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Edge Lettering and Numbering

Edge Lettering and Numbering.  Marking of any kind – letters, symbols, figures or ornaments – which is placed on the edges of numismatic or medallic items to add decoration, security or additional information about an item. This information may include such data as the identity of the artist, issuer or maker (often in the form of initials, hallmark or logo), the fineness, composition, serial numbering, maker's location, size of edition, copyright, data omitted from the design, the recipient's name or a variety of other facts or symbols.

Edge lettering, or edge stamping, is often as significant as the designs and inscriptions appearing on the obverse and reverse. Most often the information is abbreviated or in the form of symbols and may not be readily understood at first glance. For the person who learns how to decipher edge markings, important details are revealed.

First, if the item contains reeding or knurling on the edge, this usually

indicates the piece was struck in a coining press with a single blow. The reeding is formed by the expansion of the blank against a restraining COLLAR. In contrast, a smooth edge reveals very little: it could be struck or cast, produced in a coining press or a medal press; it could have been struck with a collar or without a collar; it could have been trimmed or untrimmed. A smooth edge is like a blank page in a book – something needs to be placed on it to pass information on to the observer.

Lettering was perhaps the first information placed on the edge of a coin or medal. French coins were first issued with lettered edges in 1577. In 1805, Matthew Boulton, then director of the Soho Mint in Birmingham, England, gave to each of the officers engaged in the Battle of Trafalgar a medal that bore a portrait of Lord Nelson. Around the medal was the edge lettering:  TO THE HEROES OF TRAFALGAR FROM M BOULTON.

From these early beginnings, coins and medals have come to be considered as having a "third side" for additional design or data. Coins were given such designs – one in particular was called engrailment – as a further protection against counterfeiting. Medals, while less concerned with security or counterfeiting, are generally not decorated around the edge, but often personalized for an individual recipient, or hallmarked attesting to maker and purity.

                         Edge Terms                      


    Edgedated – A date of some importance placed on the 

                 edge: date of issue, date of the event, 

                 dates of biographical vita, other.      


    Edgelettered – Any form of wording on the edge.     


    Edgemarked – Any marks on the edge, specifically    

                 symbols (often the marker's marks), but 

                 it may be letters or figures, any of the above.                              

   Edge Lettering Procedures

Raised lettering.  Lettering  can be either incised – cut into the metal – or raised from the edge. An example of raised lettering is the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal. First introduced in 1915 and sculpted by James Earle Fraser, this medal – believed to be the first American medal with raised edge lettering – has the recipient's name, award and date around the full circumference. One of the earliest reads:  AWARDED TO CHARLES WILLIAM ELIOT FOR DISTINCTION IN LITERATURE . NOVEMBER . 18 . 1915.

Few medals with raised letters on the edge have been produced because they are

difficult to make and quite expensive. It requires a collar made of three or more parts, a segmented collar – each of which has its portion of the lettering engraved on its inside surface – and all of which fits into a retaining ring. Before the final blow on the medal press, the medal to be edge lettered with raised letters is trimmed and placed within the special collar, and struck its final blow.

The medal must be extracted by hand, the retaining ring and trisegmented collar

must be broken apart, the medal removed, and the collar reassembled for striking the next piece. Long production runs are thus impractical due to the involved production and high costs. A small raised hairline usually appears on the edge at the three points where the trisegmented collar parts butt against each other; this is known as collar gap.

Incised lettering.  Since raised lettering is so expensive, edge lettering is usually incised. This can be accomplished by any of five methods:  hand engraving, by punches, by roller dies, by acid etching, or by mechanical means. Award medals – where each medal customarily goes to a different person or recipient – are usually hand engraved. European orders and decorations of award are considered "unissued" unless they have the recipient's name hand engraved into the edge.

Often a military person's rank and organization are also engraved along with the

name. Some hand engravers achieved so high a proficiency of edgelettering, their work can be distinguished from all others (by unique mannerisms), although today they remain anonymous.

British terms for incised edge lettering is impressed or indented.

The roller die has long been used to produce incised lettering on the edge of round medals, particularly on production runs. It is a flat disk of hardened steel with a double-beveled edge. At the outermost edge are the letters, raised from the die. When it is placed in a roller press the die impresses into a rotating medal the same lettering appearing on the die.

The roller press is adjustable to any diameter medal, but a new die is required for any change of lettering. Figures, letters and symbols can all be made into a roller die. A uniform base line and spaces between lettering is a diagnostic of roller press lettering. Improper use of the roller die, which results in missing or overlapping letters, is an operator mistake called slippage.

