Unless you’re competing in the Games themselves, the chance of seeing actual Olympic medals up close is rather slim.

And that is pretty much the entire appeal of the British Museum’s modest but stirring exhibition – to learn a bit about the history of Olympic medals, but also to witness Nike, the victory goddess, and the River Thames engraved on sporting history incarnate.

This is the first public display of four copies of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic victory medals. The other displays in the exhibition show their counterparts from London’s 1908 and 1948 Games and the moulds and stamps used to manufacture the current medals. Placards detail their production, from metal mining to design to creation in the Royal Mint, and explain Britain’s contribution to the history of the Modern Olympics in general, from the inspiring Much Wenlock Games to hosting the Olympics for the third time.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games medals exhibition at the British Museum runs until 9 September.