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Zentenarmedaille, a.k.a. Centenarmedaille

Wilhelm I Centenary Medal

The medal was instituted by a Royal order of Wilhelm II on March 22, 1897 as “Medaille zur Erinnerung an des Hochseligen Kaisers und Königs Wilhelm I, des Großen, Majestät” to honor the 100th birthday of his late grandfather Wilhelm I (22.03.1797–09.03.1888), the first German emperor. This award is also known as “Kaiser Wilhelm Erinnerungsmünze 1897” and “Kaiser Wilhelm I Erinnerungsmedaille 1897”.

The following categories were eligible for decoration:

- All Prussian veterans being still alive of all the unification wars the kingdom fought in the XIX century, i.e. 1813-1815 (Wars of Liberation, or Befreiungskriege), 1848-1849 (The First Schleswig War), 1864 (The Second Schleswig War), 1866 (Austro-Prussian War) and 1870-1871 (Franco-Prussian War).
- All German veterans of the Franco-Prussian War regardless of their citizenship.
- All officers, NCOs and other ranks of the Prussian army, Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) and Colonial forces (Schutztruppe) on active duty by the date of institution of award.
- Certain non-Prussian military personnel from armies of other German states chosen according to several criteria, e.g. regiments that the German emperor had a honorary military rank of, regiments that served alongside Prussian units in Alsace-Lorraine, etc.  

It’s worth mentioning here that every holder of a Commemorative Medal for 1870-1871 Military Campaigns for military personnel (Kriegsdenkmünze für die Feldzüge 1870/71 für Kämpfer) with battle clasps was an awardee of a Zentenarmedaille as a latter has been instituted earlier than those clasps.

Design of a Zentenarmedaille was elaborated by a sculptor from Berlin Walter Schott (18.09.1861 – 02.09.1938) and refined award document by an artist Emil Doepler (29.10.1855 – 21.12.1922).

An obverse has a raised relief head and shoulders profile portrait of Wilhelm I facing right with a neck award and wearing unfastened overcoat with fur lapels and a spiked helmet. An inscription “Wilhelm the Great, German Emperor” (“Wilhelm der Grosse Deutscher Kaiser”) is running in five rows in the upper left part of an obverse. Continuation of an inscription – “King of Prussia” (“Koenig von Preussen”) in three rows is situated in the middle of a right portion. The legend is executed in various font sizes.

An upper part of a reverse has an inscription in capital letters running in six rows: “In commemoration of a centenary of birth of the great Emperor Wilhelm I. 1797 – March 22 – 1897” (“Zum Andenken an den hundertsten Geburtstag des grossen Kaisers Wilhelm I. 1797 – 22.Maerz – 1897”). The legend is accompanied by a composition of royal regalia: a cushion bearing Hohenzollern crown, orb and sword with a laurel branch to the left and an oak branch to the right.

Zentenarmedaille was worn on the left breast suspended from a silk bright yellow ribbon that was 30-40 mm wide depending on a manufacturer. There’s a photographic evidence showing that commemorative medal being worn non-regulatory on a right breast though. Women recipients of the decoration, e.g. former Franco-Prussian War nurses wore them on a traditional bow.

Bright yellow colour of a Zentenarmedaille ribbon being non typical to Prussian award system had been probably chosen after an orange ribbon colour of the highest Prussian chivalry order, Order of the Black Eagle (Hohe Orden vom Schwarzen Adler).

Soon after a medal was issued it was promptly dubbed “An Apple Order” (“Apfelorden”) by contemporary recipients due to the above described colour of a ribbon and the very form and size of a medal. It is also known as “A Lemon Order” (Zitronorden) among modern German phalerists for the same reasons.

It’s worth mentioning here as well that dark, nearly black colour of Zentenarmedaille ribbon that is typical to antique CDVs at the turn of the century is a clear example of distortion of a colour transfer due to imperfect characteristics of early colour-blind plates.

Two Berlin-based companies, L.Ostermann and Otto Oertel were chosen as official manufacturers of Zentenarmedaille. Medals were made of bronze smelted from captured French bronze during the Franco-Prussian War. Several other manufacturers produced medals available for private purchase. Such high-quality pieces frequently had a gilt surface and were sold in maker-marked paper packets or even elegant boxes. Zentenarmedaille of gilt silver and zinc are known to exist as well.  

Gilt bronze medals with loop for ribbon suspension were manufactured in three sizes, the most common being an ordinary issue with a diameter of 41 mm and thickness of 2 mm approximately. Highly popular among nobility and senior officers Prinzengroße had a diameter of 29-30 mm. Miniatures with a diameter of 15-16 mm were manufactured as well.

Wilhelm I Centenary Medal was a mass produced decoration and had been issued to more than 1 million recipients.

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Zentenarmedaille Plate 1