award medal 1889 Paris Exposition

Award Medals of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair & Exposition

Expo Overview:

The 1889 Paris World’s Fair, officially known as the Exposition Universelle of 1889 was a grand spectacle that drew millions of visitors from around the world to Paris. Opening on May 6, 1889, and running until October 31, the fair was a testament to human ingenuity and artistic expression. It featured pavilions from over 35 countries, Over 6,000 exhibitors each displaying their finest achievements in art, science, and industry vying for an award medal.

The most iconic symbol of the exposition was the Eiffel Tower, designed by Gustave Eiffel. Standing at 324 meters, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time and served as a stunning centerpiece for the fair.

The Award Medals – 1889 Paris Expo

Overview of How Many Medals Were Issued 1889 Paris Exposition:

The Reports of the United States Commissioners to The Universal Exposition of 1889 stated “the number of exhibitors exceeded 60,000; that the group juries granted 32,468 recompenses, and that the superior jury raised the number to
32,949, distributed thus :
Diplomas of grand prizes 903
Diplomas of gold medals 5,153
Diplomas of silver medals 9, 600
Diplomas of bronze medals 9, 323
Diplomas of honorable mention 8,070

Besides, 5,500 medals of various kinds were awarded to collaborators,” workmen who were noted for skill and ability and faithfulness in the work-shops in which the exhibits were prepared.”

The award or prize medals of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair & Exposition were symbols of excellence, meticulously crafted to honor the achievements of 60,000 exhibitors across various fields. These medals, which came in gold, silver, bronze, as well as honorable mention and grand prix medals, were not only prized for their artistic design but also for their representation of progress and innovation during the late 19th century. Each medal was a testament to the dedication and skill of the recipients, making them highly sought-after collectibles today.

Types and Example of Award Medals 1889 Paris Exposition:

The award medals were distinguished by the Award Level and the type of metal used in their creation. There were three primary award levels plus the Grand Prix and Honorable Mention medals:

  1. Gold Level Medals:
  • Solid Gold Medals: These were the highest honor awarded at the exposition, reserved for the most outstanding contributions. They were made of solid gold, signifying the pinnacle of achievement.
  • Gold-Plated Medals: Some medals were gold-plated, offering a more economical option while still maintaining the prestigious appearance of gold. See beautiful example below for great example of gold plating.

Compagnie Française de l’Afrique Occidentale (CFAO) was founded in Marseilles in 1887. In 1888 the Company opened its first African agency in Saint-Louis, and from 1888 to 1902 began to expand across Senegal, and into Guinea, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. This coincided with the creation of the federation of French West Africa in 1895 to consolidate French holdings. The federation was definitively constituted in 1904 and was ruled by a Governor-General with a residence in Saint-Louis (capital of the federation from 1895 until 1902, and capital of Senegal and Mauritania from 1902 until 1958) then in Dakar.

After the Second World War, the process of de-colonisation began in Africa and between 1955 and 1961 the headquarters of CFAO transferred from Marseilles to Paris and the Company mutated into a multinational service company and becoming a leader in specialist distribution in sub-Saharan Africa. This coincided with constituent parts of the African federation becoming autonomous republics. CFAO then began to diversify its activities outside Africa and in the late 1950s the CICA group (marketing Ford, Opel, Mercedes-Benz and Fiat automobiles in France) entered CFAO. In 1990, CFAO itself entered the Pinault group, today called Pinault-Printemps-Redoute. After the devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994, CFAO was able to consolidate its position in Africa and acquired the activities of SCOA and Optorg, two large vehicle distributors with interests in, for the former, Cameroon, Gabon, Madagascar and Niger, and for the latter, Mali and Senegal. In 1996, CFAO became established in the health sector through the acquisition of Eurapharma which had been a subsidiary of SCOA.

By 1997 CFAO and SCOA had merged and expanded into Mauritius and Equatorial Guinea, and in 1999 Eurapharma became established in Kenya. In 2000 CFAO had developed its activities in Algeria, Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, and more recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt and Malawi. Today the multinational CFAO has a strong position in motor distribution, pharmaceutical distribution, trading, telecommunications, networks, and office automation across Africa and in the French overseas departements and territories (Dom-Tom). Their current website is The above information is from Records and Papers relating to the French West Africa Company (CFAO)

  1. Silver Level Medals:
  • Solid Silver Medals: Awarded for significant contributions, these medals were made of solid silver. They represented a high level of recognition just below that of the gold medals.
  • Silver-Plated Medals: Similar to the gold-plated medals, these were silver-plated versions, providing a cost-effective yet visually appealing alternative to solid silver. See example below which was issued to Alfred Vignaud, known professionally as Alf Vignaud, was a notable French artist recognized for his work in sculpture and engraving during the late 19th century.
  1. Bronze Level Medals:
  • Solid Bronze Medals: These were awarded to commendable contributions that, while not reaching the top tiers, still represented significant achievement and innovation. The bronze medals were crafted from solid bronze, showcasing the durability and timelessness of the material. Example of the bronze award medal is below.

Grand Prix or Grand Prize Medals were rarely given to individuals; most were reserved for countries, or states, or large enterprises. In 1889, the University of California was awarded a Grand Prize and also Edison Electric Company. So most Grand Prize medals from the 1889 Paris Expo remaining today are probably in museums, even though we have not been able to find locate one.

