Skip to content


Signature.  Any of a variety of ways the creator of a work of art signs that work. Signatures can be initials, monograms, symbols, a single name, or a signature in script. Artists have used such a variety of signatures, symbols and pseudonyms that art researchers and historians must use extreme diligence to identify the correct author of any

given work of art. Signatures on coins are often the shortest of all, usually one, two or three initials.

Extreme limited space on coins and medals requires brevity, however full names have appeared on numismatic works. Published lists of initials and monograms revealing the original artist are required references for the person who must identify, describe or authenticate coins or medals. A numismatic item without a signature is unsigned (even though the creator may be identified by research). The item is called anonymous when it is unsigned and no amount of research reveals the artist.

Because a signature is so much a design element, the artist often renders it in an artistic way. An elaborate monogram is occasionally created (possibly obscuring the sequence of the letters, or the most prominent letter by intertwining of the initial letters). One artist, Augustus St-Gaudens, created a different monogram for nearly every

work of art; while a charming mannerism, this trait requires more diligence necessary for the art historian.

Signature locations.  Signatures on coins and medals are always found in the lowest part of the design, usually to the right. This is like signing a document or letter at the bottom right; this similar position is predominantly chosen for paintings, prints, other works of art.

For those coin and medal designs with an exergue, the signature can often be found on the side of the listel (a bar going across the base line), slightly below, or on top of the listel. Also for those portraits of a bust, the signature is occasionally found on the truncation of some part of the bust.

Signature abbreviations.  Signatures sometimes contain arcane letters following the name or initials on medals. These reveal what part the signer had in the creation of that medallic item. Once these abbreviations are learned an entire division of labor is sometimes revealed. The most encountered is fecit, a Latin word (pronounced FEE-set) meaning he (or she) did it, or made it, or created it, or engraved it. The letters f or fec after a name or initials indicates this Latin term. It is used in medallic art more often than any other signature form.

Other letters following a signature are listed in the chart. Four of these begin with the letter D and D has been used as an abbreviation for any of these (further obscuring the meaning). Also the abbreviation edit is for the French word editeur; it is not the editor as we know it in English, but instead the publisher or issuer of the piece.

Signature confusion.  Problems arise when two or more artists used the same

initials. There are, for example, four J.R.s, two Americans and two British. There are eight C.W.s. For single initials signatures, the problem increases; there are 48 artists listed in Forrer who have signed H, and 36 who signed W. It becomes necessary to know who was working in what geographical area in what specific time period. Even

a somewhat limited series of medals like the Society of Medalists in America has two medals signed exactly the same by two different artists (number 14 by Albert Stewart, and number 114 by Alex Shagin), both obviously signed "AS".

Monograms compound the problem. First it is often unclear in the sequence of letters once they are deciphered from intertwining. Also monograms of artists are often confused with those of the medallic firm that made it, or with a client's or issuer's monogram. Even the registration, copyright or trademark symbols required by law in some countries add to the confusion.

Sales agents and importers sometimes have their initials or monograms placed on medallic items. For a period in the 1960s Nebraska Numismatics imported European mint medals and had their logo of a double N placed on those imported. And the FK initials of another importer (F. Knight of New York) appeared on the John Philip Sousa Centennial Medal he brought to America in 1954.

Artists who have collaborated on a medal infrequently have created a new monogram incorporating both last name initials. Mario Cooper and Robert Foster did this for a CF monogram on the Society of Illustrators Medal of 1950.

Women artists who take their husband's name after marriage may change their monogram. Anna Vaughn Hyatt who married Archer Milton Huntington used both AVH and AHH monograms in her lifetime.

For some unknown reason sculptor Gifford MacGregor Proctor placed a symbol

– what looks like two birds in flight – in a location normally reserved for signatures, under the device on the reverse slightly to the right on the Aldo Leopold Medal of 1951.

Finally, the world of numismatics abounds with unidentified initials, monograms and symbols. We may never learn who was he creator of objects signed by these carefree artists.

Family signatures.  Other areas of confusion are the dynasties of engravers or

firms extending over several generations, all members of which signed a similar name, initials or monogram. The most famous of these are the Wyon family of English engravers, medalists, diesinkers and sculptors, 15 of which created coins and medals.

In Belgium there were two Weiners. In Germany two Mayers. In France three or more medalists existed in each of the Barre, Dubois, Dupre and Yencesse families.

The Lovetts in America extended over three generations and 80 years of token and medal making; there were five engravers, a father, three sons and a grandson. Many other examples could be listed.

