Archive for the ‘Die Making’ Category

EVERY die-struck item – coin or medal – has two important hard and fast rules. I call these “undeniable truths.” They cannot be overlooked at any step of modeling, pattern-making or die-making in the medallic field.

Dies need to strike and withdraw. They must be made to insure that ability to withdraw from the struck piece. Otherwise the struck piece clings to the die. Pressmen call this a “hang-up.”

In a coining press a hang-up with a struck piece attached strikes the next blank that comes into position with two blanks between the two dies. The struck pieces have no design on one side and a mangled surface on the other, what mint error collectors call a “brockage.”

If it continues to hang on to the die and the coining press continues to feed blanks that first struck piece will wrap around the die. Mint error collectors call this “capping” or “cupping.” It is one of the worst situations for a coining press operator to experience.

Even if the die isn’t damaged by all this, it should be rejected anyway. It wasn’t made properly in the first place. It provides a devil of a time for the pressman. Reject that die. Its problem was an improper bevel.

The problem with the die started with the modeling of the design. Two rules govern here – two undeniable truths – no undercuts and proper bevel of all lettering and devices. The two rules are so closely related we discuss them here both at the same time.

An undercut is modeling of relief between the design and its background; the carving of overhang of design relief; a negative slope of relief. Metalworkers call it back draft. Relief sculptors call it under bevel. Everyone calls it undercutting and everyone connected with medal making attempts to avoid it right from the beginning for any die-struck or electroformed reproduction..

[Undercutting is a sculpture technique of full-round sculpture even though it can be attached to its background; it intensifies a contour line or relief by casting a shadow behind the relief. In the medallic field undercut designs can only be reproduced on bas-relief cast plaques, and then only made by rubber or flexible molds.]

For new artists who want to model coins and medals, I recommend hanging a sign above their workbench: “No Undercuts. Bevel All Relief.” Hopefully they would see it every day and burn it into their memory.

All relief requires a proper bevel. The sides of all relief and lettering must have a slight bevel. Each medal making process has its own requirement. It is ideal to model a bevel (also called draft or taper) to accommodate any process used.

Four boundaries must be considered here:

  • Vertical relief from 0° to 2½° is called holding taper. Not only is that taper impossible to cut into a die, or strike, it would be impossible for the die to withdraw from the struck piece after striking.
  • Hand engraved dies can accommodate a 5° to 10° bevel where the dies can strike and the struck piece release from the die.
  • Reduction on the die-engraving pantograph, as the Janvier, requires a minimum 15° bevel. This is required for the shape of the cutting point that mills the design into the face of the die.
  • Reduction by computer generated models, requires a minimum 20° to 25° bevel, draft or taper. This also is determined by the shape of the cutting point that mills the design into the face of the die.

Early in the modeling career of every medallic artist it would be wise to create the sides of all relief and lettering with a minimum 20° bevel and maintain this throughout their career. A 20° bevel on relief or lettering is about the slope of a sharpened wood pencil.

Here’s a tip for all medallic modelers: check the bevel of relief by holding a pencil upright next to your modeled relief. Light will show at the base of the relief if the relief is too steep.

The slope in which the relief rises from the background has the proper bevel of at least 20° it will carry forward in all the die-making steps. Anything less than 5° draft will cause a formed piece to “hang up” or freeze in the die or mold.

While steep vertical relief without any bevel is impossible to strike, relief with minimum bevel creates stress in the dies. The displacement of surface metal of the blank is greater at that point and the wear to the dies is at its maximum (which leads to diecracks and diebreaks).

Humans like the sharp, crisp detail in their medallic designs. Unfortunately they also like sharp rises and falls of the modulated relief to give emphasis to the design. So the designer and modeler must balance the need for a superior design with the requirements of the medallic technology.

As the artist shapes the sides of the relief in his design during modeling he must be aware of this angle or bevel at all time.


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BILL Louth, president of Medallic Art Company (1961-1976), was a consummate salesman. He was constantly on the alert for a fresh opportunity to sell the products of the family firm he headed. Even in his daily activity and certainly in the business connections formed in his career, he transformed as many of these contacts into medal, plaque and sculpture sales.

His family roots were deep in Indiana where he had been born and raised and where his uncle Clyde Trees who acquired the company in 1927 hailed. Bill was a pedigreed “Hoosier!” In New York City, where the firm was located until 1972, he was an active member of the Sons of Indiana, New York Chapter, which named him Hoosier of the Year in 1968.   

He was also made a director of an Indiana firm’s branch, Lincoln National Life Insurance Company New York City Division. In this capacity he learned of the Lincoln Museum that the company sponsored.

Somehow Bill Louth learned about a Lincoln Relief the company owned. Perhaps he learned of it when he took his wife and two sons sightseeing in Fort Wayne, where the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company maintained a museum of all things Lincoln — Abraham Lincoln artifacts, books, prints and photographs, and, of course, Lincoln medals.

When the firm was founded, in 1905, it was given a photograph of the 16th president by his son, Robert Todd Lincoln, along with a letter authorizing the company’s use of the Lincoln name. This was the watershed document for the firm’s Lincoln collection. That Lincoln photograph was the same as to appear on the U.S. $5 bill.

In 1928, Lincoln National Life president Arthur F. Hall hired Dr. Louis A. Warren, a Lincoln scholar, who a year later, oversaw the purchase of two large collections of Lincoln books at the time. The collections grew under director Warren’s guidance until it reach museum proportions.

The Lincoln Library and Museum was dedicated February 11, 1930. Dr. Warren, a Christian minister, gave talks on Lincoln and wrote extensively on Lincoln. Housed in a room near the entrance of Lincoln Life building, it outgrew this space and was moved to a separate building.

Meanwhile, a large oval bas-relief of Lincoln’s head 24 x 19 inches had been acquired in 1893 by L. G. Muller of Chicago. It was signed only “Pickett / 1873.” Fifteen years later, on the approach of the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, Muller copyrighted the work of art.

Whether by subterfuge or sheer misinformation, he claimed the artist was a “C. Pickett.” No such “C. Pickett” was an artist in America in 1873.  Muller issued prints of the Pickett Lincoln portrait, and exhibited the plaque in Chicago, where he lived, and later in Seattle where he relocated for a short time, returning ultimately back to Chicago.

He submitted one of these prints to the U.S. Post Office in 1909. It was chosen to appear on a one-cent postal card released in 1911 (cataloged as UX23 by Scott) and was revised in a different color on a similar one-cent card in 1913 (UX26).

In 1923 that Arthur F. Hall acquired the plaque from Mueller and placed it in the Lincoln Life Museum, prominently displayed with a description which stated:

The Pickett Plaque

The original bas-relief is inscribed “Pickett” with the date “1873.” The artist was of French descent and was associated with the sculptor Leonard Volk either in America or France. The United States Post Office Department used the design of the Pickett Plaque for the one-cent postal card from 1911 to 1917.