Honorable Mention medals. Over 8,000 honorable mention diplomas were issued. Were some of them awarded honorable mention medals as well? Good question, as we have not heard of one. Please contact us via Privacy link at the bottom of the page if you know of a medal of either the Grand Prize or Honorable Mention level.

Design and Craftsmanship:

All the award medals shared a common design and 63mm size.

Description of the Obverse Side of the Bronze Award Medal from the 1889 Paris World’s Fair & Exposition

Central Figures:

The obverse side features two prominent figures, a male and a female, engaging in a symbolic gesture. The male figure, depicted in a seated position to the left, appears semi-nude and muscular, representing physical labor and industry. The female figure, seated to the right, is adorned in flowing garments and a floral crown, symbolizing wisdom, arts, and perhaps France herself.

Symbolic Interaction:

The female figure is holding a laurel wreath above the male figure’s head, indicating the bestowal of honor and recognition.

The male figure reaches out towards the female figure, symbolizing the acknowledgment of achievement and the unity between effort (industry) and reward (arts and culture).

Background and Setting:

In the background, detailed below the figures, is a panoramic view of the exposition grounds, including architectural elements like the pavilions and the Eiffel Tower, which was the highlight feature and centerpiece of the exposition.

The depiction of the Eiffel Tower anchors the medal in its historical context, highlighting its significance as a marvel of engineering showcased at the fair.


The inscription “EXPOSITION UNIVERSELLE” runs along the upper edge of the medal, framing the scene and indicating the event it commemorates.

The year “1889” is prominently placed between the figures, denoting the year of the exposition.

The artist’s signature “Louis Bottée” is engraved at the bottom, crediting the designer of the medal.

Artistic Details:

The craftsmanship of the medal is evident in the intricate details of the figures’ attire, the texture of their hair, and the naturalistic rendering of their bodies.

The background elements are finely detailed, showcasing the architectural grandeur and layout of the exposition grounds.

This obverse side of the bronze award medal beautifully captures the essence of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, symbolizing the unity of industrial achievement and artistic excellence. The careful detailing and symbolic interaction between the figures make it a fitting tribute to the spirit of innovation and progress celebrated at the exposition.

Markings on the Side of the Medals:

The edges of the medals bore significant markings to indicate their authenticity and the material used:

  • Gold Level Medals: The gold plated one I have is marked Cornucopia and “BRONZE” on edge. There may be actual solid gold medals if the award winner would pay for it.
  • Silver Level Medals: Marked with “ARGENT” for solid silver, the silver plated ones are marked Cornucopia and “BRONZE” on the edge.
  • Bronze Level Medals: Simply marked with Cornucopia and “BRONZE.”

The award medals of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair are more than just collectibles; they are pieces of history that encapsulate the spirit of an era driven by innovation and cultural exchange. Their design and the craftsmanship involved in their creation continue to be celebrated and admired by collectors and historians alike.

Description of the Reverse Side of the Bronze Award Medal from the 1889 Paris World’s Fair & Exposition

1889 Paris Universalle Exhibition award medal

Design Elements:

  1. Central Figure:
  • The central figure is an allegorical representation of the French Republic, symbolized by a woman in classical attire. She is depicted in a dynamic pose, embodying the spirit of progress and enlightenment.
  • She holds a long trumpet in her right hand, which she raises towards the sky, suggesting the announcement of achievements and the dissemination of knowledge.
  1. Symbolic Interaction:
  • Behind the central figure, a large starburst radiates from the upper center, symbolizing enlightenment, progress, and the guiding light of knowledge.
  • To her right, there is a bust of a female figure, likely representing Marianne, the national symbol of the French Republic, observing the scene with a calm and composed demeanor.
  1. Inscriptions:
  • On the left side, the inscription “REPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE” is prominently displayed, indicating the medal’s association with the French Republic.
  • Below the central figure, within a rectangular cartouche, the recipient’s name is engraved, personalizing the award.
  1. Additional Details:
  • The lower part of the medal features laurel branches, a traditional symbol of victory and honor.
  • To the right of the central figure’s feet, the artist’s signature “Louis Bottée” is visible, crediting the designer of the medal.
  1. Artistic Details:
  • The figure’s flowing garments are depicted with fine detail, showcasing the craftsmanship involved in creating a sense of movement and vitality.
  • The detailed rendering of the facial expressions and the intricate design of the trumpet and laurel branches reflect the high level of artistic skill.


The reverse side of the bronze award medal from the 1889 Paris World’s Fair & Exposition features a powerful allegorical scene that celebrates the values of the French Republic and the achievements of the exposition. The dynamic figure holding a trumpet, the radiant starburst, and the inscriptions all contribute to a design that honors progress, enlightenment, and excellence. This medal not only commemorates individual achievements but also embodies the spirit of an era marked by innovation and cultural exchange.

Read more about the Paris Exposition Universelle 1889

The following is from Reports of the United States Commissioners to The Universal Exposition of 1889


For more medal winners visit Reports of the United States Commissioners to The Universal Exposition of 1889 starting on Page 424.