The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 38, September 22, 2019, Article 13


Dick Johnson submitted these entries from his Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Terminology. Thanks! -Editor

Essay. A trial piece or proof of a design that may, or may not, be accepted. See PROVING, TRIAL PIECE. Essay is not to be confused with assay, a testing of metal fineness. The term is spelled essai in French and this has appeared on numismatic items.

Trial Piece. A die trial, often made in a softer metal than that of the intended composition. It is also called a trial strike because it is stuck when the dies are first placed in a press and such an early impression is made. These first impression strikes are more likely to have imperfect die alignment, pressure and rotation. It lacks depth of relief as the pressman purposely starts with a light impression (not to break the dies). He increases the pressure with subsequent strikes until he is satisfied the correct pressure will form a completely struck up piece filling every die cavity. He will also rotate the obverse and reverse dies until the alignment is correct. See die alignment.

If the trial piece is not the same composition of the intended piece, it is termed an off metal strike. Pieces intended to be struck in bronze would have tin, lead, white metal or aluminum trial strikes; silver or other precious metal pieces would have bronze, brass or other trial strikes. Should the piece be struck in the intended composition, obviously, it is not a trial strike but an early production piece.

The testing of dies before they go on a press is more correctly termed proving. The die can be examined at any stage of creation, as incomplete designs at an early stage of engraving the die, or of some element that will be sunk into the completed die. If the engraver makes this test piece at his workbench, he would press the die into clay or wax for a fast inspection, or make a hot tin impression or splasher, by pressing the die into a small mound of tin or lead poured on paper for this purpose.

In Europe the term is more apt to be called ESSAY. Trial pieces of one or both completed dies are often made in lead, called lead proofs. See proving.

History of trial pieces. The first use of the term occurred when Thomas Simon prepared his Petition Crown in 1663 with a revolutionary edge device (an edge die on spring steel that sprung out after the piece was struck). The edge lettering read: Thomas Simon most humbly prays your Majesty to compare this his tryall piece with the Dutch and if more truly drawn & emboss'd more gracefully order'd and more accurately engraven to relieve him."

See die trial, proving, ESSAY.

NE42 {1982} Doty, p 333-334.

Experimental Piece. A trial piece in which some technological or innovative process is tested, such as: a new composition, a new piece of equipment, a new process of striking, or even a new process of finishing. It is not a die trial An experimental piece must be a test of some new innovation. If a small trial run is made the struck piece may be termed test coin; the Canadian Royal Mint has made these testing an innovative bimetal composition. See die trial, trial piece.

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.

Stacks-Bowers E-Sylum ad 2019-09-22 Baker sale

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2012 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster