The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 29, July 21, 2019, Article 16


Dick Johnson submitted this entry from his Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Terminology. Thanks. I added an image of the discussed medal found on the Goldberg's auction archive. -Editor

Die Retooling. Retouching a die once it has been made and put into use. Dies are retooled for a number of reasons: to grind off a clash mark, or to correct an error or die flaw; but perhaps most common is to update a die, to change the lettering or figures, as to change the year to a current one. Also common is to deepen relief after a die has worn extensively and some further use is demanded of it.

Die retooling is done by a number of metalworking methods, including grinding, polishing, lapping, engraving, punching, chasing and others. Usually a die will be softened first before any work is performed then rehardened by heat treating afterwards (although some tool and dieworkers prefer to do grinding or polishing on a hardened die). Transfer dies in particular are almost always retooled before sinking a new working die. If the image transferred from a die that is worn from prolonged use, the transfer die is retooled to sharpen up the worn images.

Die retooling always creates a new state of the die, causing a new variety in pieces struck from such a retooled die. Numismatists like to study such varieties. See re-engraving, alteration, variant, die variety.

If the change in the die is greater than simple retooling at the time of a new issue, where a new die is required with some design change after it was once placed in production, it is called transitional design. If the previous design was unacceptable and the design change was made to correct it, the previously struck items are known as prototypes.

Die Retooling Covers Up Die Flaws
The two varieties of this medal dramatically illustrate the use of die retooling to save a die. The 1889 Washington Inaugural Centennial Brooklyn Bridge Medal was first struck with a clear sky above the bridge on the reverse. The medal was created by 19th century engraver George Hampton Lovett.

The medal was cataloged by Susan H. Douglas for her 1959 work published in The Numismatist (Douglas 7 and 8). She quotes a previous Washington medal collector, L. Bayard Smith (whose collection and records had been obtained by F.C.C. Boyd). Smith stated that Lovett had "struck only 18 or 20" of this variety then he added the sun and rays over the bridge to cover a "defect in the die."

1889 Washington Inaugural Centennial Brooklyn Bridge Medal obverse 1889 Washington Inaugural Centennial Brooklyn Bridge Medal reverse
From Goldberg's 9/2/2012 sale Lot 1100

Lovett had retooled the die, cutting new lines in the background within the circular panel and below the tiny legend. His sunken lines created raised relief lines in the struck piece. By doing this he was able to salvage a die that otherwise would have exhibited the die flaw. To obtain as many pieces as possible (before a die breaks) he struck the white metal medals first (because it is softer), then the bronze. This evidence of die retooling delights collectors. It gives them more than one variety to collect.

O16x {1949} Douglas 7-8.

Book lovers should be word lovers as well.

Looking for the meaning of a numismatic word, or the description of a term?  Try the Newman Numismatic Portal's Numismatic Dictionary at:

Or if you would like a printed copy of the complete Encyclopedia, it is available. There are 1,854 terms, on 678 pages, in The Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology. Even running two a week would require more than 19 years to publish them all. If you would like an advance draft of this vital reference work it may be obtained from the author for your check of $50 sent postpaid. Dick Johnson, 139 Thompson Drive, Torrington, CT 06790.

Archives International Sale 54 cover front

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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