Primarily, this category of my collection consists of medals, with or without ribbons. I also have a few coins and tokens.
I never really intended to collect medals, but rather it was something that I generally fell into over time. Some were given as gifts, others were just cool objects that I didn’t want to pass up. In some cases, especially with long-extinct orders, medals are the only objects one can find from those groups. This has been somewhat true, for instance, of the old Odd Fellows bodies that have kept my rapt attention for some years now.
Medals are also excellent historical records, it turns out. There was long a tendency to produce a medal for a particular event, like a convention. Sometimes, groups or lodges attending a convention might produce a medal to wear to a national convention, a show of creativity, solidarity, or splendor. At the same convention, a medal might be for sale as a souvenir of the event. Either will usually be festooned with imagery and information—often an image of the hosting city was cast into the medal, even portraiture of some reigning personage, and the location and dates are usually sealed in a metal document for posterity.
If you have a solid little collection of convention medals for an organization, then you have a nearly incontrovertible record of their activities.
Medals are also, by token of being just that: metals, often highly detailed in a way that many other objects will not be. There is a reasonable limit to the level of detail that can be achieved in embroidery on a fez. And something like a fez or a ritual object needs to be general use, that can be used regularly over years. Conversely, an object as disposable as a dues card, while easily customizable, isn’t truly meant to be a special keepsake in itself (you’ll get another one just like it next year, so who cares?), but rather a functional item stamped with essential information. A medal, by comparison, is often a minor splurge by the offering institution and the purchasing individual. It’s a personal object. It’s a badge, a statement that, “I was there!” It is a memorial token of a finite moment and experience, and thus is often embellished and intricate in its design. Metal is perfect for this function, as it is generally cheap and mass-produceable, and yet can be exquisitely detailed. The emblems of an order will be far more comprehensible (and diverse) when cast in metal than they will be in most other durable media.
And so…medals. Fun, beautiful, often affordable, and highly useful to the collector and researcher!