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Motto.  A slogan appearing as a legend or inscription on a numismatic item. Current American mottoes: E Pluribus Unum, Liberty, In God We Trust. Not all lettering is a motto; it is a saying that must be: (1) extremely brief (not a lot of room on a coin or medal), (2) be a positive statement of some general truth and public acceptance, (3) often of moral or ideal guiding principle. Occasionally it is abbreviated because of the very limited space available for the lettering. Occasionally it is in a language other than that of the remainder of the item. Mottoes may appear as legend near the edge or as inscription elsewhere and may be traced back to political slogans on late Roman coins.

Mottoes are often found on ribbons, banderoles or coats of arms, they often have some heraldic connection. Like all lettering, mottoes are sometimes indexed for reference.  In cataloging they should be recorded (and if in another language, they must be translated).  Compare impresa used in the renaissance.


L6  {1983} Pine.

NC9 {1988} Breen, p 5-7 (Colonial inscriptions).

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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