In the May 1955 issue of Lincoln Lore, a quarterly publication of the Lincoln Nation Foundation, Dr. Warren wrote as much information about the Picket Head he was aware, relating many of the facts given above.

Further he stated: “Much effort has been put forth through the years to learn some biographical facts about the sculptor but to no avail. … No other work by Pickett has come to our attention.”

It was this plaque and its description that sightseeing Bill Louth observed when he visited the Lincoln Museum in the early 1960s. On his return to New York he immediately wrote the management of Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne.

He mentioned his directorship of their New York City affiliate, that the Lincoln Plaque in their museum could be rendered into a quite handsome fine art medal. He extolled the virtues of his firm and also mentioned it had made many medals by Paul Manship, who Arthur Hall had commissioned in 1932, to create a statue, Young Lincoln.

Louth’s sales effort succeeded. He received an order for a Pickett Head Lincoln Medal, a three-inch vertical oval medal. This would be given to agents and visiting dignitaries who visited their Fort Wayne headquarters.

Picket Head Medal

Picket Head Medal

Shortly after, that valuable plaque, the original 1873 casting, arrived at Medallic Art’s plant on New York’s East 45th Street. Art Director and Vice President Julius Lauth took it under his control. He immediately had staff sculptor Ramon Gordils make a rubber mold of that bas-relief image of Lincoln.

Once they were certain they had a satisfactory mold casting, they returned the original plaque. Then they made a plaster cast from the rubber mold. The image of Lincoln was nearly 13 inches in height. Sculptor Gordils was able to examine that plaster cast and touch it up, removing any casting imperfections. No bubble craters allowed. He added the lettering that formed the legend around the perimeter of the oval medal: THE LINCOLN NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY.

In tiny incised letters Gordills added the name PICKETT and below, the date 1873. Company policy – identify the artist, include a signature, name or initials wherever possible.

Gordill’s perfect plaster model then was placed in a electrolysis tank to make a galvano, a dieshell. This was mounted on one of the firm’s three Janvier die-engraving reducing pantographs. Not only did it reproduce that entire image – portrait and lettering – it cut the 3-inch oval die in the same operation.

Uniface bronze medals were stamped and given a highlighted bronze finish.

Years later, in 1972, I cataloged the medal for the company records (assigning it catalog number 1963-009), also adding it to the archive collection of every medal struck by the firm. I encountered the same problem Dr. Warren had faced. No data on who the artist was; Pickett remained a mystery. I compiled the catalog card, but the artist line had to read simply “Pickett” – no first name.

Frequently I walked the five blocks over to the New York Public Library at 42nd and 5th Avenue. On one of my data gathering trips to their art division, I took a chance to look up Pickett in their card catalog.

Bless some cataloger who, perhaps 60 or even 80 years earlier, had noted a 3-page auction catalog had two items signed “Byron M. Pickett.” I called for the catalog from the stacks and held the slim pages in my hands. Could this be our missing Pickett artist?

No photocopies were available then; you had to order photostats. I still have a copy of the MACO purchase order addressed to the NY Public Library, Photographic Service, dated “April 3, 1972. For “one positive photostat from your negative film *ZM-29; Joseph Mozier, Catalogue of marble statuary, comprising eleven pieces, of the late Joseph Mozier, esq., also busts and medallions by R.R. Park, esq., and Byron M. Pickett … to be sold at auction … March 22, 1873. The Messers. Leavitt, auctioneers. 2 leaves.”

Further search found no other Pickett sculptor active in 1873. (And, despite Muller’s attribution, certainly no “C. Pickett”).

I contacted Dr. R. Gerald McMurtry, then Director at the Lincoln National Life Museum of this discovery. He agreed with my attribution of their Lincoln Plaque now could be assigned to Byron M. Pickett.

I wrote an article on this subject emphasizing the source of the Lincoln image on postal cards issued by the U.S. Post Office, mentioned on the exhibit description of the Lincoln Plaque. This article was published in Linn’s Stamp News, Pickett Head of Lincoln Was Model for 1911 Postal Card (March 24, 1980 issue).

That 1911 one-cent postal card was cataloged in the philately field as Scott UX 23. A second variety in a different color was issued in 1913 (UX 26). All this was related in a second article in Postal Stationery (May-June 1980).

Fast forward now to 2006. It was one of those articles that attracted the attention of Ron Haney of Rochester, New York. Ron is a great grand-nephew of Pickett and was seeking data on his relative when he stumbled on to my article. He wrote and we began an active email correspondence.

I was as eager to learn about Byron M. Pickett as an artist, as Ron was as eager to learn a bout his predecessor. I immediately sent Ron the listing I had on Pickett in my American Artists Databank.

I recognized his eager interest so in 2008 sent him a packet of all the material I had in my Pickett file, including photos: of the 1873 Lincoln bas-relief plaque, Medallic Art Company medal struck in 1963, a calendar published by the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company with the Lincoln Medal illustrated on the cover, even a calendar card for the year 1966.

Plus, of course, photocopies of that 1873 auction catalog, a 1955 Lincoln Lore publication on the Picket Head plaque, and a photocopy of a page from a Manhattan New York guidebook illustration the Samuel F.B. Morse statue, which is Pickett’s most famous work of art, other than the Pickett Head of Lincoln. (He did other sculptural work, as a bas-relief Peace and Unity mounted on the monument to the 66th New York Infantry, a granite shaft, located on the battlefield in Gettysburg.)

In 1983 the Lincoln National Life Company reorganized, now part of the Lincoln Financial group. The Fort Wayne company was now Lincoln National Reinsurance. The earlier medals, created two decades earlier were now obsolete for bearing an incorrect name.

A new medal order was issued to Medallic Art. Change the name on the obverse and add a reverse design. This chore fell to staff sculptor Gladys Gunzer. She pulled up the galvano from the 1963 medal, cast it in plaster, removed the old name and added the new: LINCOLN NATIONAL REISURANCE.

For the reverse she modeled a design from the days of Arthur Hall, the seated Young Lincoln reading a book, Paul Manship’s statue of 1932. The reverse bore a legend from a poem by Edwin Markham Lincoln, Man of the People: “HE HELD HIS PLACE – HELD THE LONG PURPOSE LIKE A GROWING TREE.”

The new medal retained the vertical oval shape and would continue to be a memento for visiting dignitaries. It was cataloged as MACO 1983-171.

Meanwhile Ron’s Pickett research continued. He kept me in the loop, and sent copies of each new Pickett item – personal or sculpture – he uncovered. It was a delight to open each new email from him.

