Historic Edinburgh medal producer targets return to growth amid efforts to help safeguard craft's future
An Edinburgh-based firm specialising in the production of prestigious medals is aiming to see its revenues regain their shine after being stymied by the pandemic - and help safeguard the future of the craft.
Alex. Kirkwood & Son claims to be one of Scotland’s most historic family businesses, having been established in 1826 – and is now the nation’s “sole surviving medallist company”.
It says it is a medallist, silversmith, engraver and trophy maker, serving globally renowned names including Yale University and golfing organisations The R&A and the United States Golf Association.
Furthermore, the Leith-based business is aiming to continue to help commemorate moments of history through medals and ensure the craft is maintained within Scotland.
Led by fifth-generation family member David Kirkwood, it makes the Livingstone Medal, for example, awarded by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, whose recipients have included Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, The Duke of Edinburgh, Sir Michael Palin and Sir David Attenborough. The Scottish firm has been responsible for creating the dies and striking the medals since the award’s inception.
Two of the most famous dies it has produced are those made of solid silver created for the seal for stamping the Great Seal of Scotland, which is attached to official documents to confer royal assent by the reigning monarch.
More recent medals have included The Edinburgh Medal, struck in silver and awarded by the City of Edinburgh to an individual who has contributed greatly to science, and the St Andrew’s Award Medal, celebrating acts of bravery in Scotland.
The business also continues to make the stall plates installed in the Thistle Chapel at St Giles’ Cathedral carrying the family crests of each new knight appointed to the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.
Alex. Kirkwood & Son said medal production accounts for more than half of its income, the rest derived from trophy production, engraving and silverware. David Kirkwood pointed out how the most notable decline in revenues has come from the firm’s medal, trophy and engraving work related to amateur sport, with golf comprising a significant proportion.
In the short term, he believes the key to recovery will be the speed of return to competitive amateur sport and the reopening of other events. In the meantime, the business has been focused on engagement with existing clients and pro-actively seeking new opportunities to maintain a level of business to ride out the storm.
He also stressed that the industry isn’t in decline, and believes that the use of medals “to commemorate, to reward, to celebrate,” will continue. “Medals have a longevity, there can much emotion connected to what they represent and the history they reflect. I don’t expect that to change, nor the desire for medals to be produced in Scotland and the UK with the associated quality and craftsmanship."
Mr Kirkwood also believes that for the UK industry, longer term, “the challenge is inspiring a younger generation to learn the skills of the industry and encouraging them to forge a career within it".