'Mediocre essays in medallic vituperation': German First World War medals and the British Museum
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The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War provides a timely opportunity to examine the British Museum’s acquisition of German art medals relating to the conflict. A modest collection of thirty-six medals was acquired between 1916 and the end of the war in 1918 but, in that same period, the Department of Coins and Medals successfully negotiated the acquisition of hundreds more for the years that were immediately to follow. This article explores the methods used by the British Museum to acquire specimens under difficult circumstances. Secondly, it assesses the role of the British Museum in bringing the medals to public attention, despite the fact that its galleries were closed to the public and sandbagged from 1 March 1916 until 1 August 1918. The Museum began collecting German medals during a period in the War when the prevailing anti-German sentiment intensified, owing to events away from the Western Front. By exploring some of the critical reactions to the medals this article assesses the means by which the British Museum deployed the medals to influence public opinion against Germany in wartime.