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Rays.  Lines on numismatic or medallic items indicating beams of light, as sun rays or radiant light. Rising rays are said to be ascendant; falling rays are descendant; rays from a center going outwards in all directions are radiated. Rays that fill a large segment of the design is said to be radiant, they radiate from a central point (which may be outside the design). Radiant or diving light around the head or body of a sacred person when expressed as rays is a nimbus or aureole (while the more common halo is usually a ring). See glory.

Rays have been used in medallic art since the Renaissance and designers of coins and medals have made liberal use of them ever since. The lines are usually raised in the design and are of various thickness, some are tapered, some alternated between long and short. The termination or ends of rays are noted as pointed or blunt, particularly in describing numismatic items. In American colonial coins particularly thick rays are termed club.

For medallic designers rays are sometimes employed as symbolic means of

adding balance to a design; or as a means of adding special emphasis to a design element (as a portrait, device, date, lettering or such). The U.S. Assay Commission Medal of 1876, for example, appears with rays surrounding the date 1876 – the American centennial year – to give it special emphasis. Also rays are used in other creative ways, as to separate subsidiary elements (as on the Minnesota Bicentennial Medal of 1976).

Certain topical medals show rays in their design. Optical medals show rays of light as beams passing through lenses, prisms, projectors and such. Incandescent light is shown as rays on some lamps and lighting device medals. Also medals on the theme of electricity or electronics show rays as a wave of electrical charge.

When rays are used in lettering they generally form an arabesque.

Rays between the arms of a decoration are often silhouetted forming points. These are located in the four areas (cantons) in a four-armed cross. The silhouetting gives the design distinction in its unusual shape.

Infrequently varieties are created by adding or removal of rays – with rays and without rays are terms used by numismatists to designate these varieties (example: U.S. Shield nickel of 1867).

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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