The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 37, September 13, 2009, Article 11


Last week Kavan Ratnatunga submitted a query on the terms CounterStamp and CounterMark. David Levy writes:

Burzio (Humberto F.- Diccionario de la moneda hispanoamericana, 1958) says that CONTRAMARCADA (Countermarked) is that coin that received a mark to change its value for whatever reason (valuation, devaluation, cancellation, nationalization, etc) and CONTRASELLADA (counterstamped) is the coin which countermark bears a part (or whole) of national arms or emblems of that political entity that is marking the coin.

Although I'm not able to locate the source, I learned a long time ago another difference between the two terms. One of them would describe a coin that was issued by a political entity and this same entity changes its value for whatever reason; the other term would describe a foreign coin that is marked by a political entity to nationalize it. Unfortunately I can't cite the source and honestly speaking the first explanation seems closer to reality.

Chris Faulkner writes:

I'm sure you're going to get many responses to the countermark and counterstamp query that appeared last week. Attached is my contribution, based in research that I have been doing for some time.

These definitions were written for my book on the Prince Edward Holey Dollar and Dump. I've been working on this book for almost twenty years and it is very near completion. I would be pleased to hear from anyone with whom I have not been in contact who has one of these coins or who has heard reports of one.

Part of my research involves an inventory of all known specimens of both the Dollar and the Dump (including forgeries and replicas), as well as the political, economic and social history of the Island at the time of their circulation. I am particularly interested in discovering the whereabouts of the example that appeared in the Sellschopp Collection, auctioned by the Swiss Bank Corporation, September 14-15, 1988, Auction 20, lot 1264. I can be reached at


This term has been reserved for marks of an official or semi-official nature, that is to say, marks which have been applied by punching or stamping coined money or its substitute on some authority, whether that authority be governmental or commercial, or otherwise non-governmental in nature (e.g. the mark of a club, association or organisation of some sort, or an advertisement of some kind).

Such a definition allows that marks of this nature have not only been applied with a purpose, but that that purpose can be recognized and understood by others. The purpose in question may or may not be monetary. When the purpose is monetary, its aim is usually to designate the status or value of the specie so marked. Sometimes the aim is to void or cancel a particular example of specie, sometimes it is simply to validate a coinage substitute (i.e. a token), but most often the aim is to lend official specie a token value.

In the period of silver and gold standards, that meant a circulating value in excess of the intrinsic value of the specie to which the mark was applied. In those regions where sterling set the standard of intrinsic value, the new value effected by countermarking was referred to as a currency value. The backing of some authority was needed to ensure that the countermarked specie would circulate in exchange for goods and services at the agreed upon currency value.


I take a counterstamp to mean a mark which has been applied to coined money or its substitute by punching or stamping, but without the backing of any authority. Such marks have been applied willfully and without any purpose that can be recognized or admitted by a second party. A counterstamp has no effect on the value or status of the specie to which it has been applied, unless it be to deface it and occasion its withdrawal from circulation.

A counterstamped piece may therefore continue to circulate, but without any adjustment to its agreed upon valuation. In this account, a random or miscellaneous mark applied to a coin or a token is a counterstamp. It follows, of course, that a mark that is presently taken to be a counterstamp may earn the designation countermark should it prove to have been issued by some authority whose meaning was apparent to others.

Pridmore (1975) noted that counterstamp has been used interchangeably with countermark in North American numismatics with some frequency since 1851, but that usage only became regularized following Howland Wood's publication of his standard reference on the West Indies in 1915. Pridmore proposed doing away with counterstamp altogether in favour of the much older term countermark.

The sources that have influenced my definition of these terms include the following:

Baker, Warren. 2007. Marked Impressions. Montreal: Privately Printed, pp. vi-vii.

Manville, Harrington E. 2001. Tokens of the Industrial Revolution. London: Spink, p. xiii.

Pridmore, Fred. 1975-76. "Pridmore Selects ‘Countermark' Over ‘Counterstamp'," Coinquest, 1, 2 (November 1975), 10; and Coinquest, 1, 3 (January 1976), 3.

Thanks to Kavan for his question and our E-Sylum readers for their great responses. -Editor

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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