A competition for the design of a prize-winners medal for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition was arranged by the Exhibition Commission. A Committee was formed and a sketch produced to guide entrants to the competition. The competition was to be judged by V. Delves Broughton, Deputy Master of the Melbourne Mint, who would later oversee the actual production.
Broughton was not involved in the Committee's discussion about the preferred design, and was horrified when he saw the guide sketch that had been sent out to interested artists. The design was too complex (and, according to Broughton's correspondence, the relief too deep) to be produced. It appears he hastily wrote to each artist indicating that variations on the design were welcomed, and that the choice of winner would be based on which could be made from the thinnest gauge of metal. He advised that the head of Queen Victoria was unsuited to the task, and suggested that the Queen's head on the obverse of the Ashantee war medal by L.C. Wyon, featured in the Exhibition Catalogue, was a good model. Entrants were also directed to look at ancient medals and coins exhibited by the Mint.
The competition was won by Melbourne medalist and jeweler Ernst Altmann. The Melbourne Mint still rejected the design as too difficult to strike. Eventually a modified form of the Ashantee medal from the Sydney Mint presentation medal was used, combined with a simple reverse with wreath design entered by medalist Harry Stokes.
The medals were minted, and awarded in the following manner. Gold, first prize with medal, for applications of new and useful principles, the production of useful machines, or great skill in manufacture, invention or design. Gold, second prize with certificate, for objects of art. Gold, third prize with certificate, for manufactures, products and industries of high merit. Silver and bronze medals were awarded for exhibits of lesser importance; silver and bronze level certificates were issued to lesser winners in each of these categories.