This week I received the latest from him – the capstone of our Pickett research. Ron had learned where Pickett was buried, but also learned it had no headstone. He ordered and paid for a headstone that reads:



AUG 03. 1833 – MAR 03. 1907


So this brings to a close the Saga of the Pickett Head. From the sale of a medal by a Medallic Art President, who recognized a giant bas-relief portrait originally created in 1873 would make a handsome fine art medal, to a tombstone in the Brookside Cemetery in Tenafly, New Jersey. With some eager research results along the way

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This is the first of several reports on the basic information, the basic knowledge, of minting coins and medals. These facts are so important they should be embedded in the repertoire of everyone associated with the medallic field and, certainly, everyone within the firms which make these.

EVERY coin and medal struck for the last 2,650 years – since the first coin was struck in 640 BC – exists because of one technique:  engraving. Creating the lines and cavities in a die to reproduce a design in objects struck from that die is the result of engraving.

The surface containing the relief design rises and falls from a background is a special form of three dimensions called bas-relief (the “s” is silent, its pronounced baa-relief). I prefer the term modulated relief for the images of devices and lettering of varying height shown on that surface.

Medallic Art Dies

Medallic Art Dies

Three stages.
Die engraving over time has evolved through three stages.  For the first 2500 years the only method to create those dies was for a skilled craftsman to hand engrave them — to carve away little portions of the surface of iron to form a completed die. By the use of hand tools he crafted a die with cavities the exact size of the object to be struck from that die.

Because this work was tedious, mechanically inclined craftsmen sought a method to mechanize the hand work. A progression of instruments were developed, the most successful were those that cut a die from an oversize pattern, in effect a die-engraving pantograph which cut the surface of the die from a much larger pattern.

The large pattern from which the die is engraved was created by a sculptor, who in effect, replaced the hand engraver. The pattern was mounted in a reducing pantograph by a craftsman who set the machine to operate. With an electric motor it operated unattended cutting a die any size desired. Also the pattern could be used again so several size dies could be made from a single pattern. Or it could cut a hub or master die from which many dies could be made.

At first it was the central design, the device alone, which was  modeled as the pattern to cut into a die. Lettering and stars or ornamentation was added later, by hand punches. It was not until 1899 that a French inventor, Victor Janvier, patented his die-engravng pantograph that could cut the die entire, lettering and all. His “Janvier” machine dominated die engraving for the entire 20th century.

With the 21st century we see the rise of computer engraving. The image is entered in a computer as X and Y coordinates for height by width. The depth of the image is the Z factor. Three factors at each point of the image, and as many points as the resolution of the image requires. This data is then fed into a controlled milling machine which cuts the entire surface image into the die in the size die required.

  1. Hand Engraving Only method of engraving for 2500 years, still used infrequently at present.
  2. Die-engraving Dominated all die making 1900-2000; cutting Pantograph devices alone at first, then entire sides, everything at once.
  3. Computer Engraving Increasingly used to cut dies to be major technique following year 2000.

Engraving Terms.
Cutting a die by hand is called hand engraving. Engraving dies to be used in striking is called diesinking. Engraving dies by use of master punches is called hubbing. Engraving by various mechanical implements is called machine engraving. And now we have COMPUTER ENGRAVING.

Engraving an existing item – a medal say – to personalize it after it is struck or cast (as name of a recipient) is called inscribing. One “engraves” a die, but “inscribes” a medal.

Die engraving is different from “engraving” found in most reference works, which refer to the preparation of printing plates for prints or paper money; we call this flat engraving (as for line or surface engraving). This engraving has no relief. It creates two levels of surface: one surface that prints and one that does not.

During the 19th century “engraving of dies” and “diesinking” were considered the same, synonymous (and listed as such in trade directories). Later in that century diesinking came to mean hubbing of dies. These terms now all have more explicit meanings, all within the required duties of the engraver and the overall concept of die-making.

Die Engraving Overview.
Engraving of dies was always done in iron before the development of steel (and always in steel afterwards). Iron and steel have the amazing property of being hardened and softened at will by heat treating. Thus the engraver can cut the design in soft iron, it can then be hardened and thousands of impressions can be made from that iron die.

Engraving of dies is considered a form of carving, cutting away small bits of metal to form the relief design. More often than not, this is negative carving to strike positive objects. But some hand engravers are so skilled they can carve positive – called CAMEO ENRAVING – or negative with incised cavities.

The engraver must know his tools (see list). These implements are also made of steel, but obviously are harder than the iron DIE BLANK the engraver is cutting. These tools create the lines and cavities that reproduce the relief design and lettering by creating modulated relief surface.

Burin.  An engraving tool with a diamond or lozenge shaped cutting edge, often used for engraving lines, lettering or fine detail in dies.


Burnisher.  The tool for polishing the surface of metal; made of metal or stone, a burnisher smooths a metallic surface to effect its polish.



Chisel.  A tool, flat and pointed at the end, used by engravers to handcut a die, or by chasers in their work.

Engravers’ Ball, Engravers’ Block.  A vise to hold a die or medallic item while some form of hand work is performed on it – engraving, chasing, inscribing, proof polishing or such.

Graver.  A cutting or shaving tool used by an engraver to handcut metal (as a die or flat engraving).

Milgrain Tool.  A beading tool with a wheel of hemispherical cavities that leaves a trail of precisely and uniformly formed beads.

Oil Stone.  An abrasive stone for sharpening engraving tools, a whetstone.

Punch, Puncheon.  A tool made of steel containing a letter, figure, dentile, ornament or a part of a coin or medal design used to press into softer steel to make a die, or to counterstamp a numismatic item.

Spitz, Spitzstick.  A pointed graver; an engraving tool with a long sharp pointed end.

Transfer Wax.  Wax in ball or sheet form used by engravers to transfer a drawing, design or lettering to the surface of a die to be hand or machine engraved, or to the surface of a medal to be inscribed.

Basic die engraving techniques.
The engraver is responsible for the steel he must use and the preparation of a blank die he must make into a suitable die. The choice of the steel is most critical. The best iron or steel available must be employed, otherwise in use the image will sink during prolonged striking, or worse of all break, starting at an edge.

Prior to 1756 all dies were made of iron; in that year an English manufacturer, Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), invented a method of making crucible steel that proved most useful for dies. Matthew Boulton used Huntsman’s steel for the dies at his 1790 Soho Mint and the mints throughout the world used Huntsman steel for a century and a half – until 1950!

Steel for dies is ordered from steel manufacturers by type of steel, diameter, hardness, and whether oil or water hardened. It usually is supplied in long rods called bar stock, although other shaped stock has been used for dies, as square or hexagonal. (Round is ideal for many steps in making and using a die, turning on a lathe, locking in the press, and as a final point, orientation of the obverse and reverse properly.)

The bar stock is cut on a band saw to approximate height of the finished die. Next it is milled smoothed and both ends made exactly parallel. The working end where the design is to be cut is polished. If the engraver does not do this, then it is done by a tool and die worker, a separate person in a large mint or medal plant. At this point it is a die blank, ready to be engraved by any method, hand or machine engraved.

