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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 26, June 28, 2009, Article 12

VOCABULARY WORDS: WHAT DO YOU CALL A COIN OR MEDAL ARTIST?

Dick Johnson submitted these thoughts on some important numismatic vocabulary words. So what DOES one properly call an artist who creates coins or medals? -Editor
That is not the first line of a joke, folks. This is deadly serious. The question came up this week, so here goes with an attempted answer.

The term has changed over the years. The dies to strike coins were hand engraved since 600 B.C. Prior to that the dies were crude punches. When images of animals, as a lion or goat, where shown on ancient coins it required an "engraver," a person to carve a negative image -- by hand -- in a piece of iron. He was a "hand engraver" but he was also called a "celator," a carver of glyptic objects.

Hand engraving of dies continued for the next 2000 years. It still exists. Simple dies can still be hand engraved today. So "hand engraver" was the answer for this long period.

Wood blocks were engraved in China and impressions were made of these, but it was Gutenberg's invention of printing with metal type in 1446 that engraving of metal plates for printing began. Such plates for printing maps, prints, illustrations, even paper money required engravers to prepare printers' plates. This form of "flat engraving" or "surface engraving" far surpassed the quantity of modulated engraving of dies, but they were all called "engravers."

To distinguish the engravers of dies, however, from the engravers of printing plates, they were called "diesinkers." I have researched American coin and medal engravers in 19th century directories and I had to search both categories and analyze which type of engraving the "engraver" did. I also learned there were "die forgers" -- these were craftsmen (somewhat like blacksmiths) that tempered the diestocks before the engraving occurred. Obviously these were not engravers (but their initials were occasionally found on the sides of dies).

Then along came the die-engraving pantograph, a machine that revolutionized coin and medal making. Mints and medal makers required oversize coin and medal patterns. These were created by "sculptors" creating bas-relief models in plaster. But for sixty years these sculptors would only create a relief model of the device only, not the entire side. By the end of the 19th century, literally 1899, Victor Janvier patented his die-engraving pantograph that was so exacting a sculptor could model the device, lettering, border elements, everything! - for each side of a coin or medal on one bas-relief plaster model.

So it was "sculptors" who became coin and medal artists. However, even at the mints around the world this person was still called an "engraver" and the person in charge of that department was called a "chief engraver." If you read the job description for a U.S. Mint engraver, however, it spells out the requirement of modeling the sculptural models.

So "sculptor" it is. But if it is a female do not call her a "sculptress." Long before political correctness occurred, with even such a famous person as Malvina Hoffman (she created models for medals and included a chapter on creating coin and medal models in her book Sculpture Inside and Out) she preferred equal billing with men. "Call me a sculptor" she insisted.

Now if you were expecting a joke after reading that headline here it is. What do you call a two hundred million-year-old Pig?

Answer: Jurassic pork!

PS: To learn more about the term "Celator" click on: Celator, Caelator, or Signator: What was a Roman Die-Engraver Called? (http://coinarchaeology.blogspot.com/2009/01/
celator-caelator-or-signator-what-was.html)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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