Here's another entry from Dick Johnson's Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Terminology.
A single letter, several letters, monogram or symbol indicating the mint where a coin or medal was made. Location of a mintmark, like that of the artist's signature, is often inconspicuous, but most often found in the lower portion of the design. Some larger items, like medals, have mintmarks on the edge. For coins, the original intent of mintmarking was to indicate responsibility, to identify the maker, infrequently along with the mintmaster's mark, in case the coin was inferior. For numismatists, mintmarks are of extreme importance for attribution. While most mints are called by the name of the city where they are located, it must be remembered it is the plant or mint (or formerly, the workshop) that makes the coins or medals. With some exceptions – like the Zecca Mint in Rome – mints do not have names; they are known by this city name.
Both national mints and private mints have mintmarks. Usually national mintmarks are derived from the city name; private mintmarks are usually some abbreviated form of their company name. These are expressed as initials, monograms, ligatures (two letters blended together) or symbols. A letter and a symbol are common. In fact, one out of five mintmarks are symbols. These range from a single dot, as the Perth Mint in Australia employed, to complex symbols (and always made into a punch).
Infrequently, one mint has made dies (with their own mintmark intact) but the coins actually struck at another mint (dies made at the Paris Mint have been struck in Philadelphia for Dominican Republic coins in 1897, for instance). Maria Theresa thalers all bear the SF mintmark – which stands for the Guenzburg Mint (of the Holy Roman Empire) – yet the same coin has been struck at the mints of: Brussels, London, Birmingham, Paris, Bombay, Florence, Vienna, Venice, Prague, Milan, Rome, and Leningrad.
History of mintmarks. The earliest Greek coins often bore the names of cities; while these were not mintmarks they did indicate where the coins were struck. The first mintmark was placed on a silver didrachm (based on a Greek denomination) struck in Rome in 269 bc. Later some Roman coins bore control marks, indicating the mint official – a forerunner of mintmaster's mark – or other data, that were often difficult to separate from mintmarks.
During the middle ages the general need for a mintmark obviously arose when two or more moneyers or mints were striking the same coin. Mintmarks identified the source should the coin be found inferior, and to indicate responsibility of the errant maker. Coins struck prior to the introduction of the screw press (invented 1506, in general use by 1662) were made individually by moneyers; their hammered coinage could easily be debased. When several moneyers used the same design for a coin but struck in different cities they needed to be identified.
Later, with numerous mints within a country – Spain once had forty mints at one time – mintmarks are a necessity. With so many operating simultaneous, letters are used up and moneyers frequently turned other punches – symbols, Greek letters, monograms, or such – as a mintmark. A reform of mintmarking occurred in France in 1540 by King Frances I who decreed the principal mint, as the Paris Mint, use the letter A. All subsidiary mints were assigned mintmarks continuing through the alphabet.
A charming instance of mintmarking was the placement of a dot below the letter in a legend or inscription as the mintmark. French numismatists called this points secrets, to indicate the mintmark. For the creation of decorations struck at Italy's Zecca mint they placed a crown above their Z mintmark.
In modern times subsidiary mints, branch mints, always have mintmarks irrespective of whether the main mint has one or not (as the Philadelphia Mint did not use a mintmark from 1792 until 1980 with a brief stint on nickels 1942-45).
Marks of private medallists. Private French medallists also gave special attention to their marks. They established a custom of placing their initials and a symbol within a frame or panel. The shape of the frame was significant. Medallic items of precious metal were placed in a diamond shape, of base metal within a triangle, and plaques or plaquettes were placed in a square frame. As an example for silver medals the firm of Janvier-Duval would be a small wreath between J and D within a diamond; they substituted a torch for the wreath within a triangle for bronze medals.
Knowledge of this custom carried over to America when Frenchman Henri Weil cut the dies for the firm in New York City, Deitsch Brothers, for which he obtained a pantograph engraver (from that Janvier-Duval firm). He placed a D (for Deitsch) within a frame to create the diamond-D mintmark for medals produced by this firm 1907-10 (but abolished the practice when he acquired the firm of Medallic Art Company in 1910, preferring, instead, to spell out the name on the edge).
Identifying mintmarks. Mintmarks often appear small on the coin or medal. Recognizing them is sometimes difficult due to the state of the die, or the condition of the piece. In one instance a die engraving error made a
Gn of an intended
Cn for the mint at Culiacan, Mexico. Mintmarks need to be identified separate from engraver's initials, mintmaster's marks, differents, privy marks and other lettering.
Identifying and attributing mintmarks is an important task of the numismatic cataloger. Often reference is necessary to numismatic references for correct mintmark identification. Catalogs of coins of the world always list mints and mintmarks. Two excellent sources for modern mintmarks are: Krause and Mishler, World Coins, and Coin World Almanac.
Mintmark anomalies. Since most mintmarks are applied to dies (working dies, master dies, or hubs) with a punch, the placement of the punch is critical. If it is out of alignment this will, of course, be evident in all pieces struck from that die. Thus there are many mintmark anomalies resulting from erroneous placement of mintmark punches, including: too high, too low, too far to one side, too deep, too shallow, also sideways and inverted. There are also double mintmarks, often called repunched, one punch superimposed over another, or even more dramatic one intended for a different mint (or a wrong letter punch); the second was intended to correct the erroneous first.
Missing mintmarks can be the result of any of several events. They can be purposefully omitted (as in United States 1965-67 to thwart coin hoarding), or it can be a mechanical striking anomaly as a filled die. Fraudulent removal of a mintmark (on an existing coin), or replacing with another, as a counterfeit mintmark, has occurred to create a more valuable variety to deceive collectors.
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