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Texture.  The characteristic pattern of a metallic surface, particularly that of the background. For those surfaces on a numismatic or medallic design where a smooth surface is not desired a wide variety of textures can be modeled into the design, or sometimes dappled into the die: pebbled, dapple, stippled, striated, checkered, speckled, mottled and such. Texture applied to the field, called background texture, is an excellent contrast to a smooth surface of the adjoining device or portrait. Despite where it is located, texture adds interest, charm and emphasis – in addition to contrast to nearby smooth surfaces. Texture adds interest to a design and is part of the fabric of the piece.


Texture on coins.  Because of their small size, only infrequently are coins designed with texture. Some notable examples do exist, however. Fraser accomplished this in his U.S. Indian/Buffalo nickel. He modeled a rugosity into the buffalo's hide that adds realism, interest and charm to the small design. The Indian head, however, is typical of a problem of texture in all glyptic art – human hair. It is impossible to model strands of hair as fine as desired for a realistic design. Thus portraits show hair and beards as symbolic more so than realistic.

An early example of texture on a coin was the portrait of Oliver Cromwell on the coinage of 1658. Engraver Thomas Simon gave a texture to the face and neck of the Lord Protector in contrast to the smooth background. Well ahead of his time, Simon's innovative use of such a design concept was not repeated on coins until the early 19th century.

Texture on medals.  Typically a medallic piece completely devoid of texture is monotonous. Thus there are far more examples of texture on medals than on coins. In very rare instances a medalist will model two or more textures into a medallic design; the master sculptor/medalist Joe Davidson did this when he created the portrait medal for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Third Inauguration Medal of 1941 in which both the portrait and the background have texture.

The adjacent chart exhibits a variety of textures that can be modeled on a coin or medal design. Not all of these textures have names, most are designed as needed by their creators. When texture is carried to extreme, in very rough surface, it is termed style rude.  A portrait of John F. Kennedy, in a sports memorial medallion issued in 1968 by the Amateur Athletic Union, and modeled by Robert Berks, is in such rough style.

Texture, however, should be appropriate to the subject or theme of the item. Like background music, texture should help create the proper "mood" for the design of the coin or medal to give more importance to the device.

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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