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Inscribe, Inscribing

Inscribe, Inscribing.  To cut a line into hard material, as metal, to form a letter or design; flat engraving. The inscriber does not create relief but does engraving on a flat surface, often the reserve on an existing piece, as a medal requiring customized lettering for a particular recipient. The word inscribe and its process is far overshadowed by the word engrave in current usage. The purist would say a person would inscribe a medal, but engrave a die. The engraver cuts away metal to form modulated relief, the inscriber does not change the relief but merely performs an engraving operation on an existing surface. The tools used for both functions are the same, even the scriber – a sharp pointed hand tool to score or scribe a line on a metal surface – or the cutting point on an engraving machine produces only a fine line (particularly in drag engraving); also in acid etching lines are inscribed on the surface where a sharp pointed scriber removes the wax to acid etch a fine line. In the future we shall undoubtedly find the word “engrave” to include all the meaning of inscribe, the two words will probably never be differentiated, as, perhaps, they should be.  See engraving, acid etching.

            The area to be inscribed on a medal has special names. If the area is completely open in the design for that side it is called a RESERVE. If it is within a panel it is called a CARTOUCHE which is most often worked into the design. In at least one instance a medal designer, Frederick Ziegler, added a wide rim to the reverse of the Diamond Match Company Service Medal, where the recipient’s name could be inscribed.

            For the characteristics of various metals for inscribing see the chart in the entry on engraving. Some medals are WORK HARDENED from striking thus may be slightly harder for inscribing than that stated in the chart.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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