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Arts & Culture

Fiesta 2019: The Medals

Fiesta season is in full swing, and one of its best elements are the medals. Every year, it seems, more businesses and groups join the creative fun. Click through the slideshow to see some medals from this year.

Medals – designing them, selling them, trading them -- are among the most popular Fiesta traditions.

In 2019, TPR Reporter Brian Kirkpatrick learned that Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini, who lived in San Antonio and designed the Alamo Centotaph, gets the credit for designing the first Fiesta medal in 1905 for the Knights of the Omala ... or “Alamo” spelled backwards.

In 2015, Arts and Culture Reporter Jack Morgan spoke with cultural anthopologist Michaele Haynes, who pinpointed the moment when the Fiesta medal was popularized. It was 1946, when the Texas Cavaliers created small coins to give to hospitalized children.

Credit Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio

By the early 1960s, those gifts evolved into small pieces with ribbons that could hang around the neck. By the early 1970s, other Fiesta groups created their own medals. Fiesta “royalty” passed out their own medals to their “subjects” as tokens to commemorate their “reign.” By the 1990s, many more organizations throughout the city offered small medals that could be pinned instead of draped around the neck. The rest is history.

The variety of medal colors, designs and meanings are extraordinary. Some are simple emblems -- a colored ribbon and a circular design -- while others blink, flash, or spin, or they dangle like ornate earrings. Some are shaped like stars, people, buildings, crosses or other objects.

Businesses, schools, private groups, nonprofits, churches, city and county governments and even the military make their own medals. Many are sold to raise money for charity or scholarships. Some are political advertisements. Others are personal statements or just beautiful expressions of Fiesta spirit. Prices usually range between $8 to $20.

These days, most medals are made in China. Just days before Fiesta 2019 began, Kirkpatrick checked in with local businesses who make small batches of medals. They reported the orders were still pouring in. One business estimated it would manufacture 80,000 medals before the Fiesta ends in late April.

TPR's 2018 medal

TPR only recently joined the medal party. Check out its 2017 medal here. Its 2019 design is the main photo above.

Some enthusiasts collect just a few of the most beautiful or meaningful medals every year. Others compete with each other to gather as many medals as possible. Entire groups and pages on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are devoted to this “medal-mania,” similar to stamp collectors or other hobbyists – but this hobby is uniquely San Antonio. The most-determined medial-maniacs have collected Fiesta medals for decades and own thousands of medals.

Many people wear their medals on a sash they don before attending Fiesta events. Others wear one or two medals when they go to work or school. Some will just proudly display their latest collection on their desks or in a special place at home.

Share your own medals with TPR, and we'll add them to our slideshow. Drop them off at our studios, or email a photo to News@TPR.org along with your permission to use it.