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Border.  The outermost design elements following the perimeter of a medallic or numismatic item, including the rim, if present. Borders should not be conspicuous themselves, but like a picture frame, should be appropriate, in keeping with the theme of the design, and draw the viewers' attention inward to the design itself. In addition to framing the design, borders also serve several useful functions: they protect the design somewhat from wear because the border is usually higher than the relief of the design. Also the elements of the border aid human fingers in picking up and holding the item, particularly for large medals and medallions.

Some medallic items have no border at all (irregularly shaped items particularly). These are designated: without border. For those items that do, borders consist of the rim

– a surface nearest the edge, higher than the field, and following the perimeter of the item – and/or border elements in a wide variety of lines, arcs, dots, dentiles, leaves, ornaments or letters.

A border implies a round object. For those medallic items that are square or rectangular – plaques  and plaquettes  – the outer design element is called a frame. (When the frame is cast with the item itself, and in the mold, it is called an integral frame.)

Kinds of borders.  There are eight basic types of raised medallic borders, from a simple row of dots to complex molded borders. Often a basic type is a double border (two lines or two rows), or combined with other basic types. The variety is endless.  Multiple element borders are described in cataloging from outside in; from the rim inwards.

The eight basic types of medallic borders:

(1)  Molded – ranging from a line (linear) to a succession of planes and arcs; many kinds exist (see drawings) and could be created. These often have a lip or band  – a wide flat plateau nearest the edge. Molded borders are made with a template See molded border

(2)    Beaded – a row of dots (French grenetis), their use indicates classical

treatment; also called pearled.. Sometimes made with a beading or milgrain tool

(2a)  Bead and reel – a subcategory, alternate round beads and long reels (later called olives

(2b)  Morse codesimilar to bead and reel but dots and dashes spelling words in Morse code.

(2c)   Dentilatedseries of spikes (pointed), tooled (rounded), graining

(grain-shaped), or bullet-nosed. Any of these four kinds has dentiles which point inward from the rim.

(4)  Corded – also called rope, cable or braided, depending upon the design of twisted strands.

 (5)  Foliated – a pattern of leaves, often worked into wreath; laurel is most

often used, followed by oak, wheat, corn, palm, ivy, acanthus, or many combinations.

(6)  Ornamental – any design element not covered above and not letters or lines; includes such ornaments as stars, rosettes, chains, scrolls, spirals, waves, flourishes, zigzags, quillouche or fretwork. (Ornaments are usually uniform with the theme of the medal – a naval medal will have marine life or chain and anchor ornaments, for example.)

(7)  Lettered – any form of letters or figures, incuse or relief, in any style. Lettering in this position forms legend.

(8)  Radial lines – entirely lines or short rays (which if extended would cross at center point).

The rim of most borders is flat, mostly higher than the device, and certainly higher than the field, giving some protection from wear and abrasion; rims on coins serve this important function. The width of the rim is a decision of the designer. It can be narrow, or wide (called a band), or very wide (called a cartwheel rim), often containing lettering.

However, the rim may be slanted up or down, in addition to being flat; beveled borders do exist, sometimes containing lettering on the inclined plane. The lettering on top of the rim is a special class; but both forms of this lettering can be considered legend (since it follows the perimeter of the item).

Borders differ from frames and surrounds which are separate pieces attached to, and enclosing, a medallic item for aesthetic purposes.  See also bijou

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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