For most of its history there has been a common thread running through the competition and representative medals issued by the SMRC and NSRA - in a high proportion of cases the medal used has been specifically designed for the competition. However some general-purpose medals were also used, either for competitions where no special medal existed or where the normal medal was unavailable.
The first general-purpose medals were the Maltese Cross and the Seated Angel, the obverse of each being plain for engraving the details of its award. Both designs remain in use – the Maltese Cross being available for sale to clubs and associations for their own competitions and the Seated Angel design appears on the winners’ medals for the Dewar and Drew Postal International Matches.
The first medals specific to competitions appeared in 1907, 1908 and 1909 for the Queen Alexandra Cup, in 1909 for the Bell Trophy and Dewar International Match, and in 1911 for the Daily Express Competition. The major growth in competition-specific medals started in 1921 with the introduction of those for the Inter-County Matches for the BSA and County Cups.
Once introduced the special medals have normally only been discontinued when the competition was no longer held. Despite the need for new dies to be cut, there has generally been minimal alterations to design beyond the change of name from the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs to the National Small-bore Rifle Association in 1947.
The major interruption to the issue of special medals occurred during World War II. For those competitions that continued through the War, and for a short period after, the medals issued were of one or more of the general-purpose types that could be more readily obtained. However where appropriate, medals continued to be of sterling silver during this period.
A variety of metals have been used for medals, from base metal in various colours to gold and sterling silver. Not all of the latter were hallmarked, particularly those from the early days of the SMRC. Sterling silver medals continued to be widely used until 1969, when the NSRA announced that it would change to "silver-type" medals because of the raising of Purchase Tax on silver and the increasing cost of the metal itself.
In some cases two types of bronze medal have been issued in the same competition. In these cases the lower level award is described as Bronze and the higher level as Antique Bronze, the latter being of a lighter shade.
There are in excess of 100 medals of different designs bearing the names of the SMRC and/or the NSRA, of which about 50 remain in current use. In a few cases the total number of medals issued will be in excess of 50,000, whilst for others it is 250 or fewer. In the case of some early medals, their exact purpose and period of use remain uncertain.