Excerpts from the E-Sylum: How Long Does it Take to Cut a Die?

Each week, CoinWeek, in collaboration with the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, brings you a highlighted feature from the current volume of the E-Sylum eNewsletter.

This week, E-Sylum reader Dick Johnson writes in to answer the question, “How long does it take to cut a die?”


This is in answer to Paul Bosco who asked the question in last week’s E-Sylum of how long does it take to cut a die. He responded to Peter Betran’s comments in the previous week on Alan Weinbergs’s original article. I guess you could call this a “thread” in internet parlance.

How long depends on many things: type of die, skill of the engraver, size of the die, complexity of the die and how fast the customer wants the die completed (or items struck from a die).

engraving2A hand engraver might engrave a die in a day’s time, or longer considering conditions mentioned.

A diesinker could “cut a die,” that is, using only letter punches could finish a die of all lettering in an hour or two. This might surprise token collectors that many of the tokens in your collection were knocked out — two sides and struck — in a morning’s time, provided it was struck in a soft composition, like aluminum Cheap stuff.

A die with a relief device might require several days to engrave the device, then another day to sink that device, and another day to add letter punches, say four or five days total.

A hand controlled machine cut die (also called a tracer controlled die) — as with a Gorton — requires either a drawn design or a pattern cut in plastic. Then the machine operator hand controls the placing of the cutting tool by following the outline of the frawing, or the edges in plastic. He also determines the depth of cutting by hand controls. He must be skillful as any slip of the cutting tool could ruin a die and he would have to start all over. He literally forms all detail and all lettering. Even so a skilled machine operator could do one or two dies a day.

A modelled die, that is one made from a sculptor’s model, not counting his time — formerly took three days to make a metal pattern, say, for a 3-inch medal, and three more days on the Janvier pantograph. Now an epoxy pattern can be modeled in an hour or so, but is allowed to cure before placing it on a reducing machine or cutting a die by computer, saving another two days.

Formerly, when working with sculptors, we told clients we needed a minimum of six-week turnaround time. That gave a sculptor ample time to design and model. Say two weeks to create a design in their mind, even while working on something else, and a week to model each side. Now it takes somewhat less using an epoxy instead of a metal pattern.

ikedollarlatheIn the 19th century when most dies were hand engraved it may have been less than a day’s time. But remember it was a 12-hour work day then, six days a week.

I just finished a study of the Lovett family of engravers with the cooperation of Dave Baldwin and Katie Jaeger, both Lovett experts. The 2-year period just prior to the Civil War, say 1860-61 were their most active.

Robert Lovett Junior in Philadelphia cut 87 pair of dies, Robert Senior cut 7 pair, while in New York, George Hampton cut 184 pair and John D, cut 16.

Although there was a lot of muleing and use of a favorite device punch over and over I estimate the four engravers created about one die a day, a pair in two days.


Click here to read the rest of this week’s issue of the E-Sylum eNewsletter

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