The Great Exhibition of 1851

A Medallic History

My thanks to Leslie Lewis Allen the author of 'THE WORLD'S SHOW' for his kindness in allowing extracts from his work in the production of this paper. 'The World's Show' is a Catalogue of Crystal Palace Medals and Tokens 1851-1936. First published in 2000 for Coincraft, 44 & 45 Great Russell Street London WC1B 3LU. The book reference is ISBN 0 9526228 90 ,it is invaluable and is established as the standard reference for medals and tokens related to the Crystal Palace.


In the 1840s, Britain led the world in industrial expansion and in order to maitain its position to capture much of the expanding world market, the Royal Society of Arts and its President HRH Prince Albert were working to improve industrial design. A small number of exhibitions were arranged in the mid 1840s and were so succesful that a proposal was made for a national exhibition opening in 1851.


The Royal Society quickly realised that the system of free trade operating in Britain presented an ideal opportunity to launch an international competition. The proposed 1851 National Exhibition therefore became the first ever 'Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations'. London being therefore the 'Shop Window' of the world. Prince Albert proposed that a Royal Commission was needed to plan and manage such a large event. The Royal Society agreed to set up a committee to carry out an executive function. Their most important task being to visit all the manufacturing districts throughout Britain and set up local committees (299 in total) who would pass down information and gather suitable exhibits for the occasion. Indications were that the 1851 exhibition would be the greatest show the world had ever seen and that nearly one million square feet of space would be needed to house the vast number of exhibits. Parliament, after lengthy debate, agreed to a proposal that a building should be erected in Hyde Park, but only for the duration of the exhibition.


The establishment of a building committee to oversee the plans and designs was set up and resulted in massive delays to the project as designs were invited from all over the world and 245 plans were considered. The planned exhibition was going in to massive delay with building designs that would have taken far too long to complete. The press and the public becoming disenchanted with the exhibition proposal. Mr Joseph Paxton, who was not an architect, fortunately appeared on the scene with a design for a building made of iron and glass. This plan was initially rejected by the building committee but after much publicity and public concern the building committee were obliged to accept the design. The Paxton design was quite unique, the first building to be constructed with the most modern building materials available at the time; the first building to accomodate 100,000 people in a single day; and the first building design to use mass production techniques.


The building work started on the 26th of September and work progressed at a staggering rate, a daily crowd gathering to watch amazed at the progress. 3,320 columns linked by 2,244 girders and walled by 400 tons of glass was being transformed into an enormous structure before their eyes. Almost 14,000 exhibitors showed more than 100,000 items in almost a mile of galleries. The exhibiton was open Monday to Saturday but was closed on Sundays. Alcohol, smoking and pets were prohibited. In a period of five months more than six million visitors viewed the exhibition.


In his memoirs, Sir Henry Cole, acknowledged as the one person who did most to ensure the success of the exhibition, wrote:-

'The history of the world, I venture to say, records no event comparable in its promotion of human industry, with that of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851. A great people invited all civilised nations to a festival, to bring into comparison the works of human skill. It was carried out by its own private means; was self-supporting and independant of taxes and employment of slaves, which great works had exacted in early days. A Prince of pre-eminent wisdom, of philosophical mind, sagacity, with power of generalship and great practical ability, placed himself at the head of the enterprise and led it to a triumphant success. The Sovereign of that people gave to the work of her husband and subjects, her warmest sympathy, fondly watched its progress, and witnessed its triumph among a multitude of 25,000 persons all assembled under one glass roof of 1850 feet in length, an event which had never happened before. In the history of the world, it may be safely said, that no monarch before Queen Victoria, had ever personally assisted a work like this. Her Majesty watched it with daily solicitude, and herself wrote a record of it.'





Born at Schloss Rosenau near Coburg, the younger son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Studious and earnest by nature, educated in Brussels and Bonn and married his first cousin, Queen Victoria, in 1840. He was given the Prince Consort and throughout their marriage he was in effect the Queens Private Secretary. Distrust and misgivings by both Parliament and the Public limited his political effectiveness. He was interested in the encouragement of the arts and the promotion of social and industrial reform. He designed Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, planned and managed the Great Exhibition of 1851, the profits from which enabled the building of museum sites in South Kensington (including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum) and the Royal Albert Hall. His death lead to a long period of mourning and seclusion by his widow. The Albert memorial in Kensington Gardens by Sir George Gilbert Scott was erected in Kensington Gardens in 1871. (Chambers Biographical Dictionary).

The medal is a uniface of gilt white metal, 89mm in diameter by Allen and Moore of Birmingham. An unlisted variant of HP-B145. An unofficial medal published when the Crystal Palace was on the Hyde Park site. This medal was to be found in a glazed frame. The above example has two tiny pinpoint edge marks at the top and bottom indicating that it was previously mounted in the described manner.


