series that was so important to him. Only 16 of the planned 25 medals had been designed at the time of his untimely death. Adlai S. Hardin completed two more medals which were issued in 1974 and 1975, bringing the total number of medals in the series to 18.

There is very little information available on how many medals were actually struck. The collateral for the series states only that the medals are issued in unnumbered bronze, antiqued silver limited to 10,000, and gold-filled (1/10th, 14kt.) limited to 500. Whether that many medals were actually sold is not known.

Collecting Great Religions of the World

For the collector, the Great Religions series is attractive for the following reasons:

  • The medals are highly appealing and very decorative. Taking a page from the Society of Medalists playbook, Medallic Art Company played with patina to go beyond the traditional "bronze plus tan" approach. Seeing the whole series with all its different finishes laid out next to each other is an aesthetically pleasing experience.
  • In general, the medals can be bought for $20 to $30, sometimes even for less. If you are savvy and take your time, you can definitely build a complete collection (not including variants) for around $400.
  • The medals have held their value well over time.
  • Once you have completed your basic collection, you can branch out into the variants.

But most of all, the medals are really enjoyable and that's of course the only reason you should collect them. If you hold them for a long time, they probably won't be a bad investment either.

Next Steps

  1. Take a look at all the medals in the other tabs of this page. There are two tabs that lead to pictures: Medals and Variants. The Medals tab leads to a long list medal images, both obverse and reverse. The Variants tab leads to a grid of obverse medal images. You can configure the grid to ignore some variations while paying atttention to others. For example, you can select that you don"t care about differences in edge lettering but do care about differences in patina.
  2. Contact me if you are interested in buying or selling medals or want to help me improve the site. I am always interested in buying to complete or improve my own collection. Sometimes I have duplicates that I would be willing to sell. If you cannot or will not sell medals that I still need, at least share your high-quality pictures so I can complete the Variants display section. If I don't have a picture for a medal, I don't have the medal in my collection and I would be interested in buying it.
  3. Check out the links in the Resources tab (though there are not many right now).
  4. Do you know anything else about this series? Please share it with me.
  5. Support this site with a small donation if you appreciate it as a resource and want to help me with hosting and bandwidth costs.

The table below contains both the obverse and the reverse of all 18 Great Religions of the World issues. Click on the Variants tab for an obverse view of medals in different materials.

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