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Attributed, Attribution

Attributed, Attribution.  Identification of all pertinent details about a numismatic or medallic item, including time and place of origin; type of manufacture; its artist, designer, sculptor or engraver; composition; issuer; mint or medallic company; portrait or other design features; somewhat of its symbolism and allegory, and transcribing all of its lettering. Attribution includes a search among the reference literature and is the first step of cataloging. A trial or working attribution is prepared first, but is considered tentative until all the facts can be documented.  See dubious attribution.


            Attribution is a vital part of serious numismatic study. The numismatic researcher will study die characteristics evident on the piece at hand. He will attempt to identify the VARIETY of the piece and compare this to previously known varieties, noting similarities and differences. These minute characteristics are called attribution points which can be as simple as the position of a single letter or a completely different device. Often this is a study of the diversity of hand engraved or HANDCUT dies.

In attribution work, problems arise with unknown pieces. Each item to be identified has to be examined in its totality for clues as to its origin, period and maker. From these clues the numismatic researcher will turn first to the literature in an attempt to find the piece – or similar pieces – published. A second step would be the comparison

with one or more similar specimens should the researcher have access to such specimens. Needless to say, the more experience, the more knowledge, a large library and a large reference collection the researcher brings to the task, the quicker he can attribute an unknown work.

Should the piece not be found in the published literature and present other problems of identification – as being unsigned or of undeterminable origin – then

the researcher must look for stylistic comparisons. The researcher must ask: Is the piece at hand similar to any other known work? The study of style and technique may give clues to a possible nationality, period, identity.

Like a fingerprint, style is considered peculiar to an artist or his school. Given one or more works of an artist that are documented as his creations, these can be studied and noted for distinctive sculptural mannerisms or techniques which the artist may repeat in other works by him. If these appear in an unsigned work – and all other evidence does

not refute this attribution – then the given work may be assigned (attributed) to that artist. While details are studied for an artist's mannerisms, the total effect should not be overlooked, as some art historians are critical of employing stylistic comparisons too freely.

Mints and medal manufacturers have their stylistic differences as well as

engravers or artists. Most of these characteristics are quite subtle, tiny points peculiar to or characteristic of that maker. Recognizing these characteristics becomes apparent to even an experienced numismatist only after studying a quantity of items created by a known maker.

Once the piece is identified, then the numismatist must gather as much other

related information as possible. Obviously, the goal of attribution is correctly assigning an unknown work to its creators and identifying all the other pertinent data listed above.

After the identification, then any such items can be listed as "attributed to" or in the case of any uncertainty as "in the manner of"; in rare instances "from the school of" or "from the student work of."

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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