Prince Albert Founder of the International Exhibitions.

A bronze medal by Charles Wiener, 68mm in diameter. References BHM 2710, Eimer 1552.







Born in Milton-Byers, near Woburn, he became superintendant of gardens to the Duke of Devonshire at Chiswick and Chatsworth. He remodelled the gardens and designed a glass and iron conservatory at Chatsworth. This became the model for the design of the building for the Great Exhibition in 1851. The building, the Crystal Palace, was erected in Hyde Park and Later moved to Sydenham in 1854. He was also the Liberal MP for Coventry from 1854.(Chambers Biographical)

The medal marks the opening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. A bronze medal by L. C. Wyon and is 63mm in diameter. This medal alomg with two others (BHM 2545 and 2549) were sold together in a red morocco case.

Brown lists 10 medals marking the opening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham

A white metal medal by Messrs Allen and Moore, 51mm in diameter. BHM 2546, SY-1854/020. A similar medal exists but with the date May 1854.

A bronze medal by L. C. Wyon and T. R Pinches, 42mm in diameter, rare. BHM2553, SY-1854/125.



The Commissioners proposed that three medals of different size and design should be awarded as prizes. Bronze was selected as the most appropriate medium. It was also felt that they should be presented by Her Majesty. William Wyon was selected to produce a design containing both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert which would grace the obverse of the medals. Artists worldwide were invited to submit designs for the three medals, and rewards of 100 each were offered for the winning designs. Additionally, the three next best designs would be awarded 50.

The invitation realised 129 designs, and through impartiality in selection, the committee made its decision. The winning designs were submitted by Hyppolite Bonnardel of Paris (The Council Medal), Leonard Charles Wyon of London (The Prize Medal) and George Gammon Adams (The Jurors Medal). The $50 runner-up awards were submitted by John Hancock of London, Leopold Wiener of Brussels and M. Grayard of Paris.

The exhibition was divided in to thirty different classes, with a separate jury appointed for each class. Each panel of Jurors was made up of an equal number of British and Foreign members. The Chairmen of each panel were formed into a Council. The original idea of having three prize medals was considered inappropriate in being able to distinguish between the quality of awards so the Council asked for one of the medals to be withdrawn. This was agreed by the Commissioners and this meant that there would be a medal available for presentation to the Jurors in recognition of their onerous task.

Of the two medals remaining for prizes, it was decided that the 77mm medal would be awarded by the juries when a standard of excellence had been reached for workmanship, beauty, utility and adaptability had been attained. The 89mm Council Medal would be reserved as a reward for remarkable invention, to be awarded by the Council Chairmen, on the recommendation of the juries.

The Commissioners report is vague regarding the other three official medals. Whilst it mentions 170 Council medals and 2,918 Prize medals, it states nothing about the Jurors medal, the 'Exhibitors' medal and the recognition 'For Services' medal. The latter two medals would appear to have been an afterthought.

In addition to the figures above, the governments of participating countries, the twenty seven Commissioners and an unspecified number of senior officials each received a magnificent presentation case containing a complete set of the five medals. Extra awarded medals were made available to recipients where an awarded firm consisted of more than one partner, these were to be purchased for the sum of seven shillings each. It is not clear whether all these medals were inscribed on the edge, which may account for the number of medals in the five catagories that appear without an inscription, although two Prize and Council medals in my posession were awarded to the same firm in the same class, indicating that the two partner firm did receive two of each medal.

Distribution of the medals at the closing ceremony of the exhibition was thwarted by the ill health of William Wyon, and by his death just two weeks later, causing the inscribing of the medals to be delayed. The Jurors medal was the first to be completed and was was available for distribution in Novemeber 1851. The Council medal was ready next and the Prize medal quickly followed. The For Services medal was not available until April 1852. The juries took a considerable time to produce their one thousand page report and it was not until July 1852 that a notice was at last sent to exhibitors informing them that they could collect their medals, certificates and report of the juries. They could either collect them from the offices of the Commissioners or receive them at a public ceremony organised by their local committees or their municipal authorities.

Although the medals were issued in bronze, specimens are known to exist in other metals.Leslie Lewis Allen notes a pattern of the prize medal, unsigned, in a glazed frame. He also reports two Jurors medals in white metal and Laurence Brown reports a silver example of the Prize medal. Silver plated medals are also noted for the Prize, Exhibitor and and For Services medal, but these were plated later after inscription.






There were 174 Council medals awarded. Of these 80 were British awards and 94 Foreign awards. The classes and numbers of awards is shown in the table below.

