The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 21, Number 8, February 25, 2018, Article 14


Dick Johnson submitted these notes on how to identify the designer's intended orientation for a coin or medal image, which can sometimes be tricky for works in the round like these. -Editor

928 Mussolini 2 Lira Token

The Mussolini token illustration in last week’s E-Sylum, which Editor Wayne stated was intact and could not be oriented correctly, brought to mind the task of orientation. The human mind craves correct visual perspective, everything on the level.

This is particularly so for round coins and medals which can easily be rotated out of sync. Photographers often rotate an object for better light and shadows (light from above as if the sun was shining on it). So we cannot rely on the photographer for accurate orientation - the photo must be corrected in preparation for publishing.

Each side of the Mussolini token gives easy clues. The reverse, shown on the left, shows a ground line the horse is standing on, an ideal horizontal requirement. The obverse has three clues: the figures of the date should be level, the eyes should be on the same plane, and the legend begins and ends on the same horizontal point.

Here are some tips identifying both horizontal and vertical clues:

• Lettering and figures generally are horizontal.
• Exceptions: legends, arc and undulating baselines of lettering.
• Exergues, ground lines, baselines, skylines are horizontal.
• First and last letter of legends generally end on the same level point.
• Ends of half wreaths begin and end on the same level point.
• Eyes in a portrait are generally on the same level.
• Cartouches are always level horizontally.
• Compass points are both horizontal and vertical.
• Sides of buildings are vertical.
• Smokestacks, columns, candles, caduceus are vertical.
• Anything horizontal or vertical in nature must be shown likewise on a numismatic design.

Having said that, when the rules are broken, an artist may create a design in mixed perspective by artistic license.

Thanks, Dick. Great tips!

As for photo editing, never say never. Of course the images COULD be properly oriented, but it takes time, skill and the right tools. As it happened that item was among the last I added to last week's issue, and I was running low on time and decided to run it as-is. Yeah, it's lazy, but whaddaya want for a free internet publication? I'm glad I did though, because it generated a great discussion.

Monday afternoon I was blessed with a holiday break and had some time at my home computer. Although I still have neither the skills nor software tools to do this work the right way, I did manage to reorient the images to a decent degree. I do some level of editing on many of the images in each E-Sylum issue, often just cropping or resizing.


1928 Mussolini token obverse 1928 Mussolini token reverse

Dick adds:

Excellent orientation! This was not a criticism of our kind editor, but a memory attack of the many hours pasting up photo Veloxes in auction catalog pages before computer publishing. I had to quickly learn how to orient coin and medal illustrations correctly.

I shared this with reader Ron Haller-Williams who wrote in to suggest the tool for image editing. He offers the following observations. Thank you. -Editor

Caveat #1: On eBay, some people express a preference for (or insistence on) unretouched photos, so that "what you see is what you get". Not even cropping, adjustment of brightness, contrast or colour_tone (so if the lighting shows a silver coin as golden you leave it as it is!), and I'm thinking this would apply to rotation also. I don't totally agree with this, but ...

Well, if the coin is in a holder I could see a reason for showing its orientation in relation to the holder, as this is part of the overall eye appeal of the complete object. The orientation of a single coin side is meaningless - rotation must be described in relation to something else. -Editor

Caveat #2: What if you are trying to portray the effect of a "rotated die"?

Interesting point. See Dick Johnson's earlier article on die alignment (linked below). For brevity cataloguers often just describe the alignment in the text in terms of degrees of rotation. But it could be illustrated with images, where one side (probably the obverse) is oriented normally, and the other is rotated as on the coin itself. Even this is somewhat subjective because it's not always completely evident from the coin itself what the designer intended. They don't usually include an explicit mark indicating "this is the top of the design." Example #2 below comes close to this, though. -Editor

Caveat #3: Ignore the eyes if there are any clues to suppose that the person is doing anything other than looking ahead while standing or sitting, with the viewer (camera or artist) at the subject's eye level.

Caveat #4: Horizontal/vertical lines in the picture (building sides, windows, doors, ground, exergue) and horizontal/vertical text & graphic lines would generally take precedence, where there is a clash. Note the word "generally!".

These designs (all from The Netherlands) are somewhat misleading:

Coin design orientation example1 Netherlands-1-Euro-Coin-2000 Coin design orientation example2 netherlands2euros2014
Examples 1 and 2

Example #1: The graphic lines are vertical, and the text sideways.

Example #2: The best clue is the "initial mark" (crown at top-dead-centre).

Coin design orientation example3 netherlands2euros Coin design orientation example4 Netherlands-2014-20c-a
Examples 3 and 4

Example #3: "NEDERLAND" is balanced at 0.5 degrees clockwise, while the flag is "right" at 8.5 degrees clockwise. And the stars around the edge are balanced and upright with no rotation!

Example #4: Again, the graphic lines are vertical, and the text sideways - but the date is skew!

As Dick noted, the designer may apply artistic license to purposely create a design in mixed perspective. Thanks, everyone. Fascinating topic. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:

Schmidt E-Sylum ad 2017-06-18

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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