Laying out the design for hand engraving.
The surface of the polished die blank is next coated with Chinese white, a watercolor paint. An engraver will wet the tip of his finger and spread an even coat over the entire surface to be engraved. It dries quickly and the design can be drawn with a pencil right on this white surface. (Or the engraver may use dye blue if he wishes, but in this case he must inscribe the design with a sharp pointed spitzstick or scriber.)

What the engraver draws is an outline of the intended design. This is called a cartoon. (One might think this word was named after comic cartoons but it’s the other way round – die engraving cartoons came first.)

The engraver can actually draw an original design right on the die. He will include lettering in its proper place in addition to the main device and all subsidiary devices – stars, dentiles and whatever else. Including too much detail at this point is not necessary as this surface will be removed for the most part before he gets to these.

Or, if the engraver has an exact size cartoon on paper, he can transfer this pencil drawing to the white coated die surface, called design transfer. This is accomplished by coating the back of the paper with graphite, laying this on the coated die and tracing the design. (This technology was used before carbon paper was invented, which, of course, could be used.)

If the engraver wishes to transfer an incuse image, say from another die, to an uncoated fresh die he fills all cavities with precipitated chalk, wipes off the excess, lays on this a thin sheet of transfer wax, places this on the bare die, and burnishes the back of the wax sheet with a burnisher.

Removing metal.
At this stage occurs what everyone typically attributes to an engraver – removing tiny bits of metal to form the design in modulated relief. The cartoon indicates where most of the unwanted dead metal is to be removed, mostly background cutaway. Formerly this was done with hammer and chisel, modern engravers now have pneumatic gravers that remove gross metal from the die surface in quick time with less muscle power.

At this point the engraver does not worry about the ridges left from the chisel or graver, however it is quite critical how deep he carves. The depth of this cutting will ultimately be the background or field of the piece struck from this die. The tool marks are removed by later lapping or stoning.

Then he turns his full attention to the main device. Here is where he cuts the modulated relief of the design with burin or graver. Each tiny bit of metal removed is called a bite. His skill and talent come into play in carving the portrait or feature of the design. The engraver must be an artist at this stage employing all his artistic ability. He is creating a miniature relief by sculptural carving, often in the negative.

He holds the burin or graver in the palm of his hand with his index finger lying along the shank of the tool. He points with this finger to where he wants to cut. He pushes with his hand down into the metal and scoops out a tiny bit of metal. This action is called palm push because the palm of the hand pushes on the handle forcing the point of the tool into and up out of the metal die surface.

We have assumed here the artist is cutting intaglio, carving the relief design in the negative for all the above. However, the artist can cut cameo, in the positive. Cutting a positive cameo die eliminates the need for frequent proving. The image is always in view. The cameo die has another advantage, it can serve as a device punch to hub into the working die.

Carving and using punches.
Before 1950 there were commercial punches of letters and figures engravers could obtain from typographic houses (which made type for letterpress printers – the rise of lithographic printing however made all letterpress obsolete and type houses went out of business). For most engravers the desired type, style and size, it seemed, was never available. Thus the engraver had to carve new punches for the correct lettering style and size he was seeking.

Imagine a letter on the end of a pencil point. In a sense, this is what the engraver must carve, exact size, and a different one for each different letter. (Thank goodness he can use the same “E” punch or any other repeated letter over and over – he only needs one for each letter.) It is “carve away” engraving to make a letter or figure punch and the final punch must have a sloping contour with a proper bevel, often turned on a lathe.

The layout for lettering will have a guide line or base line drawn or lightly inscribed on the face of the die where the bottom of each letter must appear. He may also inscribe a second guideline for the top of the letters. He does not punch the letters in order they appear on the die; instead the engraver most likely will choose a letter with a flat base, as an “E” to start (where top and bottom must line up with the two guide lines). Each letter is punched into the die individually.

When punching the lettering the engraver must be aware of four things at once: (1) the letter must rest on that base line, or fit precisely between the two if there are two  guide lines, (2) he must not tilt the letter, it must be upright, exactly perpendicular to the base line, (3) he must be aware of interletter spacing [“IE” should be further apart than say “OO”], (4) he must sink the punch to the same depth as all other letters. The last is most important because an “M” requires more pressure to sink than an “I” for example.

To insure correct positioning the engraver lightly taps the letter punch to get a faint image on the surface of the die. If it is correct in all respects, he replaces the punch – it must “seat” in that same impression – and taps the punch to the proper depth. If it doesn’t seat properly, or he moves the punch between blows, he will create a double image for that letter. Punching letters and figures requires experience; lettering by an amateur engraver, who perhaps cannot control all four requirements at once, is very obvious on the struck piece.

Diesinking and hubbing.
The engraver does not have to engrave every element on the face of that one die blank (although he can if he so desires). He can carve separate elements and bring them together by sinking them into that master die blank. He can engrave the device separately (even in cameo) making it a device punch. By diesinking he can get that image into that die; obviously it is too much to sink it by hammer blow, he must hub it by using a press, a screw press – or for even greater pressure a hydraulic powered hubbing press – to impress the device punch into the die.

The device punch must be hard and the die blank must be soft, thus heat treating is important at this stage. The two – punch and die – are positioned in the press and are squeezed to drive the punch into the die. Often a retaining ring is necessary to hold the punch in position during hubbing (creating this tube-like collar is the responsibility of the engraver or tool and diemaker). This is the hubbing function of diesinkning.

Hubbing always changes polarity. A positive punch creates a negative element in the die. The device punch carved cameo is ideal for pressing into the negative die. The negative die, then, can be used for striking. Or, instead it can become the master die and a hub can be sunk from it. Then working dies can be made from that hub. By the process of hubbing the engraver can go back and forth with a change of polarity each time. Multiple working dies are necessary for long production runs. A master die is “insurance” that another die can be easily sunk if the one in use breaks or deteriorates.

At any step along this process the engraver can examine the state of his work by proving. He can push soft material, clay or wax, into the die cavity or the surface of the die to give a quick look. For more detail, which is usually the case because the engraver is working on tiny areas of carving, he will want to make a metal proof. These can be a hot tin impression, called a splasher, which he can do right at his workbench; or a lead proof if he places the die in a press and softly impresses the lead.

The closer the engraver gets to the finished die, the more proofs he will make. He seldom makes any proof until well into the process. He usually does extensive carving in the die, then he makes a proof to check on his progress. This continues until he is completely satisfied with the total image. He will then harden the die and it will be ready to be placed into production.

Use of Sculptured Patterns in Engraving.
In an attempt to relieve the tedium of hand engraving, engravers and mint workers looked to the pantograph, the die-engraving pantograph, to aid in cutting dies. In constant development from its early crude form for nearly 150 years, these machines were in use at mints in Belgium, France and England. It required, however, a pattern in hard material to reduce the image while it cut the relief.

