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Stylistic Comparison

Stylistic Comparison.  The analysis of two or more works of art (including numismatic and medallic items) by the manner of their artistic presentation. Stylistic comparison with a number of known or attributed numismatic items – or occasionally with other works of art – can sometimes ascertain the artist, the period, the geographical location, the school of art or sometimes the maker. The style is studied for similarities and differences. This analysis is often a prelude to attribution, authentication or cataloging.

Sculptural mannerisms – how an artist, engraver or medalist does the same design a repeated number of times is one thing the analyst looks for. In 20th century American medals, astute numismatists readily recognize a "Menconi mouth" by artist Ralph Joseph Menconi. Often these mannerisms are of such unobtrusive nature that the difference is not that apparent to the casual observer. Often it cannot be expressed in words, but a sense of the period, or artist, or maker, or location, all of which determines the fabric of the piece. Identifying this only comes from handling a great many similar pieces of a class of work.

The expert numismatist derives a "sixth sense" for the material he is handling.

Experience comes only with the intimate study of a large volume of such work. In a sense, when you have an appraisal or an authentication done by an expert, you utilize his experience from years of study of similar specimens or the artist's work. The expert needs

to correctly identify the object, note all the similarities and differences with other related objects, to attest its genuineness and be able to give a correct attribution, and, perhaps ultimately, the current market value of the item. Stylistic comparison is an important part of this cataloging function.

Stylistic changes.  The study of many specimens – and how they differ – is the task of the seasoned art historian or numismatist. Often these are subtle differences over time, not readily obvious to the untrained eye. How the object was designed, created, made, and evolved is required knowledge for this study. Why was the design changed? How did a detail change and what caused this? These are questions the analyst must understand and explain.

An example might be the differences between two sizes of a die made from the same design. Fine detail might be changed since it could easily be lost in a greater reduction. A charm size might have different lettering than a 3-inch medal of the same design, for example.

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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