Skip to content


Silhouette.  A medallic item trimmed to the outline of all or part of its design. The irregular silhouette shape is chosen for its artistic contribution to the design, emphasizing its configuration. To silhouette a medal is to cut out its shape by jigsaw, or jeweler's saw or by trimming tool to create the distinctive shape of the peripheral design. To hand silhouette a piece is to trim it at a bench with hand tools, using a saw capable of cutting in any direction, for example, to be able to cut out the outline of leaves of wreaths, the headgear or hair-do of heads, facial feature of portraits, the edges of frames, the curves of scrolls, scallops and ornate cartouches, or whatever the designer has brought to the edge of his medallic design.

Hand trimming is applicable only for short production runs, from one to perhaps fifty pieces. Longer production runs require a trimming tool which can uniformly cutout or silhouette the design on many pieces.

Silhouetting is a function of the designer, it gives the greatest emphasis to a

design – by prohibiting any background or field to exist behind that which is silhouetted. It is the designer's responsibility to decide whether a medallic piece is to remain entirely on the flan of the piece (square, circular, rectangular or whatever) or if a portion of the design should exist beyond this fixed limitation, or if the entire piece should be silhouetted. All silhouetted items fall within the class of unusual shapes of medallic items. Those pieces with projections that extend beyond the fixed limitation of the main design, or perhaps the flan, are termed hyperdimensional.

While cast items can be easily made to any shape, struck pieces require the item to be struck on an oversize blank then cut or trimmed to the desired shape. Thus struck pieces that are silhouetted always require this trimming. As with all metalworking activity the trimming of the edge creates burrs and these must be deburred. Often the trimming tool leaves some handwork to be done to complete the piece, more so for a silhouetted design than perhaps of other unusual shapes.

The undesired portion of the blank is cut away, the dead metal or skeleton scrap is trimmed and discarded as scissel. Silhouetting applies only to the outermost shape of the piece and not to any internal piercing (see openwork).

See also trimming, trimming tool, unusual shapes.

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.