Engravers and mint officials turned to sculptors and wax modelers to create these patterns. It was not, as some believe, a model for the engraver to handcut the image in reduced size, but rather a three-dimensional surface that could be reduced by stylus tracing and mechanical pantographic reduction.

What the sculptor created was a bas-relief – a design of modulated relief attached to a solid background. Sculpture in wax was ideal, as well as those in clay and other media (the use of plaster of Paris came later). However, this had to be converted to a hard surface of the image for the stylus to trace over. These were cast in metal, iron was the first to be used, later copper was found to be more ideal for the stylus to ride over.

The first sculptor to prepare a bas-relief for medals in America was Ferdinand Pettrich (1798-1872). In 1841 he created a relief portrait of President John Tyler in wax for the Indian Peace Medal Series. At the U.S. Mint Franklin Peale (1795-1870) cast this in iron and used it to cut three size DEVICE PUNCHES of the 1842 Indian Peace Medal (on the Philadelphia Mint’s newly acquired Contamin pantograph, well suited for cutting multiple size hubs from the same pattern).  Each of these device punches was sunk into an appropriate size die blank and lettering added by punches.

Sculptor Pettrich’s presidential portrait was followed by John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1889) who furnished President James K. Polk’s portrait in 1846 for the same series. In 1849 Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886) created Zachary Taylor’s portrait, but these portraits were surpassed by Millard Fillmore’s, Franklin Pierce’s and Abraham Lincoln’s portraits by Salathiel Ellis (1803-1879) both in quantity and quality. It is believed the Philadelphia Mint replaced iron cast patterns with copper ELECTROFORMED patterns (GALVANOS) from Ellis’ models.

Rise of electroformed patterns.
Using iron patterns proved unsatisfactory, not only for the stylus drag, but also for the lack of finite detail. Models cast in iron could not reproduce the fine detail in the sculptor’s models. Reason for this was the meniscus formed at the juncture of all angular corners and, on coin and medal models in particular, where relief meets the field (called corner radius). This rounding of angles and corners occurs in all metal casting. It cannot reproduce sharp detail, notably the pointed junctures at the edges of relief and corner radii.

Fortunately an event occurred in 1837 to affect this. A German physicist and engineer, Moritz Herman Jacobi (1801-1874), developed an electro chemicalprocess he called “galvanoplasty” which today is known as electrolysis. This is the process by which electroplating takes place. But it can also be employed for forming objects from a mantel, core or pattern.

The technology was rapidly employed in England, for the silverware industry, but in France it was employed in the art field. Before long it was in use at the Paris Mint for making patterns for use on the die-engraving pantograph from sculptors’ models. Here it was ideal because all the detail in the sculptors’ models were reproduced in a copper pattern in far greater fidelity (in micron width!).

The metal pattern was called a galvano (from Jacobi’s “electrogalvanic” process). If the newly created pattern was positive to cut a die, it was also called a dieshell, if it was negative to cut a hub, it was a hubshell. (Electroforming changes polarity.)

This technology was in use for cutting dies on the die-engraving panotograph for the remainder of the 19th century and all the 20th century. It was replaced, only partially at first, by the use of epoxy for creating coin and medal patterns following World War II when it was developed.

Engraver’s use of engraving machines.
Because sculptors were asked to furnish relief models of portraits, more than any other subject to be made into patterns for dies, the first die-engraving pantographs were called portrait lathes.The engraver would make a hard surface cast of the sculptor’s portrait model and place this on the reducing machine.

In all instances these early engravers would utilize the sculptor’s bas-relief pattern to cut a positive image in steel. This reduction punch would then be hubbed into the master die. Lettering, subsidiary devices and rim elements would be added afterwards by punches and hand engraving.

In America, use of the die-engraving pantograph continued for 80 years to make reduction punches. This technique continued through the 19th century. It wasn’t until the invention of the Janvier pantograph that the entire die could be reduced and cut from the sculptor’s model of the entire design, lettering and all.

Tracer controlled pantographs.
In the last decade of the 19th century engravers and machinists devised pantographs to aid diesinking. One type of these was a tracer controlled pantograph where an oversize template model and template letters controlled a router that removed all the dead metal. It could carve out letters and leave the design as a flat undisturbed surface that required further diecutting.

The pantograph operator would have to manually control the router to mill away not only the background cutaway but also the surface metal to create the design. In effect this made this craftsman controlling this machine by hand as the engraver of the die. While this was quite satisfactory for letters, logos, architectural and other flat designs, it was left to the skill of the operator to create portraits, scenes and designs of highly modulated relief. Gorton was the major manufacturer of this style of pantograph.

Modern improvements of this machine, even computer control, have made this a quick and low-cost method of die engraving. Ideal for most dies, medal manufacturers use this in contrast to sculptured models. However, it produces less artistic, somewhat flat, mechanical images, particularly of portraits.

Computer engraving.
The computer will not design a coin or medal, but, like a burin in the hand of the engraver, it will aid the engraver to enter the design and determine the amount of depth each point should cut into the die or matrix.

Mints and medalmakers around the world were eager to accept the new technology, the most recent step in replacing the tedious act of hand engraving dies. The success of computer engraving may yet be proved to be limited, much like the use of the tracer-controlled pantograph introduced a century earlier. Both technologies have their place and will continue to be employed by the minting industry. They will not, however, replace the artist who must create the design nor the sculptor-medallist who creates more advanced designs.

The advantages of computer engraving is not only “fast and cheap” but also its versatility to alter a design, to modify it, to test a new concept, to hone the relief to a satisfactory image. As such it is ideal for simple images, as graphic designs, most trademarks and buildings. Where it falls short are very complex or highly detailed designs, but most notably, portraits!

One word describes what a sculptor working in clay or wax can accomplish that a computer cannot: vivify. In art it means “give life to.”  A sculptor can give life to a portrait, make an image of a real person, so it seems the person is staring back at the viewer. He is alive in sight of the relief. In contrast, computer generated portraits are stiff, frozen and lifeless.

Computer Technique.
The computer engraver can start with a flat drawing, a cartoon, or create this on the screen. At each point on the design, called a pixol, X and Y coordinates are determined by the computer. The operator chooses the depth at this point, the Z coordinate, to fix the sculptural or dimensional effect, creating a bitmap. All these coordinates are stored in the software. A visual image is shown on the screen of the CPR. The operator moves through the design indicating the modulated relief.

When finished, the accepted digital design will then be transferred to a milling machine which does the cutting as controlled by the digital file. Afterwards, burrs and rough corners from the milling tool must be worked as with any other touchup of dies.

Is it possible to look at a coin or medal and tell how it was made, by hand engraving, die-engraved reduction, or by computer design?

