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Cartouche.  In medallic design a panel within a frame wherein lettering can be inscribed. Mostly of rectangular or square shape, a cartouche is usually worked into the medallic design as a decorative element, from a simple outline to elaborate and ornate framework. Originally cartouche meant a scroll-like paper with edges cut and rolled up. From this has evolved panels of tablet-like form in many different shapes (oval, shield-shaped, rectangular) with numerous uses, but always where some form of lettering is intended to be placed.

In medallic art the blank surface area for such lettering is called a reserve: the area is purposefully designed to be blank in the die and blank in the struck piece. Later inscribing adds the name, date, event, award or other data. It is particularly useful for award medals where a standard medal can be customized by inscribing an event or name within the cartouche either before or after the event. Collectors encounter both inscribed and uninscribed cartouche medals (medals struck blank for later lettering but issued without this). In some instances uninscribed medals were so awarded requiring the recipient to arrange for his or her own engraving.

A most artistic design of a cartouche was by Karl Gruppe on the reverse of his National Arts Club Medal of Honor. He choose a simple design of a banderole  (with wavy ends) and a sprig of laurel where the inscription is located on the banderole as it flows diagonally across the face of the design. Modern use tends to work the cartouche into the total medallic design or to simplify the cartouche. As this medal exemplifies, most often they appear on the reverse. An insert die is occasionally designed within a cartouche.

The term cartouche differs from a panel – a section of a medallic design

segregated from the rest of the design usually with design detail within (cartouches are designed blank by intent); from annulet – a circular panel; and from exergue –the lower area of a medallic design below the base line. A nameplate in medallic art is usually a separate piece, but the Italian word for a nameplate attached to a work of art is cartoccio.  See panel


S5 {1974} Stafford and Ware, p 49-50.

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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