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Numismatic glossary



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This article is a collection of concise Numismatic and coin collecting terms for the beginner or professional.

Numismatics (ancient Greek: νομισματική) is the scientific study of money and its history in all its varied forms. While numismatists are often characterized as studying coins, the discipline also includes the study of banknotes, stock certificates, medals, medallions, and tokens (also referred to as Exonumia).

Sub-fields or related fields of numismatics are:

Exonumia - is the study of coin-like objects such as token coins and medals, and other items used in place of legal currency or for commemoration.

Notaphily - is the study of paper money or banknotes.

Scripophily - is the study and collection of stocks and bonds.

A [ top ]

Adjustment  The filing down of a blank to the correct weight before striking, shown by file marks.

Alliance coinage  Coins minted by two or more state governments in conjunction.

Alloy  Homogeneous mixture of two or more elements, where the resulting compound has metallic properties.

Altered Date  False date put on a coin to defraud collectors, usually to make it appear more valuable. Usually easily spotted with the aid of a magnifying glass.

Anepigraphic coin  Coin without an inscription.

Annealing  Process of heating and cooling metal in order to relieve stresses.

Assay  Test to ascertain the weight and purity of a coin.

Attribution  Identifier of a coin such as date, mint, or denomination.

B [ top ]

Bag Mark  Surface mark, or nick, on a coin usually from contact with other coins in a mint bag. More often seen on large gold or silver coins.

Banker's Mark  A small countermark applied to a coin by a bank or a trader indicating that they consider the coin to be genuine and of legal weight. Most often found on ancient and medieval coins, but most commonly on silver coins which circulated in China, where they are referred to as chop-marks.

Base metal  Non-precious metal or alloy containing no gold or silver.

Beading  Raised dot border along the rim of a coin.

Billon  Low-grade alloy of gold or silver with a high percentage of another metal, usually copper.

Bi-metallic  A coin with one type of metal in the center with an outer ring of a different metal, such as the Canadian "toonie" two-dollar coin.

Blank  Prepared disk of metal on which the coin design will be stamped. Also called a 'planchet'. In practice, 'Blank' is also referred to un-struck side of the coin.

Brass  Copper based alloy with zinc.

Brockage  Originally metal wasted in coin production, now coins struck when the previous coin remained stuck to a die, creating an incuse impression in the next struck coin (primarily found in ancient coins).

Bronze  Copper based alloy with tin.

Bullion  Precious metals (platinum, gold and silver) in the form of bars, ingots or plate, or where quantity is considered as a valuation.

Business Strike  A coin intended for everyday use in commerce.

C [ top ]

Carat  Unit measurement of the weight of precious stones. Usually marked 'c' or 'car'. 1 carat = 200 milligrams. Not to be confused with 'Karat' used with gold.

Cast Coins  Coins produced by pouring metal into a mold. Used for the first Ancient Roman bronze "As" coins and Chinese "cash" coins, but rarely used today.

Centum  One one-hundredth of the basic monetary unit from Latin, English cent, Romance languages centavos, centimos, centesimos or centimes usually one hundredth of a base unit like dollar, euro, peso etc.

Certified Coin  Coin that has been graded and authenticated by one of numerous independent grading services.

Circulated  Term used to indicate a coin that has wear.

Clad Coinage  Issues of coins that contain a center core and outer layer of differing alloys.

Collar  Outer ring of the die chamber that holds the blank in place while the obverse and reverse are being stamped.

Contact Marks  Minor abrasions on uncirculated coinage from contact with other coins.

Countermark or Counterstamp  Partial or complete over-stamping of a coin or token in order to change its value or issuing authority, or to display an advertisement, political slogan or symbol, etc. Stamping may consist of a number (value), symbol (authority), letters (advertisement or slogan), or any combination of the above.

Crown  Large coin often struck in precious metal. Modern crowns are usually not highly-circulated. The United States's last crown-sized coin for circulation was the Eisenhower Dollar, last struck in 1978.

D [ top ]

Debase  To lower the silver/gold value of the coin by altering its purity, but with the same market value as the pure coin.

Denticles  Small toothlike projecting points on the inside edge of coins.

Designer  Artist or creator of a coin's design.

Device  Pattern or emblem used in the design of a coin.

Die  Metal piece engraved with the design used for stamping the coin.