Diagnostics: How A Coin or Medal Was Made

No hard and fast rules differentiate a hand engraved die from one made from sculptor’s models and dies cut on the die-engraving pantograph  or by computer design by looking at any coin or  medal. The difference, if any, is quite subtle and often difficult to detect.

Technically the only difference is where the rise of relief meets the background or field (called corner radius). and, perhaps, the crevices. Because of the rounded point of the stylus and cutting point on the pantograph and computer milling machine, which cannot enter these areas, these appear less distinct, less angular and more rounded. Also sculptors tend to fill up the model with detail more so than hand engravers, and occasionally vignette the surface (detail covers more of the model with less clean field) or with texture in the field.

  • Generally, a hand engraved die will appear with sharper detail, steeper rise of relief, deeper crevices and a greater background area (smooth field).
  • Generally, a die cut on a die-engraving reducing  pantograph will appear with smoother, softer detail, slightly more sloping sides of relief, and less field area.
  • Generally, a die cut on milling machine from a computer design will appear similar to that of a pantograph, depending upon the shape of the cutting tool.

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A collector asks me how his 1935 medal was made at Medallic Art Company that year. The answer rests in the technology of the time, which was similar for the period post World War I until post World War II, from about 1920 to 1946.

Note: the vintage video “The Medalmaker” illustrates many of the steps outlined below.

How a medal starts and lead times needed.

Anyone can have the idea for a new medal. If it is an anniversary medal, the design depends upon the type of organization and who is in charge. If the new medal is a municipality, educational institution, or an organization with a lot of committees, ideally the medal idea is known at least two years in advance of the anniversary year. For a private organization run by management who can make decisions quickly, a year in advance is adequate lead time.

For an award medal, lead time can be somewhat less, in the range of six months. For all others it is about four months to obtain a fine art medal. This allows for time to select an artist whose style is acceptable to the client and for the artist to have sufficient time to create an acceptable design.

For all other medals – or for medals to be designed by an artist the medal firm selects – this advance time can be as short as six to eight weeks. I know some competitors can create a medal in less time, where they use their own factory artists but the resulting product shows it, a quickly-made mediocre design.

(I know of one instance where Medallic Art Company produced a medal in less than a week’s time, an extreme case, certainly not the rule. It was the week of the Moon Landing. An entrepreneur in Cleveland sold K-Mart on marketing a medal in all their stores. He contacted us on a Friday. Could we ship medals in less than a week?

We had open time on two die cutting machines. Press time was not a problem. If we could find a sculptor who could do a pair of models over the weekend, it could happen. We commissioned Joseph DiLorenzo, who stopped all other modeling; he worked around the clock and brought two models in Monday morning. The plasters were still wet and had to be baked in an oven to dry. But we cut dies Monday and Tuesday and had it on the press by Wednesday. We started shipping medals on Friday!)

No stock dies.

Medallic Art Company stated in all its advertising that they had no stock dies, all medals were made from custom models. An artist had to create the models from which to strike all medals. Any medal working firm could bang out stock medals. Medallic Art’s niche was the rule that all medals were created by artists. Medallic Art had a following of fine artists who could create those models. Over the years that group of medallic artists rose to over 250 at any one time.

The medal the collector is inquiring about was one that the sculptor brought to Medallic Art. This was reflective of conditions when the firm was established thirty years before. The founders, Henri and Felix Weil were sculptors’ assistants. They became a “service industry” to sculptors by providing those chores that required special equipment or special talents. The Weils had both. They could take a sculptor’s original model and make copies, enlarge or reduce, or make metal patterns for some further process, or even make molds or dies for a production of many sculptural items. Making medals was just one of those chores.

What a sculptor does.

Normally, a sculptor would be selected from his previous work. The client liked his style. A commission would be issued by Medallic Art to that sculptor for designing and modeling a pair of models. It would spell out the size model required and any special instructions. Frequently it would mention the final product, as “for a struck medal,” and the fee for the work. Design suggestions could be made to the sculptor, what the client wanted in his medal. The sculptor would sign and return a copy of the commission indicating his acceptance of the work and terms.

It was the sculptors responsibility to prepare a design in the form of sketches. He could make several sets of sketches to show the client. Once one set is approved he would proceed with the modeling.

Here is where the medal comes to life. The sketch is only the “blueprint.” The sculptor works in wax or clay. The form of modeling clay usually favored by most medallic sculptors is plastecine. It comes in several grades, for medallic models, the firmest or hardest clay is desired. Finer detail can be modeled in such a clay. (Softer clay is used for larger sculpture work.)

The artist prepares a background plate. This could be wood, plastic or plaster. It should be four or five inches larger than the size of the intended model.  It has to be firm not to distort during casting. If his design has a border he creates the border first by the use of a template or a device for modeling multiple images of a repeated element. Often this is done on both obverse and reverse background plates.

The modeler shapes the form of device and symbols by placing pellets of clay on the background plate, building up the design a little at a time, then with sculptors tools shaping the clay to the form he wants.

He adds the lettering by molding each letter. Some artists carve the letters reverse in plaster and press clay into these letter cavities. Then place the formed letter into position on the background plate. Or the artist makes tiny “ropes” of clay to place in position, then shaping these into the letter forms.

The modeler continues by adding detail to his base forms. Detail adds charm and realism to the design. He shapes these with wire tools and boasters, modeling tools. He sharpens up the clay to make crisp, sharp edges, and deepens relief where necessary (as to make finer strands of hair in a portrait).

In modeling it is important to recognize no undercuts are allowed in the model (these cannot be reproduced). Interspatial relationship of all elements is important as well a height of relief (coin models cannot have a relief higher than the border).

The modeler will then make a plaster cast of his clay or wax model. He prepares the model by coating it with a release agent, building a fence around the model (with thin medal strips higher than the model). He mixes his plaster with water until it has a soupy consistency. He places a little of this on the prepared clay surface and spreads it around, making certain it gets in every nook and cranny.

He tips the background plate and taps it to work out any air bubbles captured in the plaster. Once he is certain no bubbles exist he continues pouring in plaster to a height of about one inch above the highest relief. He has to work quickly as the plaster of Paris begins hardening immediately. It gives off heat as it hardens. Once it is cool to the touch the fence is removed, and it can be separated from the clay mold.

Working in clay and plaster gives the modeler great flexibility. It changes polarity with each casting. But the artist can carve in each or add clay relief to each.

The plaster is always subject to additional touchup. Again sharpening detail and deepening relief. Polish design and detail. And polish some more.

A positive clay model will make a negative plaster cast. Once this is touched up a positive plaster cast can be made from this negative. Same method. Coat with release agent, build a fence, pour in a little freshly mixed plaster, tip and tap to remove bubbles, pour in rest of the plaster.

How medallic patterns are made.

A positive plaster cast is usually what is brought to Medallic Art. If approved it can be made into a hub if that is required, or a negative plaster is made (to be made into a die).

