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A history of stamping

By Russ Olexa

March 2010- The beginnings of metal stamping might just be found with the hammer blows that blacksmiths, tinsmiths, silversmiths and goldsmiths used to forge or shape metal for use as everyday objects.

Although this type of metalforming is far from shaping steel or nonferrous metals using a machine as we see it today, you can see the beginnings of how a "ram," as the hammer, was used to shape metal on an anvil acting as the "bolster or bed."

With blacksmiths being around since the dawn of the metal age (roughly 2000 B.C.), metalforming using stamping tools probably started when civilizations began minting their own coins using hand tools to "stamp" silver, gold, bronze or alloys of precious metals using iron tooling that needed the relief of the coin etched in the die and punch. However, there is very little information as to how they produced the forms or reliefs on the tooling.

According to the Web site www.fleur-de-coin.com, the first coins were most likely produced in the seventh century B.C. by the Lydians in Asia Minor. Coin blanks were cast from a gold and silver alloy called electrum. Starting with simple molds into which the molten metal was poured, the Lydians moved to more complicated molds, allowing greater production.

This type of production of round coin blanks remained the same for centuries, until the population and economy growth in Europe in the 16th century demanded a large increase for coins. The industrialization of minting techniques began to meet this demand.

During the 16th century, shears were used to cut blanks from sheet metal that was hammered to reduce its thickness. These blanks were then filed and hammered to a particular weight and thickness. Then the blank was coined by using a hammer, an upper and lower die and an anvil. A worker put a blank on a fixed-bottom die that rested on an anvil. Then the upper die was placed over the blank and held in place by the worker who hit the upper die with a hammer.

Often, you can find ancient coins that have been struck off center of the blank or might show two impressions when the worker moved the hammer during a double strike, which is indicative of this coining process.

Olives and wine and presses
Throughout Europe and other places in the world during the Middle Ages, the wine or olive press was a common tool.

The first ones that used a machine-style screw were made of wood, including the screw. These are still available today to crush grapes or olives. Metal pieces might have been used to reinforce the container holding the grapes or olives for crushing.

When the blacksmith was able to develop a metal screw-type apparatus to apply pressure to the olives or grapes, he produced a press that with some refinement could use tooling to impress an image on or "stamp" a coin. This might have been the first metal stamping press.

Coining by screw press
A German silversmith named Marx Schwab invented coining using the screw press around 1550, according to www.fleur-de-coin.com.

"Two heavy-iron screws pressed the coin metal to the desired thickness. Blank preparation was aided by roller-mills that produced uniformly thick strips that blanks could be cut from with metal shears. Then these blanks would be coined in the press."

King Henri II of France (1547-1559) imported the new machines: rolling mill, punch and screw press. Eight to 12 workers were used to move the arms driving the screw to strike the metal. After each quarter hour, workers changed places.

Because this was a more efficient operation than hand stamping coins, and it would eliminate workers, Henri II experienced hostility from coin-makers.

Therefore, the process was only used for small-value coins, medals and tokens. By 1645, however, it became the standard production method for minting coins. FFJ

Part 1 of a multipart series

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