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Cutout.  A numismatic or medallic item with a portion of it's matrix cut entirely through, often silhouetting a portrait, device or design feature. Intent of the original designer is important here as the piercing and cutting can take place at any time – before the piece is issued (and presumably intended) or after issue (usually unintended). Only medallic items could be intended to be cutout by their designers, accomplished as a function of their manufacture. Coins, on the other hand, are not intended to be cutout, but are done so to make jewelry items of a popular coin design.

Like a silhouette, a cutout removes all background permitting the greatest amount of showthrough – anything placed behind the item is seen from the front. This gives the design the most "hard edge" possible, and is the charm of all openwork. Because of their somewhat small size, coin and medal cutouts are also charming because this is done in the small scale of their size. Often the border is left intact, sometimes the lettering, adding further to this appeal. Enough of the design must be left intact so the original item is recognizable. A disadvantage, however, is that one side only can be cutout, the design on the opposite side is destroyed.

A cutout is accomplished by hand, first by drilling a tiny hole in the item to be

cut; inserting a sawblade, affixing it to a wide yoke jeweler’s saw and cutting away

the unwanted background as desired. The saw blades are either flat for straight cutting, or, more often, circular to cut in any direction and around detail. The work is very precise and is done under magnification by a skilled craftsman. As many as fifty of a simple design, or twenty of a complicated design, can be cutout effectively by hand. For a quantity larger than this it is more economical to prepare a piercing die or piercing tool.  See piercing.

Those people who do not appreciate the items as jewelry consider a cutout as the ultimate form of graffiti. Thus they are never done to a rare coin or medal, but only to items available in great quantity, like the Columbian commemorative half dollar illustrated here.


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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