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V12 2009 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 44, November 1, 2009, Article 8

VOCABULARY WORD: CARTOUCHE

Dick Johnson has background on another numismatic term to share with us this week: cartouche. -Editor

Last week in The E-Sylum I described the word cliché in response to an inquiry from Dick Hanscom. That word was one of two words that I first learned when, as a 36-year old numismatist, I was hired at Medallic Art Company in 1966. Despite the fact I had been a coin collector for 25 years and had studied Frey's "Dictionary of Numismatics" (see E-Sylum vol 12, no 23, art 11 ) I realized I had a lot more terminology to learn as a writer for a medal manufacturing firm. Medallists have their own jargon.

I asked a lot of questions from staff members at Medallic Art. They were patient with my incessant inquiring. They answered my questions and often showed me examples of what a word or term meant. I was trained in all things medallic by Julius Lauth, vice president and art director, but everyone answered my questions, particularly workmen on the pressroom floor.

When I heard a word that I did not know, I stopped whoever was talking and asked a question. The second word I asked about was "cartouche." What's a cartouche?

Answer: It's a panel intended for lettering. In a medallic design it is an area purposely left open, the area is call a "reserve." But it's a cartouche when it has a border surrounding the open area. Lettering can be in the die, or if left open it can be inscribed later within the cartouche after the piece is struck. As such a cartouche is particularly useful for an award medal as it aids in customizing the medal by inscribing a recipient's name, date, and often, details of the award.

A cartouche can be any shape, usually rectangular or square, or even contained in a ribbon. Originally it came from a scroll, with rolled edges, but evolved into a tablet-like shape, and later in simpler forms.

A cartouche is often the location for an "insert die" which I described in detail in an article on the Carnegie Hero Medals, in the October 2006 issue of The Numismatist (p 50-53.) The insert leaves a minute gap surrounding it. This is usually just inside the border of the cartouche.

Collectors encounter medals both inscribed, or "uninscribed cartouche" -- without any lettering therein. Really cheap organizations bestow uninscribed medals with the instructions for the recipient to have his jeweler engrave the appropriate inscription (but this seldom occurs).

There is a nameplate shape called "cartouche" -- rectangular with circular clipped corners -- often applied to paintings and such. It comes from the Italian word cartoccio. It means nameplate. Also is fun to say cartoccio.

Thanks again Dick, for a great overview of an interesting numismatic word. -Editor


Wayne Homren, Editor

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