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Counterstamped, Counterstamping

Counterstamped, Counterstamping.  A numismatic item stamped with one or more punches to indicate a separate class or distinction; the punches cause incuse lettering or symbols. Counterstamping is never intended by the original designers, makers or issuers, but is applied at a time after the original issue. Thus most counterstamping is surreptitious and done on only a few pieces.

Counterstamping was done as early as 411 BC.  A Persian coin exists with an Aramaic letter heth is punched on the reverse, it is believed to have been punched by a banker, much like a modern chop mark. These were applied to attest the acceptance of the piece (for fineness and weight) by the person applying the punch mark.

Technique of counterstamping.  If the punching is in a small area, none of the

coin or medal's relief may be removed, or an area of the relief and detail may be ground off, or the entire side may be flattened to provide a planchet-like surface for the punching. The punches are applied by hand with a hammer blow, and unless some means of cushioning the impact, the blow usually transfers a raised or congruent blurred area to the exact point on the opposite side of the numismatic piece.

In counterstamping a single letter, figure or symbol punch may be used, or a logotype punch – which may have several letters, figures, words or designs – or a series of single letter punches used to spell out words. The alignment of such lettering is always a problem and uneven lettering indicates the amateur status of the person hand punching or counterstamping the numismatic item.  For more on this technique see punch, puncheon.

Counterstamped coins.  Placing a counterpunch on a coin changes it to a new

class of circulating media. Some counterstamping changes value, or a geographical area where the newly formed piece may circulate, but more often the counterstamping is one of an advertising nature. Examples of the later are a person's initials, a business name, or some slogan as a political purpose. The practice was quite active in Caribbean islands in the 18th and 19th centuries when native coins were nonexistent.

Counterstamped medals.  Medals often have a reserve, an area of their design for adding additional lettering after they are issued – as a cartouche where lettering can be punched or engraved. But this intended lettering is not counterstamping, which is done by someone other than the original designer, maker or issuer, and at a later time. Counterstamping on a medal may be in one area, as perhaps a collector’s mark, or it may fill the entire side or flan, as illustrated here (and also under hand punched). Another example is Betts 431 which was a medal taken from an Indian chief during a battle in 1761 and the details were punched by hand on the reverse. In another instance freshly struck medals were counterstamped with the date of death of the person appearing on the medal (instead of discarding the entire issue, making a new die and restriking a new supply). See updated.

Cataloging counterstamps.  An exact description of the punch is required in cataloging counterstamped items. The exact alignment of the punch to the host item should also be mentioned. In describing condition of counterstamped coins, describe the condition of the counterstamp, not the host coin. Then a list of the items – coins, tokens or medals – that were counterstamped. Most often this occurred on more than one variety of these.

Photographs of counterstamped coins are shown by the alignment of the counterstamp – not the host coin. Thus the coin may be twisted or upside down as long as the counterstamp is shown proper.


                     Counterstamp Terms                  


    Alignment – the base line of the punch compared to  

         the base line of the host item.                                                                           

    base line – a line for the base of all lettering,   

         an actual line may be inscribed, or this may be  

         imaginary; the line may be straight, bowed, or  

         undulate. If crudely executed the counterstamped

         letters may appear irregular as if the base line

         was nonexistent.                                


    c/s  – abbreviation for counterstamp(ed).           


    host – the existing coin or medal counterstamped.   


    logotype – two or more letters and/or figures       

         mounted on the same shank, that are impressed   

         entire with one blow to the punch.              


    punch– the tool used to impress letters, figures,   

         or design details into a die during diesinking

         or into the surface of a host coin or medal     

         during counterstamping.                         


    Shank – the stem of the punch, usually with four    

         sides to aid in aligning the lettering.         


NE42 {1982} Doty, p 75-76.

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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