Punches, or groups of punches banded together (called a logotype) are often used for edge lettering. Some serial numbering of collector medals is sometimes done with individual figure punches: a separate punch and blow is applied for each digit of the number. Often irregular spacing between the letters or figures – and uneven base line – are diagnostics of hand punching (but not of a logotype punch).

Mechanical improvements for edge numbering have included such innovations as

the numbering head which, with a single blow, can stamp all the digits of a number and advance the figure wheels for the next number in sequence. Uniform figures, base line and spacing are a diagnostic of the use of a numbering head. These generally have a lighter impression and are not sunk as deeply into the metal as are hand punched figures.

The logotype is used most often by a maker to impart their name – maker’s mark – and is one of the most used tools because it can be used on every object made by that firm.

Some incised lettering is accomplished by acid etching. The medal is coated with wax, lettering is inscribed where intended, acid applied to etch the lettering, washed, and the protective wax is removed. Diagnostics of acid etching is deep or steep walls of the figures or letters (and sometimes undercutting of these walls).

With this brief introduction of how the lettering is produced on medallic items, let us turn to what is stamped on the edges. Perhaps the most universal is the hallmark or maker's mark of the producer. Like a mintmark on a coin, the hallmark on a medal tells where it came from – who made it, often where and when it was made.

Data Found On Edges

Hallmarks.  Hallmarking developed to a high degree among English gold and silversmiths, beginning as early as the 13th century. Four marks usually appeared on English silver and gold:  a maker's mark, the hallmark of the assay office, a date letter and a sterling mark. All precious metal objects were required by law to be so hallmarked (with certain exceptions such as foreign-made plate or antique objects over 100 years old). Usually these appear on the reverse, but infrequently on the obverse – or the edge.  See hallmarks and hallmarking.

Gold and silver objects made in America were frequently hallmarked but no uniform system of symbols was ever adopted. Beginning in the early 19th century, British craftsmen began using words to replace the symbols, and this carried over somewhat to America and other countries.

Standard became widely known for 900 parts silver to 100 parts copper. coin standard or coin silver was also used for the same meaning, more so in America than in England. (Silver coins were actually melted for the source of this silver, but not always so.)

Sterling meant 925 parts of silver to 75 parts of copper; and this term is universally known as such to this day.

Gold was expressed in karats – 24 being pure gold. Karats was abbreviated "kt" and an example, "18 kt" means 750 parts of gold to 250 parts alloy, usually copper. The most popular karat fineness ranges from 9 through 22.

Medals made of rolled gold usually carry a fraction on the edge:  "1/10 18 kt." for example, means there is 1/20th of the thickness of the piece of 18 karat gold on one side, 1/20th on the other side (this adds up to the total 1/10 expressed on the edge). The base metal is a lesser alloy, again, usually copper.

Fineness.  In 1904 standard marks were legalized for the decimal equivalents of

fineness for silver objects in the United Kingdom. Largely due to the influence of Tiffany & Co., the New York jewelry firm, a similar law was enacted in the United States in 1906. These laws requiring every precious metal item made or sold in the two countries to be marked with its fineness.

Gold and silver medals manufactured since 1906, therefore, are required to give a karat rating for gold, or a fineness statement for silver. Recognized words, or the exact decimal equivalent, are permitted. Today silver medals are edge marked "sterling" or ".925" – or ".999" for commercially pure silver – the two most popular compositions of silver.

Fineness may be expressed in other ways, as a fraction, for example:  900/1000, but this is discouraged because this is one form of expressing a serial number and edition limits on collector medals.

Serial numbers.  These numbers are often a single figure. This can be the case for open-ended editions (as many medals are made as are sold by a certain date), or for an edition which is announced in advance but not expressed on the medals.

Most often, however, a pre-determined edition limit is expressed thusly:  325/1500. This means it is the 325th medal of an edition of 1,500 pieces. It does not necessarily mean it is the exact 325th specimen struck from the die of that design, for frequently numbering is interrupted. That is, to meet a shipping date or other commitment, medals may be numbered out of sequence to fulfill an allotment.

Infrequently the entire announced limit is not sold out and serial numbers may

have gaps in their sequence – a permanent example of interrupted numbering. (This data is kept in a registry.)

            Edge Mintmarks and Symbols

Most of what has been discussed will help the observer decipher what is found on the edges of medals. Another practice needs to be discussed:  the use of symbols as mintmarks or hallmarks, predominantly that of the official mint of the French government – the "Paris mintmark."

What originated as a mintmaster's mark evolved into a charming custom of a symbol for the Paris Mint. Since the 1830s symbols have appeared on French medals. Currently this is a cornucopia for medals produced since January 1880. And, since 1959, the date has been added in addition to the cornucopia mark. Previously the symbols were:

A bee for those medals produced November 1860 to December 1879.

A pointing hand for those medals produced June 1845 to October 1860.