The negative plaster cast is coated with bronze powder. Two wires are attached to the cast making sure they come in contact with the surface with the bronze powder. A stop off is coated on the back and edges of the plaster – all areas where no plating must take place.

The prepared ensemble of coated plaster model is immersed tank containing a prepared electrolyte solution containing ions of copper. In the tank are copper anodes which supplies the copper to be deposited on the surface of the pattern. The anodes are sacrificial, they wear away like a bar of soap, as the ions of copper leach off the anode, enter the solution, and when the current is tuned on deposit on the pattern, the cathode.

The wires hang on a bus bar above the tank. The bus bar is connected to a rectifier. When the current is turned on, alternating current is converted to direct current at the rectifier, directed to the bars on which the anodes are hung. Thus the current enters the electrolyte solution, deposits on the cathode, up the wires to the bus bar and back to the rectifier.  Circuit completed.

The process is allowed to continue for hours until a sufficient amount of metal is deposited. A 1/16-inch thickness occurs in two to three day’s time, around the clock.

The ensemble is removed. The electrolytic cast – now called a galvano is separated from the pattern, by a screwdriver inserted between the two or compressed air blow in at some point of separation.

The galvano has reproduced the plaster model down to the width of a micron. Medal makers say, “if it is in the model, it is in the medal.” The fidelity of this electrogalvanic process is one reason for that statement.

[This is the technique that was in use in 1935. It was not replaced until the 1960s when an epoxy – developed during World War II – became widely available and was used to replace the galvano. An epoxy cast was made from the sculptor’s model in hours instead of days.]

How dies are made.

From that galvano a die can be made. The galvano is mounted in a die-cutting pantograph. A stylus is placed to trace over its surface as the galvano is rotated. That movement is carried by a bar to a second axis where a blank steel die is housed. A cutting point, guided by the movement of the bar mills out tiny bits of surface metal.

The die rotates at the same speed as the galvano pattern in synchronous motion. The distance between the two chariots determines the ratio of reduction. As the stylus travels inward at the pattern, the cutting point travels inward cutting into the die a proportional depth.

Ideally two or three passes are require to capture all the detail from the galvano into the die. A finer tracing point and a finer cutting point is used for successive passes.

Separate dies are made from separate galvanos. At this stage the dies are proved. The die is pressed into soft metal, lead or tin. Or the dies can be mounted in a press and a two-sided medal can be struck in lead.

How medals are struck.

Two dies are setup in a press. The diameter and thickness determine the type of press. Medals of say 3½-inch or more require 1,000-ton press capacity or more (measured in tons per square inch).

Blanks are cut out separately on separate presses much like a cookie cutter. The blanks are fed by hand in the setup press one at a time. The press is actuated and delivers its blow. Only a portion of the design emerges in that first blow.

The metal has become work hardened. It must be relieved by heat treating. Then the partially struck metal goes back on the press for another blow. This continues, alternating between striking and heat treating, until the full relief is fully struck up.

The pressman looks at the high points of the design and the design near the edges. Infrequently the metal flows into a die cavity, then back out again. The pressman must know the remedy to alleviate this condition.

Most art medals are struck in open face dies – without collars. This causes flash, an excess amount of metal to flow out between the dies from the edge. It’s the only place for it to go. The flash is removed by turning the medals on lathes.  This leaves the minute parallel ridges on the edge.

How a medal is finished.

The raw medal as it comes from the pressroom is a bright hue. A first step in the finishing department is a sandblasting to break up that smooth surface. Originally fine grains of sand were use, replaced ultimately by even finer grains of glass beads.

The medal is doused for seconds in a chemical to darken its entire surface. Then it is relieved with a slury mixture of pumice and water and buffed under a wet wheel. This gives it a two-toned, highlighted, oxidized and relieved finish, also called French finish since the French invented it.

After drying the medal is coated with a light clear lacquer on both sides for protection.

What starts with an artists’ model ends up with a metal work of art. What’s in the model is in the medal. It will last forever!

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medal dies

Dies on the production floor,
Medallic Art Company

Once medal dies are made, they are rather permanent. They last a long time. And once the initial issue of medals are struck from those dies there is always the possibility those same dies can be used to strike again. This is a decided advantage for award medals.  But it may a disadvantage for other dies, as their very existence creates invitations to be struck at some later time.

There is a vast terminology for the reuse of dies. It involves several factors that determine the exact term. Factors such as authority, legality, type of manufacture, and intent of the issuer all bear consideration.  Here are the six most used terms for reusing dies:

  • Reissue.  A second or repeated issue, after a lapse of time, by an authorized issuer, struck from original dies, and with only a slight change, if any, in form or price.
  • Restrike.  A numismatic item struck from original dies but at a later time than the original issue – coins struck in a year later than the date they bear, medals struck after an interval of time and regular issuing has ceased.
  • Replica.  A copy of a numismatic or medallic item, similar to but differing somewhat from the original piece.
  • Reproduction.  A copy of a medallic item made with or without authority from new models and dies or in a different media or composition, usually in poorer quality than the original item.
  • Revision.  A second or subsequent design replacing a prior design not considered satisfactory for further reproduction.
  • Reworked.  A die, design or model in which additional touching up is done after it has once been used or accepted.

The permanency of dies is exhibited by the fact some 400-year old dies of Papal medals have been resurrected to be used anew to strike fresh medals. Old dies tend to become brittle so care must be taken in their reuse. Also, old dies often exhibit sinking – the preferred term is sunken die since it happened in the past – where the striking surface becomes compacted, recessed, and uneven from long use.

Papal medals often exhibit these domed, uneven surfaces because they are struck over long periods of time.  They are in demand to chronicle Papal portraits from centuries in the past.

The Paris Mint apparently never discards a die. It still has some that were created in the 1400s. It stores these on heavy mobile shelving that move on tracks like railroad tracks.

On occasion it has restruck selected early dies from their die vault for a series it calls “original dies” through their Le Club Francais de Medaille. Dies as early as mid 1600s have been struck obverse and reverse side-by-side in soft tin rectangular plates. Each piece is serially numbered in a series limited to 300 such strikes.

The soft tin is capable of obtaining an impression from the old and brittle dies, without fear of breaking. However, the tin is not a medium for creating permanent specimens. The tin is so soft a fingernail will dent it deeply; extreme care must be exercised in handling these pieces as anything heavier than a paper clip dropped on them – or dropping the item itself – will damage it extensively.

In normal custom the Paris Mint encourages world medallic artists to submit models in which it selects those to issue in medallic form. These are kept “in stock” and restruck whenever the previous press run has been exhausted. Only in the last decade have then added the actual year it was struck on the edge. But the term “Paris Mint restrike” is rampant among collectors of Paris Mint medals.

