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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 3, January 17, 2010, Article 9

VOCABULARY ANSWER: A MEDAL WITH PORTRAIT BUT NO NAME

Regarding David Gracey's question, "What do you call a medal that features a portrait but does not include the name of the person portrayed?", Joe Boling writes:

In philately a cancellation that does not contain the locale where it was applied is called a mute cancel. It seems to me that that could apply to such medals as well.

Dick Johnson submitted the following thoughts on the topic. -Editor

Answer: No one word, but "unknown subject" is as close as you can get. You can find "portrait of unknown subject (or setter)" in catalog descriptions.

But please do not call the portrait "anonymous." This implies that the person portrayed chose not to be identified. In many instances the portrait appears after the subject is dead, so, obviously, could not chose to be unidentified.

I am going to break my rule not to publish any of my entries exactly from my Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology before hand and reveal the exact wording of my definition and entry of anonymous. Here 'tis:

Anonymous. A numismatic or medallic item in which the creator engraver, designer, sculptor, or minter is unknown; an unsigned item. Anonymous is applied to items without initials, monogram or signature, precluding immediate identification of its maker. Sometimes anonymous items can be identified by documentary research, as by STYLISTIC COMPARISON with known items by the same artist (where the artist used the same mannerisms in several of his works). Often published or unpublished lists of an artist's work are the most productive sources for identifying anonymous works. See ART HISTORY.

A study of 19th century American tokens and medals revealed that 80 percent of these items were anonymous. We know the names of hundreds of early American engravers, but the custom or practice was for these engravers not to sign their dies.

Thus anonymous numismatic items are legion throughout history, both American and foreign. Many factors preclude an artist from signing his work: an embarrassment, by order of the issuer, or publisher, or government, or employer; or the fact the piece just does not justify a signature in the mind of the artist. An early anonymous medal is a Lucrezia Borgia Medal of 1502. See SIGNATURE.

The term "anonymous" is applied to artists only. If the portrait on a coin or medal is unknown it is termed: unknown subject and a catalog description might read "portrait of an unknown subject (or setter)."

References: CLASS 03.6 N2 {1958} Babelon, p 31.

There you have a free encyclopedia entry. To learn the other 1,835 entries you will have to purchase the book whenever it is published.

Thanks! -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: VOCABULARY QUERY: A MEDAL WITH PORTRAIT BUT NO NAME (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n02a08.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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