Advice for artists.  An artist should not intentionally use a set of initials or monogram already used by any other artist. He can check with published lists of such signatures and ask among his contemporaries if they know of such conflicts. He can also check with numismatic and art societies.

It may sound farfetched, but the medallic artist can also check jewelry trademarks.

Often his work may be reproduced as jewelry and the industry's trademarks are well published, quite extensive and easily referenced.

But here are some specific suggestions:  (1) create as simple – but distinctive – a mark as possible for your signature. (American sculptor Donald Miller added the blades of a windmill above his initials for distinction, for instance.) (2) stay away from scrip – model or engrave your signature as clear as possible; and (3) add a date to your signature

– this will at least place your work in a precise time period and aid future catalogers immensely (in America if the work is copyrighted a date is mandatory along with the copyright symbol).

Hidden signatures.  While signatures are hidden in the design of paper money

engravings far more often than in medallic items, these instances do exist. The most interesting example is a medal for a Columbian anniversary activity, the New York Municipal Columbian Entertainment Committee Badge of 1893. The uniface medal was engraved by Victor David Brenner. He had just been employed by the medallic firm of Robt. Stoll in New York City.

Brenner signed the piece in the grass below the city seal – but backwards! (Actually he signed it in the die he had just cut intaglio, but signed it cameo – right to left – so when it strikes a piece it appears with lettering left to right.) Since the lettering is hidden in the grass, it is not obvious upon first inspection. Whether this was done surreptitiously, or with his new employer's permission is, of course, not recorded.  But the piece is charming.

Signature charm.  If a large number of signatures are examined it will be noted some artists are quite adapt at signing their works of art in charming ways. John Flanagan placed his JF initials in the O of the obverse legend on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Medal of Honor in 1915. Look for the JF in the center of the last O of HOMO


?       Anthony de Francisci underlined his initials with a sculptors burnisher on the United Parcel Service 50th Anniversary Medal, 1957.

?       Carl Paul Jennewein placed a tiny self-portrait character and date in his 1933 issue of the Society of Medalists (Issue number 7).

?       A husband and wife team have all their initials on a center letter. Holger and Helen Webster Jensen have a J monogram with an H on one side for him, and H and W on the other side for her. It appeared on the North American Aviation Dedication Medallion, of 1964.

?       The Frasers – James Earle and Laura Gardin – did the same for both a coin and medal for the Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar of 1926 and the Oregon Trail Medal of 1929. The husband and wife team, both accomplished medalists, collaborated together medallically for these two commissions.

?       Marcel Jovine created a bilingual medal for the Apollo Souyez. Obverse was in English and showed the American Apollo capsule; the reverse was the Russian spacecraft with legend in Russian. He signed both sides; in English on the obverse, in Russian on the reverse.

But, perhaps the most charming of all is a concordant medal (the reverse is the back of the obverse as if the medal was sculpture in-the-round). In 1937 sculptor Robert Ingersoll Aitken did a medallic tribute to Love; he showed a couple embracing front and back. He signed the piece on the reverse in reverse. Within an oval he has the six letters of his last name in groups of two – backwards. Charming! The medal was the 15th Issue of the Society of Medalists.

Signatures in history.  We know today the identity of Greek and Roman coin engravers because of their signatures: Euainetos of Syracuse, Theodotus of Clazomenae, Lysimachus and Attalus of Greece, and others. Pisanello signed the first art medal in 1438.

Other methods of signing.  Some medallic plaques are signed by the manufacturing firm placing a disk on the blank reverse. The disk contains their name, logo, sometimes their location. This is common practice for foundries casting statues. An interesting custom for some of these same foundries is for the artist to place his thumbprint in the original mold. Any replicas not from that mold would show an imperfect thumbprint.

Maker’s marks are sometimes in the die of a manufacturer who strikes uniface items; the impression is in the blank reverse die. Owners sometimes place their mark on a numismatic item, such private mark is relished by subsequent collectors if the owner was famous (but unappreciated if he is not).

The most universal means of signing coins and medals throughout the world, however, is the mintmark. This identifies where the item was struck (mints are usually identified with the city where they are located). Mintmarks have been used virtually since mints came into existence and continues to the present time.

While the practice is now discontinued, at one time the master of the mint was allowed to sign his initials on coins as well as the engraver. The mintmaster’s mark is treated with equal dignity as the engraver's among numismatists.

Finally there is a method of signing that is not apparent in any struck pieces. Some artists have signed the die outside the design. Obviously this can only be detected from examining the die itself.


E3 {1902-30} Forrer.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.