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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 38, September 20, 2009, Article 18

MORE ON COUNTERMARK VS. COUNTERSTAMP

Dick Johnson forwarded these thoughts on our discussion of the terms countermark and counterstamp, which came up in 2000 and again this month. -Editor

The attempt to differentiate "countermark" and "counterstamp" -- as mentioned in last week's E-Sylum -- by who did the counterstamping and their intent is not always obvious, particularly when all the evidence you may have at hand is the host item so marked.

Could we be doing the numismatic field a disservice by trying to append too precise a meaning to each of these terms? In the broadest sense they both mean the same.

By creating a definition different for each will require numismatic writers forever wondering if they are using the correct term. It reminds me of the situation of "legend" and "inscription" where legend is the lettering following around the perimeter of the coin, medal or token, and inscription is all other lettering.

I cite no less an authority than N. Neil Harris, when he was editor of The Numismatist, who once told me "I have to check the correct definition every time either one is used."

By creating different meanings for each of the "counter" terms will lead to the same bewilderment by all future numismatic writers.

A countermark or -stamp was first used in 41 BC on a Persian coin (it was punchmarked with an Aramaic letter heth). Numismatists do not know who did this or why. The intent obviously remains unknown. They speculate it was a banker using a punch much like the Chinese applying "chop marks." Thus a literate numismatist could not apply either term as recommended in the terms defined in last week's E-Sylum.

Numismatists should be less concerned with defining countermarks / counterstamps and more concerned with the correct use of terms associated with these terms. To wit:

Host -- the existing numismatic item -- coin, medal or token -- so marked with a punch.

Punch -- a small tool used by hand to impress letters, figures or a design element into the surface of a host numismatic item. When position properly it is tapped with a light hammer to impress the image. It may also be called a "puncheon."

Logotype -- a punch of two or more letters or figures on the same shank that are impressed entire with one blow to the punch.

Shank -- the stem of the punch; it usually has four sides to aid in aligning the lettering, it is "squared up" in aligning all lettering.

Alignment -- maintaining proper vertical and horizontal perspective of all lettering by the use of a base line.

Base Line -- a line -- real or imaginary -- serving as a base for lettering of two or more characters to rest on. An actual line may be inscribed (later removed) or drawn on a surface. The line may be straight, bowed or undulate. If crudely executed the counterstamped letters may appear tilted as if the base line was nonexistent. Base lines are obviously employed when engraving a die in addition to counterstamping.

Chop Mark -- a punchmark indicating acceptability, fineness and weight by a banker in the Orient, usually of large silver coins.

Punchmark -- Same meaning as countermark and counterstamp.

Dick makes a good point. As a numismatist I would certainly want to know why a certain mark was made upon a coin, and appreciate having terms to describe common reasons. But I agree that it is often impossible to tell based on the evidence of the coin itself. Thanks for the great submission, Dick! -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see: COUNTERMARK VS COUNTERSTAMP (July 30, 2000) (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v03n31a07.html)
VOCABULARY QUERY: COUNTERSTAMP AND COUNTERMARK (September 6, 2009) (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v12n36a16.html)
VOCABULARY WORDS: COUNTERSTAMP AND COUNTERMARK (September 13, 2009) (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v12n37a11.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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