The coin engraver's art… That Christmas feeling thirty times a year

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04 December 2019
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In the first instalment in his new column for allaboutcoins Royal Canadian Mint engraver Matthew Bowen describes the excitement of taking on a new coin assignment and the intricacies of the engraving process

Every time a new design is assigned to me at work, I get that excited nervous feeling in my stomach. The same way I felt as a child on Christmas morning. I want to tear into the new project the same way I tore into those presents on Christmas mornings.

I am an engraver at the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM), and by using a sculpting software, some very sophisticated machines, and a host of dedicated colleagues, we produce the master tooling for the coins Canadians carry in their pockets.

That’s not all though, the engraving team also produces master tooling for all Canadian numismatic coins, Investment bullion coins and bars, Medals for the Canadian Parliament, Armed Forces and Canadian organisations. Also master tooling for countries overseas are produced in our Ottawa facility.

This is a demanding and immensely rewarding profession that I am proud to be part of. The RCM presently have a staff of fifteen engravers that each average thirty projects a year. These projects can range anywhere from a small 0.5 gram, 11mm gold coin up to 10 kilogram, 180 mm gold masterpieces.

So many variables must fall into place to make a successful project.

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The engraving must be well executed to bring form and detail to the design regardless of how low the relief. Then the three axis milling cut, which can run for days must be acceptable or we start over.

Our furnace must run properly to give the correct tool hardness for hobbing. Pressing the hardened master tool into softer steel is called hobbing and results in a punch. This must be done with great precision. Don’t over polish your work but remove all the machine lines. Do not grind too much off the master tool but make it perpendicular, and for heaven’s sake don’t drop the tooling!

Believe me it happens.

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