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Anonymous.  A numismatic or medallic item in which the creator – engraver, designer, sculptor, or minter – is unknown; an unsigned item. Anonymous is applied to items without initials, monogram or signature, precluding immediate identification of its maker. Sometimes anonymous items can be identified by documentary research, as by stylistic comparison with known items by the same artist (where the artist used the same mannerisms in several of his works).  Often published or unpublished lists of an artist's work are the most productive sources for identifying anonymous works.  See art history.

We know the names of hundreds of early American engravers, but the custom – or practice – was for these engravers not to sign their dies. Even at the U.S. Mint where medals of national interest were struck, the artists of many of these medals are anonymous. Of the 573 medals listed by Julian in his book on nineteenth century mint medals, 69 artists prepared 412 items, 161 items – 28.1 percent -- have unknown artists. A study of 19th century American tokens and medals, usually of smaller size and made by private makers, revealed that more than 80 percent of these items were anonymous.

Thus anonymous numismatic items are legion throughout history, both American and foreign. Many factors preclude an artist from signing his work: an embarrassment, by order of the issuer, or publisher, or government, or employer; or the fact the piece just does not justify a signature in the mind of the artist. An early anonymous medal is a Lucrezia Borgia Medal of 1502.  See signature.

The term “anonymous” is applied to artists only. If the portrait on a coin or medal is unknown it is termed: unknown subject and a catalog description might read “portrait of an unknown subject (or setter).”


M37{1977}Julian (R.W.)  Medals of the United States Mint, The First Century, 1792-1892. 

N2 {1958} Babelon, p 31.

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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