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Dates and Dating

Dates and Dating.  Indicating when a coin or medal was issued. The exact date is determined by both internal (appearing on the item itself) and external evidence (from documentary sources). Coins are usually required to be dated their year of issue. There is no such requirement that a medal must be dated; nor is there any obligation to use the year in which it is struck if it is dated. Most often medals bear the date of a historical or commemorative event, an anniversary or founding date, or the dates of a person portrayed on the medal.

In cataloging and attribution, determining the date often requires documentary research and, sometimes, stylistic comparison. The aim of the medal historian or numismatic researcher is to attribute the piece to a single year, or baring that, a period, a part of a century, or even a century itself. Often the evidence does not reveal as specific a point in time as the researcher or cataloger desires. The use of circa (Latin circum, around) is employed when the date of issue could be nearly ascribed a given year. An uncertain year is indicated by a question mark within parenthesis (?) following the date. When it is desirable to indicate a piece is not dated it can be abbreviated n.d.

Whenever possible numismatic researchers try to pinpoint an issue date to at least a particular quarter century (as: second quarter 17th century) if an exact date cannot be determined. Infrequently an academic year or a fiscal year is the issue date (as: 1892-93). And in rare instances an obverse can be one year, the reverse another (example: Louis XIII portrait of 1623 on obverse, Anne of Austria portrait of 1620 reverse). When all else fails and no date or century can be determined, a piece is simply attributed: undated. This should be a last resort, as any astute cataloger can at least attribute a piece to one of the five or six centuries medals have been issued or the twenty centuries for coins.

Internal evidence can take the form of (in order of preference if two or more appear): (1) year on the piece or date inscribed (called date of issue), if say an award or presentation medal; (2) date of anniversary year, if anniversary medal; (3) date accompanying artist's signature, if any; (4) date of copyright, if design is copyright or patented; (5) date given in inscription or chronogram, if present.

External evidence comes from any of a wide variety of documentary records, either from mint records (date given in a mint report), or medallic company (date pieces were cast or struck); or from the emitter (date first published, issued or founded), or date first offered for sale, or even from the artist's records when he completed his work.

As indicated, predating and postdating of medals do occur. A medal for the centennial of the American Museum of Natural History, for example, was designed three years prior, and struck two years ahead of its 1969 centennial year. Postdated is far more common. Extreme examples can be found among many Papal medals which were struck 100, 200 and 300 years after dates they portend to commemorate.

As also indicated, nothing would prevent an issuer from dating and publishing a medal at any time after an event he wishes to commemorate. An anniversary medal on a significant number of years after the event is understandable; but a medal issued at any other period is questionable. Such medals fall in the class of anachronistic medals – those struck in a period incongruent with the date on the medal (or other internal evidence). These medals elicit the astute cataloger's note: "This medal is obviously later than the date it bears."  (See after-cast, reissue, restrike.)

The practice of dating by Roman numerals – mandatory for chronograms that work the date into the legend on inscription – has declined steadily. It was prevalent until the 20th century, however, has now fallen into disuse for dating medallic items.

Christian era.  In Western civilization dates have been given in two calendars, the Julian and the Gregorian. Named after Pope Gregory XIII, the Gregorian calendar – devised in 1582 and adopted by four countries that year – is the one presently used. Not all nations accepted this calendar at the same time, and for awhile o.s. (old style Julian) and n.s. (new style Gregorian) calendars were used concurrently. Official adoptions of the new calendar occurred:

Italy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1582           German Protestant  States . . . . . . . 1700

France. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1582                

Spain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1582           Denmark. . . . . . . . 1700

Portugal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1582          Japan. . . . . . . . . . . 1872

Holland . . . . . . . .  . . . . . .1583          China. . . . . . . . . . . 1912

Flanders. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1583          Bulgaria . . . . . . . .  1915

German Catholic States. . 1583          Turkey . . . . . . . . . .1917

Prussia . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1583          Russia . . . . . . . . . . 1917

Switzerland . . . . . . . . . . . 1583          Yugoslavia . . . . . .  1919

Poland. . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . 1586          Rumania. . . . . . . . . 1919

Hungary . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1587          Greece . . . . . . . . . . .1923

In Sweden the change occurred between 1700 and 1740 by omission of 11 leap year days.

In Great Britain and America the change was made September 3, 1752.

Eras.  Medals have dates of various eras in countries for which they are used. Most notable, is the Mohammedan era with dates in AH, which began on July 16, 622 ad since the Arabic year is calculated on the lunar year of 354 days it is 3% shorter than the Christian year of 365 days. (To convert ah to ad subtract 3% of the ah date and add 621.)

Dating by reign.  Some reigns, usually of brief duration, have been dated by the

year of the reign. France did this after the Revolution. However in the instance of papal issues this has been the practice for centuries. The year of a Pope is numbered in Latin that appears on the medal (and some coins) as ANNO I, II and such. Once the correct Pope is identified it is easy to identify the year of issued by year of his reign.

Hallmark dating.  Dating by hallmarks can lead to a specific year (and maker!) but the use of reference charts is necessary. Of the three or four hallmarks one will be the year mark. The shape and type style of the letter will indicate the year and this can be learned by reference to hallmark reference works.  See hallmarks and hallmarking.

Masonic dating.  An Arabic number above 5,000 appearing on a medal could indicate a date by Masonic dating. It is based on the assumption that the recorded world began 4000 bc. It is easy to determine the year by subtracting 4000 from this number to arrive at the Christian year.

Describing and cataloging dates.  The date (or period) when made is one of the first things to identify and record when describing a coin or medal. This task is easy when the piece is dated, otherwise internal or external evidence must be used to ascertain the date (or era). Record exactly the form the date as given on the piece, in either Arabic or Roman numerals. All dates not given in Arabic numerals should be translated into Arabic. Occasionally when the design has divided a date (as for balance or spatial limitation) use the term date divided (omit a hyphen and record date exact).


N8 {1969} Laing, Chapter 2, p 19-51.

                     Types of Dates                       


  Issue date          –  Year of issue.                     

  Date of issue     –  In a series, like an award medal, the year of issue, particularly the date inscribed.               

  Founding date     –  Year organization or issuer founded, often on a medal.        

  Event date            –  Year topic activity occurred.     

  Anniversary date  –  Year celebrated after significant number of years have passed.      

  Signature date     –  Year in artist's signature.       

  Chronogram        –  Year spelled out in selected letters in Roman numerals as part of lettering (see chronogram).                     

  Vita date              –  Birth and death years (of person portrayed).                       

  Old style date       –  (o.s.) using Julian calendar.     

  New style date    –  (n.s.) using Gregorian calendar in effect since 1752 (see text).  

  Anno date           –  Year of reign (Latin, of Papal reigns).                          

  Year mark           –  Letter punch of hallmark indicating year.                  

  Fiscal date          –  Parts of two calendar years.      

  Masonic date      –  Date used by Freemasons (4000 added to Christian year).         

  Circa date           –  Year assigned by cataloger (approximate year or era when piece bears no date).             

  Date divided      –  Numbers separated because of Interspatial design requirements. 

  Obsessive date    –  Date repeated for political reasons.                          

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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