Many people collect gold and silver items that incorporate medallic artwork but are not technically coins. More obscure than numismatics proper, this field of exonumia offers a rich diversity of styles. Exonumic items are often historical in nature, which also ties them closely to coin collecting.
A select portion of the collectible items that fall under the category of exonumia exhibit an eye-catching artistic effect of “pop-out” high relief known as repoussé.
In some cases, actual antique coins have been subjected to the repoussé process for artistic effect. Though this alteration of metal post-production is considered more of a novelty within mainstream numismatics, the pieces are nonetheless intriguing and visually pleasing.
Punched High Relief
During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, there was a popular artistic style of creating high relief images on medals and fine wares made of metal, such as silver plates or kettles made of bronze, copper, or tin. Known by term “repoussé,” taken from the French verb for “to push forward,” this “pop out” high relief was typically created by using a heavy punch on the opposite side of the relief.
Sometimes the front of the piece would be enhanced by engraving or metalworking in addition to the punching effect.
There are a number of collectible medals that exhibit the repoussé device. Due to their origins that trace back hundreds of years ago, many of these items enjoy a fairly thriving market among collectors. However, someone with an eye for exonumia may be even more intrigued by old coins that make use of this effect.
Of course, none of the coins were minted that way. Not unlike “Hobo nickels,” these pieces were modified by artists after-the-fact to create something novel and visually stimulating. In fact, one particular $20 Gold Double Eagle coin that was altered with repoussé realized over $3,000 at auction in 2014—well above the intrinsic value (or melt value) of the gold itself.
Due to their alterations occurring post-minting, these items cannot be graded or certified as numismatic pieces. However, they are as beautiful as they are quirky—which is often one the biggest appeals of collecting exonumia in the first place! According to Coin World, “Many examples are available for a few dollars each to a few hundred dollars each, depending on the coin used as the host planchet.”
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