The disposition of dies is a major problem whenever a medal maker goes out of business or wishes to downsize.  The present writer has been involved in several of these.

August C. Frank Company.  This medallic firm in Philadelphia, founded 1894, was purchased by Don Schwartz September 11, 1972. The third generation owners wanted to keep part of the business (sprinkler manufacturing) but wanted to sell off the medal business. Schwartz contracted for the shipment of all the dies to Medallic Art’s plant in Danbury.

The trucker emptied all the dies into 55-gallon drums and loaded these on his flat bed truck. He finished on a Friday and delivered the shipment on Monday. Unfortunately it snowed over the weekend. The open drums were filled with snow which melted and the drums contained water in addition to the metal dies.

I had the chore to inventory the dies. Fortunately, Medallic Art hired a retired August Frank employee, William Neithercott, to assist me. We commandeered the heat treating department, dumped out the water-soaked dies on the floor and picked up rusted dies, brushing off the rust until we could identify the design on the dies.  We placed similar dies in cardboard boxes, until we could match obverse and reverse. We filled hundreds of cardboard boxes, mostly labeled with topical subjects of the die’s design.

[Contact with an old-time August Frank employee did have some benefit. I interviewed him on several occasions to learn some interesting technology. One of which was how the Philadelphia Mint (and medal makers in Philadelphia) applied a patina to a medal to obtain the famed  “mahogany finish” of the 19th century This was published in Robert Julian’s book, Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century, page 35-36 in the Introduction.]

Note: Mahogany Finish is a double-heating process that was employed by the  United States Mint and private medal makers in the Philadelphia area in the last half of the 19th century. It provided a deep, dark patina finish which ranged from chocolate brown to red-brown, It resembled mahogany wood, hence the name. To create such a desired color a medal was heated until cherry red, picked out of the fire with tongs, doused in cotton-seed oil, then covered with powdered red lead, which adhered to both sides. It was placed back in the fire for a second time for a prescribed time reaching the color desired.

Greenduck Company.  This Chicago firm, founded 1906, got its name from its two founders, George G. Greenburg (formerly with Childs & Company) and Harvey Ducgheisel, choosing the name Greenduck as the first syllable of these two men’s last names, intending it to be one word. However so many people used it as two words, it was adopted as two words by the company as well (date unknown).

William U. Watson, president, sold the company in 1962 to ERO Industries, Birmingham, England, which moved it from Chicago to Hernando, Mississippi. It was sold again in 1976 to Memphis businessman Elliot Sklar. Even after introducing new products, as casino tokens and Mardi Gras doubloons, the firm could not sustain further operations and went out of business 2004.

In the mid 1980s an agent of the firm contacted me. They wanted to dispose of a large segment of their dies. I devised a plan, submitted it to them, but the management took no action.

My plan was based to two premises:  Every collector should own at least one pair of dies – to understand how coins and medals are made – and everyone who owns a die wants it struck in new items, often in a number of compositions.

I suggested offering selected sets of dies, at auction, with the proviso of having a small number, say no more than 20, of certain soft metal compositions up to maybe bronze. But never in the same composition of what it was originally issued. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the original issue whatever composition in which it was struck – I did not want to replicate existing specimens.

I assume the dies were scrapped when the firm went out of business in 2004.

The concept of copies – using existing dies or making new ones – is always suspicious. The intent is most important. Also to be considered is authorization, quality of workmanship, and how the copies are made: cast, struck, electrotype, or other. Below are listed 13 different kinds of copies, arranged somewhat in order of legality.

Deluxe Copy – Made with authority for sale to the recipient only in better materials or workmanship than the original (as a decoration prepared in a more precious metal – it was issued in silver, but the recipient may order it made in gold at his own expense).

Custom Copy – Made with authority for sale as a second or subsequent

copy (say for a second uniform) or to replace a lost original, or other official use; a custom order usually of one made by original maker and dies. Called replacement medal or sometimes jeweler’s copy.

Reissue – Copy made with authority after lapse of time without change from original issue and reuse of original dies to strike a new piece or a new production run.

Revision – Copy made with authority and with a change of design no matter how minute, requiring retooling the original dies or creating entirely new copy dies. Such change might be a new date, new logo, change of sponsor’s name, correct a design error, or similar reason.

Replica – Made with authority where a major portion of the previous design

is used to make a new coin or medal. Replication is the most common form of copy making. No unauthorized use here, and new dies or molds are used to make the new issue.

Collectors’ Copy – Made with authority for sales primarily to collectors or public; these copies are usually electrotypes (as copies sold by museums of specimens in their collections).

Reproduction – Made without authority and reproduced in a new model or composition. A large gray area of legality.

Facsimile – Copy without authority, closely resembling the original and made by any method, as costume jewelry medals.

Private Copy – Made without authority for private use; these copies are usually cast in plaster or metal and if sold may be questionable status (study copies cast in plaster for scientific or scholarly study are certainly legal; private metal copies in off metal are a gray area, but copies the same as the original are outright forgeries).

Imitation – Copy made without authority and technically not illegal; usually of poor quality, or a souvenir status (to be given away), or play money (as child’s play copies, or play coins).

Restrike – Copy made without authority from original dies at a later date (and often in deteriorated state, as struck from cracked or rusted dies).

Forgery – Copy made without authority and with intent to deceive.

Counterfeit – Copy made without authority and with intent to deceive and defraud both collectors and the public. Fake and spurious also denote a counterfeit status.

Study copies mentioned above have long history in the numismatic field. Copies made in plaster-of-Paris have been made by collectors and by museums. The American Numismatic Society formerly had a lady employee who made these for anyone for a fee. It is like a photograph, but in three dimensions. The British Museum employed one family – the Readys – who made electrotype copies of objects in their collections including rare coins, cast in copper! Over two generations, father and sons made more than 20,000 such copies.

Modern problems.  The big problem today are copies from China. There are hundreds of such small manufacturers of copies in China, usually of coins with a value over $100. They make copy dies and use high grade metal to match existing coins. The quality is so close to originals that it is affecting the entire coin field.

In 1973 I found a belt-buckle at a flea market with an exact design from one of the Society of Medalists issues.  It was made by the Bergamot Brass Works as I recall. I showed it to Bill Louth who wrote the company and stated that was a copyrighted design and the property of Medallic Art. The firm responded they had overlooked the copyright mark, and agreed to destroy the mold and all existing castings. Problem solved.

For medals, copies are not that severe a problem. At least not yet. In handling perhaps a quarter million medals over the last 60 years I estimate I have experienced less than ten serious medal copies. Most of these were copies of Inaugural Medals, one of Olympic medals, and one of the Society of Medalists designs made into a belt buckle.

For the web site of Medal Collectors of America I stated:  “Fakes and copies [of medals] do exist, just as in coins. Copies of coins are made by crooks. Copies of medals are often made by museums for serious numismatists to study.”

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