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Arts & Culture

Fiesta Medals: The More Bling, The More Sparkle, The Better

Texas Public Radio
TPR's 2019 medal

A Fiesta medal is one of the most popular ways for an individual, business, political candidate, military unit or private group to express their Fiesta spirit. Companies that make the creatively-designed emblems are in production overdrive in the final days before the biggest party of the year.

For example, Awards Mart, on the city’s far North Side, reports the orders are pouring in.

Before Fiesta season is over, Awards Mart will have made more than 80,000 medals for businesses and other organizations, according to owner Gordon Grabill.

It’s just one of the companies that make Fiesta medals here in San Antonio.

According to the charity organization Texas Cavaliers, Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini, who lived in San Antonio, and whose works include the Alamo Centotaph, is credited with designing the first Fiesta medal in 1905 for the Knights of the Omala, or “Alamo” spelled backwards.

But it was the Texas Cavaliers, who were the first to pass out commemorative coins during Fiesta after World War II, that helped grow the medal into what it is today, according to a spokeswoman for the group.

In 1971, King Antonio and Cavalier Charles Orsinger played a big role in medal mania.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Awards Mart employee Robin Blocker operates a linking machine that attaches the medals to ribbons.

“It was Mr. Orsinger who was the 49th, I believe, King Antonio, and he had something made where the kids could actually wear them,” said Robin Blocker, who sells medals for Awards Mart. “They fit into a little holder, and the kids were wearing them as badges, and suddenly the Fiesta medal was a badge, like, you wore.”

In the 1970s, other Fiesta royalty passed out their own medals as tokens of their brief reigns. Awards Mart owner Gordon Grabill said the medal-making business really took off around the start of the new millenium.

“Presenting Fiesta medals and using Fiesta medals as fundraisers and thank you’s really blossomed in the year 2000-2003 time frame,” he said. “Since then the medal business has gone, what we would say, crazy.”

Many businesses also use them as a form of advertising in the huge crowds that attend major Fiesta events.

Grabill said his business can manufacture small or last minute orders, but most Fiesta medals are made overseas.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Awards Mart owner Gordon Graybill said this is the busiest time of the year for his shop.

“Things have changed over the years because we used to sell medals that were made in the United States,” he said. “Unfortunately, the cost of production has gotten so high that we’ve had to switch manufacturing to China.”

Another thing that has changed is the design of medals. Blocker said they now come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and styles.

“Anything that moves is exciting, but the bling -- it’s all about the bling and how blingy can you get,” she said. “How much sparkle is in them? Do they have stones? Stones are actually big now.”

One local motorcycle shop had its medal designed in the shape of a motorcycle with a headlight that lights up.

Fiesta, which celebrates the Texas Revolutionary heroes of the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, runs from April 18 to April 28.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.