Note. The three medals awarded in the civil engineering and architectural section were won by Prince Albert for the design of his model lodging house (joint medal to that granted for the original conception and successful completion of the Exhibition of 1851); Joseph Paxton for designing the Crystal Palace and Messrs Fox & Henderson for constructing the Crystal Palace. The dies for both the obverse and reverse are on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum.



Raw Materials Class I-IV

Machinery Class V-X

Textile/Fabrics class XI-XX

Metallic, Vitreous, Ceramic Class XXI-XXIV

Misc Manufacturers Class XXVI-XXIX

Fine Arts Class XXX
































The Council medal Bronze, by W. Wyon, H. Bonnardell and J. F. Domard. 89mm in diameter and of the highest rarity. Two types exist with minor variations. Type 1 has a colon after the D of F:D:, the second type has a stop only. Obverse. Conjoined heads of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert left. Dolphins in the field to signify the naval power of the Empire. Reverse. Britannia standing upon a raised platform draped with flags of different nations bestowing wreaths on Commerce and Industry. Insciption around and dated in the exergue. Edge. Top, Name of the recipient and the class number. Bottom, COUNCIL MEDAL OF THE EXHIBITION. BHM 2461, Eimer 1455, Fearon 302.4, HP-A005


The inscription. Reverse ETIAM IN MAGNO QUAEDAM RESPUBLICA MUNDO. In the exergue. MDCCCLI Signed H. BONNARDELL INV. DOMARD SCULP. (For there is a certain country in the great world)






There were 2,876 Prize medals awarded by the jurors in the various classes. The table below reflects the allocation.


Raw materials Class I-IV

Machinery Class V-X

Textile / Fabrics Class XI-XX

Metallic, Vitreous, Ceramics Class XXI-XXV

Misc Manufacturers Class XXVI-XXIX

Fine Arts Class XXX
































A bronze medal by W. Wyon and L. C. Wyon, 77mm in diameter. BHM 2462, Eimer 1457, Fearon 302.5, HP-A010. There are a number of minor variations noted by Leslie Lewis Allen. HP-A015 has no stop after Wyon and no stop after 1851.-- HP-A020 No colon after REG. There is a stop after Wyon. Inscription missing from the hem of Europas gown. There is a design on the upper half of Britannia's helmet. --HP-A025. The inscription in the exergue is a single line around the bottom edge.-- HP-A030. Minor design variations but mainly the absence of an inscription in the exergue.

A specimen of the medal was presented and edge inscribed to Richard Sainthill by L.C.Wyon. Richard Sainthill 1787-1869, numismatist and antiquarian.

Obverse. As the Council medal.

Reverse. Britannia seated and bending forward, raising with one hand and crowning with the other, the kneeling figure of Industry, presented to Britannia by Europe, SAsia, Africa and America. In the background are emblems of the 14 sections of the exhibition. Inscription around the border. DISSOCIATA LOCIS CONSORDI PACE LIGAVIT (It has bound together in peace and friendship things widely seperated).






There were 318 jurors appointed to the panels, 160 being from overseas. A further 97 associate members were co-opted to provide particular expertise wherever required. As 30 of these juruors were from other panels, only 67 additional medals would have been awarded to them. In addition an unknown nukmber were struck for inclusion in the presentation sets. Each juror received a personal letter from Prince Albert when awarded the medal.


A bronze medal by W. Wyon and and G. G. Adams, 64mm in diameter, BHM 2464, Eimer 1459, HP-A040

Obverse. As the Council Medal.

Reverse. Industry seated upon a cornucopia, encouraged by Commerce and crowned by Fame. Inscription around the border. PULCHER ET ILLE LABOR PALMA DECORARE LABOREM (It is a pleasant duty to honour work). In exergue. A steelyard, a laurel wreath and a helmeted bust. Signed. G. G. Adams. Edge Inscribed at the top with the name of the recipient, at the base: JUROR GREAT EXHIBITION EXHIBITION 1851.






The ' For Sercices' medal was awarded for the services rendered to the exhibition by the many individuals involved in a varying capacities. Recipients also received a magnificent certificate 22" by 16.5". These certificates are far more difficult to find than the medals. In excess of 700 medals were awarded to the Police, Sappers and Fire Service.



A bronze medal by W. Wyon, 48mm in diameter. BHM 2465, Eimer 1461, HP-A050





Nearly 14,000 exhibitors received a medal, a certificate and a copy of the Jurors reports, but that figure does not include medals struck for the presentation sets. The certificate accompanying the medal is rarely seen.



A bronze medal by W. Wyon 45mm in diameter. BHM 2463, Eimer 1462, HP-A055.


The author of 'The Worlds Show' would be grateful to receive any information on medals or documentation relating to the Crystal Palace. I would be pleased to pass on any information that is not contained in the book. A supplement is being planned to add to the present publication.


Malcolm Bennett. 24th October 2003