The prow of a galley for medals produced September 1842

to June 1945.

An anchor and C interlaced for all medals produced October 1841 to September 1842.

An antique lamp for gold and silver medals only from March 1832 to October 1841.

In 1994 a French commemorative coin struck at the Paris Mint had a dolphin (for the engraver) in addition to the cornucopia mintmark punched on the edge.

Another common symbol appearing on recent American medals is the copyright mark, the c within a circle, ©. Or sometimes the sponsor of a medal appears in symbol form. On the Collegiate Football Centennial Medal of 1968 appeared the edge stamp of NCAA, for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the symbol for Chevrolet, the corporate sponsor. The copyright mark indicates a private issue, as national mints never copyright their designs.

A star symbol on the edge created two varieties of the Vermont Centennial Medal issued in 1927; a star was punched on the edge to indicate it was a second edition.

       Lettering on Edges

Edge lettering.  Wording appearing on the edges – other than names – are the most found edge marking. These include names of the issuer, recipients, sponsors; a wide variety of inscriptions and other data in word form.

Examples of the publisher or sponsor's name include the Albatross Club Medal of 1951 carries the name of the Gruman Aircraft Corporation and its address. The Levi Eshkol Medal of 1967 carried the name of the sponsor, the American Israel Numismatic Association.

One of the most unusual examples of advertising is the 25th Anniversary Medal of Medallic Art Company, in which the medal carried the edge lettering: VANDERBILT 8780, the firm's telephone number! (A year later the firm moved and was issued a new phone number; they obliterated the old number on existing medals, and issued a revised edition with a new number: ELDORADO 3133.)

Slogans have infrequently appeared on edges. An example is a lengthy one on the Pilgrim Medal of Defiance College (in raised letters) which reads:  RELIANCE IN SELF, PRIDE IN WORK, COURAGE IN CONSCIENCE, STRENGTH IN EDUCATION, FAITH IN GOD.

One of the most charming edge lettering is found on the Mayflower Medal of 1957. It reads:  SIGNING MAYFLOWER COMPACT IN PROVIDENCETOWN (CAPE COD) HARBOR  NOVEMBER . 11 . 1620.

Sculptor Joseph A. Colletti (1898-1973) had his name impressed on the edge of

every medal made during his lifetime, including such notables as the Dante Medal and one of Albert Schweitzer. Since his death some of the medals have been reissued without his name impressed on the edge (per his written instructions before he died), thus giving rise to two varieties.

Plated medals should have the identity of the base metal stamped on the

edge. Such edge lettering would preclude the necessity to make test cuts to identity the under composition. Unfortunately this was seldom done in practice, but modern custom is identifying the base medal on the edge.

Bilingual lettering has occurred on medal edges. Modern Israel has both English and Hebrew inscriptions on medals, particularly state medal issues.

Lettering removed from the edge is usually the name of the recipient (J&J 25:1131) and is called obliterated. The removal of any lettering or figures from the edge is a form of vandalism.

An inscription on the edge of a coin or medal in German is called randschrift.

Seams and solder.  Although it is sometimes overlooked, a seam may be observed on the edge of a numismatic or medallic item. As such it would indicate an electrotype or galvano medal in which two separate sides were made separately and then joined together.

Solder marks are infrequently found on the edges where sometimes a loop or hanging device has been removed. This is the evidence that an astute cataloger would state "once mounted."

Trimming marks.  Tooling and trimming marks may also be found on edges of

medals. All medals not struck in a collar, that is struck by open face dies, must be trimmed of their excess material (flash) after they are struck. Small medals (under 2-inch diameter) – and all unusual shaped medals – are trimmed with a trimming tool and cutter plate. If there is a nick on the cutter plate this will show up as a ridge or striation going across the width of the edge. This is from the shearing action of the punch forcing the medal through the aperture in the cutter plate.

Another example of tooling on large round medals are those that are turned on a lathe (turning off). Their flash is removed by turning on a lathe with a tool cutting off this excess material. The edge is usually squared off with emery cloth. If tool marks are left on without a smoothing off these marks are called annular rings.

Thus we have observed that many kinds of information can be derived from edge

marking. Some of it, however, may require reference to numismatic literature to learn of its meaning.

       Errors of Edge Lettering

            Errors of any lettering on the edge of a coin or medal are called blundered edge lettering. Most of these are of spacing, where letters are missing or overlapping other letters (resulting from misplacing or misapplying where this lettering is applied with a  roller die). These would appear for only an individual item. A more series error would be where this is in the lettered collar, where all items struck from that collar would exhibit the blundered lettering.

            Where lettering is applied by hand engraving or inscribing, the erroneous lettering would be human error of the craftsman.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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