|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2014)|
A commemorative plaque, or simply plaque, is a plate of metal, ceramic, stone, wood, or other material, typically attached to a wall, stone, or other vertical surface, and bearing text or an image in relief, or both, in memory of one or more persons, an event, a former use of the place, or some other thing. A monumental plaque or tablet commemorating a deceased person or persons, can be a simple form of church monument. Most modern plaques affixed in this way are commemorative of something, but this is not always the case, and there are purely religious plaques, or those signifying ownership or affiliation of some sort. A plaquette is a small plaque, but in English, unlike many European languages, the term is not typically used for outdoor plaques fixed to walls.
The Benin Empire, which flourished in present-day Nigeria between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, had an exceedingly rich sculptural tradition. One of the kingdom’s chief sites of cultural production was the elaborate ceremonial court of the Oba (divine king) at the palace in Benin. Among the wide range of artistic forms produced at the court were rectangular brass or bronze plaques. At least a portion of these plaques, which were mainly created from the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries, commemorate significant persons and events associated with the Oba’s court, including important battles during Benin’s sixteenth century expansionary period.
Brass or bronze memorial plaques were produced throughout medieval Europe from at least the early thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries as a form of sepulchral memorial generally inset into the walls of churches or surfaces of tombs. Surviving in great numbers, they were manufactured from sheet brass or latten, very occasionally coloured with enamels, and tend to depict highly conventional figures with brief inscriptions.
In England, the London blue plaques scheme, which is administered by English Heritage, has been running for over 140 years and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world. Plaques are attached to buildings to commemorate their association with important occupants or events.
A range of other commemorative plaque schemes, which are typically run by local councils and charitable bodies, exists throughout the United Kingdom. These tend to use their own criteria for determining the eligibility to put up a plaque. A list of schemes currently operating in England is available on the English Heritage website.
After the First World War, the families of British and British Empire (now Commonwealth) service men and women killed during the conflict were presented with bronze Memorial Plaques. The plaques, of about 125 millimetres (4.9 in) in diameter, were designed by the eminent sculptor and medallist, Edward Carter Preston.
In the United States, various state governments have commemorative plaque schemes usually using the name historical markers. The National Trust for Historic Preservation or the U.S. Government, through the National Register of Historic Places, can bestow historical status.
State programmes, such as the California Register of Historical Resources allows designated sites to place their own markers.
As the price of scrap metal has increased plaques have been the target of metal thieves wishing to resell the metal for cash.
Plaque inside the Royal Military College of Canada
Plaque at Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma, near San Diego, CA
The plaque in the Hong Kong Park commemorating the park's opening by the Governor of Hong Kong in 1991
An award plaque made of wood with a printed metal plate and a medallion
An example of a plaque in Canberra, Australia
Plaque showing the historical coat of arms of Wolverhampton, England, before 1898
First World War memorial plaque
Second World War memorial plaque
A commemorative plaque from the Möhne Dam in Germany which was brought to Australia as a war trophy on display at the Australian War Memorial