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Retrograde Lettering

Retrograde Lettering.  Lettering which reads backwards; legend or inscription in mirror image. Lettering – as well as all images – are retrograde in the negative (as in a die); however the term is specifically used when the lettering only is backwards in the positive. This is not always obvious for a given piece if it bears a portrait, for example, since portraits look correct in either positive or negative.

An early example of a retrograde legend is on a Marie de Medicis Queen of

France Medallion, 1624, in the Kress collection of the United States National Collection (A1307.56S). See illustration. A later example is in the author's collection: a Tiffany medal has all positive elements except for the name of the maker, it is retrograde. What happened here was a punch with "wrong reading" lettering – intended to be punched into a die – was punched into a medal.

An interesting aspect of retrograde lettering exists with the modern pantograph machine: a die can be cut in contraposition to its model. This change of polarity is accomplished by adjusting the gears (see pantograph). All detail, device and lettering, would be retrograde, but the lettering is the most obvious, as the portrait in a die cut in contrapostion may look acceptable facing either direction.

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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