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Engraver.  The person who hand cuts a die; a hand engraver; also the tool to cut metal; a burin, or graver. While the die engraver is often called a diesinker, the same person can often perform any of a large number of engraving tasks. In the art world – and most reference works – engraving means flat engraving or line engraving or surface engraving, that is, cutting lines on a flat metal plate for printing an image as for producing prints or documents, paper money or maps. Cutting dies differs greatly from flat engraving by removing more metal to form the modulated relief of the detail and lettering in a die.

The engraver is a steel worker. He must have knowledge of steel and how to get a

desired design of three dimensions into a steel surface. Mostly the engraver works at a bench (benchwork) using sharp tools (burins, gravers, chisels, spitzsticks) to cut and carve, to grind away and smooth surface metal. He can work in positive, cutting a  cameo die, or in negative, cutting intaglio. (Also engraving can be done on media other than metal, as wood or stone, cameo cutting in shell, or cutting in ivory, bone, plastic or whatever.)

Hand engraving was the standard method of preparing dies for 2,600 years. Experiments were conducted throughout the 19th century, for mechanical engraving. Even when this was perfected (by Janvier in 1899) it never entirely replaced hand engraving and diesinking. For the most part of the 20th century, however, dies were

and are still made from sculptural models reduced by pantographic diecutting (see pantograph), and by COMPUTER ENGRAVING in the 21st century. Despite these techniques, engraving by hand is still achieved, but only under certain conditions.

Cutting simple dies, or dies needed in a short time are some of those conditions.

Formerly an engraver, employed by a mint, was responsible for creating a die by engraving the device punches, then by sinking, punching the devices into a die along with the letter punches which he often had to carve. Prior to mid 1800s, the engraver did this all entirely by hand in exact size of the die. Once the pantograph was in use (as the contamin in 1836), the engraver either prepared the model, or had a sculptor prepare this, then he was required to place this on the reducing pantograph to make a reduction punch.

The engraver then sunk this punch in a die to which he must finish by adding lettering, ornaments and figures. Since the beginning of the 20th century the sculptor now makes the entire sculptural model, lettering and all, and the modern pantograph operator cuts the entire die from a hard copy of this model. Thus the hand engraver was replaced by a sculptor-medallist; he was no longer needed for cutting artistic dies, but is required for touchup or for cutting dies with simple design and lettering.

A chief engraver at a national mint is an experienced engraver, head of the engraving department, and is as much an administrator as an artist. The chief engraver must be highly creative in preparing their own bas-reliefs models, have specialized knowledge of engraving, sculptural model making, diesinking, hubbing, tool steel, tool diework and somewhat metalworking and heat treating. This in addition to overseeing workers of all the tasks in the engraving department. The chief engraver is responsible for the artistic output of the engravers and the production of all the dies.

            Robert Julian, who did extensive research in 19th century U.S Mint archives comments: The U.S. Mint called the master engraver “Engraver of the United States Mint at Philadelphia.” The common term “chief engraver” was not used except on rare occasions. All others trained in die engraving had the title of “Assistant Engraver.”

            Only in the 20th century did the term “Chief Engraver”  become more recognized. With the appointment of John R. Sinnock to the position, 1925, the term has been used by the Treasury Department and by numismatists.

Nonemployee engravers.  For the most part engravers are employees of a mint or medal manufacturer and work on the premises; these are known as factory artists. Occasionally in history engravers were not employees, but engraved dies on a piecemeal basis in their own studios. In late 18th and early 19th century England these were called outworkers and numerous such engravers were located near Birmingham. Sir Edward Thomason employed a number of these outworkers for his Birmingham factory where he first made buttons, but later struck tokens, and finally medals.

In the United States the U.S. Mint early contracted for the engraving of medal dies outside the Mint while all coin dies were engraved on the mint premises. Moritz Furst was a notable example of this type of arrangement. He came to this country to be employed by the U.S. Mint, which did not transpire, however the Mint commissioned  him to hand engrave medal dies for over thirty years. Also Engtaver Anthony Paquet prepared dies and letter punches for the US Mint for nearly two decades.

In the 20th and 21st centuries this practice of commissioning outside engravers continues, but not, perhaps as extensive as before. One such hand engraver, Franz Eue, did hand engraving of numerous dies for Medallic Art Company, working out of his own residence. In 1971 the Franklin Mint commissioned Alvin DeHoff to hand engrave a Peace Corps 10th Anniversary Medal. Today these artists are more aptly called freelance engravers.

Another class of engravers existed in the 1860s through 1880s in America – the itinerant engraver. With insufficient work in one locale this craftsman would travel from town to town and do any kind of engraving. For the most part this was monogramming silverware, and engraving nameplates for pews, doors and coffins, but occasionally would cut a die for diestriking.

In ancient times an engraver was once known as a celator.  See engraving, diesinking.

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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