Die Clash  Caused when a blank coin planchet fails to be placed between two dies during the minting process, causing the empty dies to smash together. The design of one or both may impress into the opposite die, causing a "shadow" of the design to appear on subsequent coins minted with the damaged dies. The impact of the two dies may also result in die cracks or defects.

Die Crack  Fine raised line on a coin that was caused by a crack in the die.

Die Defect  Imperfection of various sorts caused by a damaged die. May refer to a crack or clash or a chip out of the die, etc.

Die Variety  Minor alteration in the basic design of a coin throughout its lifespan.

Dipped, Dipping  Chemical cleaning of a coin with a diluted acid. Common in the 1960s and '70's but it was discovered that dipping destroys the surface of the coin, thus dramatically reducing the coin's value.

Double Eagle (U.S.A)  United States gold $20 coin.

Example of extreme doubling on the date of a coinDouble strike  coin where a die struck, bounced, then struck again, offset from first strike (used for ancient coins where hubs were not used).

Double Die  Die that received two misaligned impressions from a hub; more commonly, a coin struck by such a die.

Doubloon  Popular name of a Spanish gold coin originally valued at 4 dollars.

Dump (Australia)  Centre of the holey dollar with a value of fifteen pence.

E [ top ]

Eagle (U.S.A)  United States $10.00 gold coin as well as all bullion pieces made from 1986 through the present.

Edge  Rim of a coin often containing a series of reeds, lettering or other decoration.

Ecu  Large French silver coin made during the end of the monarchy. Also proposed European currency unit.

Effigy  The image or likeness of a person, usually on the obverse of a coin or medal.

Electrotype  Reproduction made by electrodeposition frequently used in museum displays.

Electrum  Naturally or artificially occurring mixture of gold and silver used in some of the world's first coinage.

Elongated coin  An oval medalet produced by a roller die using a coin, token or medal as a planchet, usually a cent.

Encapsulated Coins  Authenticated, graded and preserved in plastic by an independent service.
Engraver  Person who cuts the image of a design onto a die.

Error  Usually a mis-made coin not intended for circulation, but can also refer to an engraving or die-cutting error not discovered until the coins are released to circulation. The mis-made coin errors are usually unique, but the engraving errors appear on all of the coins produced until the error is corrected.

Essai, Essay  A trial strike, also in currency a strike intended to test the design.

Exergue  A segment of the coin design separated by a line (usually indicating the ground in the design) in which a legend is placed/inscribed.

F [ top ]

Fantasy  Generally a representation of a rare or never issued coin.

Field  Background area of a coin not used for a design or inscription.

Filler  Coin that is very worn but rare enough for inclusion in a collection.

Fineness  Purity of precious metal content expressed in terms of one thousand parts. 90% is expressed as .900 fine.

Flan  Blank metal piece before striking, also called a planchet or blank.

Fleur de coin (FDC)  Coin of exceptionally high quality, where quality is determined not just by wear of the coin in circulation but also by the wear and artistic quality of the dies from which it was minted. These factors are crucial for ancient coinage where variability was higher than in modern mints.

G [ top ]

Gem  Coin of exceptionally high condition.

Grade  The condition of a coin or amount of wear that a coin has received. Common grade terms, from worst to best, are About Good (AG), Good (G), Very Good (VG), Fine (F), Very Fine (VF), Extra/Extremely Fine (EF), Almost Uncirculated (AU), Uncirculated (UNC), and Brilliant Uncirculated (BU).

H [ top ]

Hub  Positive-image punch that impress' the coins design onto a die.

Holey dollar (Australia)  Spanish dollar with a hole in centre, stamped with New South Wales 1813 on obverse and five shilling on reverse.

I [ top ]

Incuse  Part of the coins design that has been impressed below the surface (intaglio).

Gold ingots from the Bank of Sweden Ingot  Mass of pure metal from a mould with a certain value and purity.

Inscription  Lettering and wording on a coin.

Intrinsic Value  Current market value of the raw precious metal content of a coin.

K [ top ]

Karat  Unit measurement of the purity of gold. Usually marked 'K', or 'k'. 24K = pure gold, 18K = .750 fine. Not to be confused with 'Carat' used with precious stones. Note that both originally referred to the seed of the carob tree ('Ceratonia siliqua' or 'Siliqua Graeca'). A Roman coin called the solidus weighed 24 'carats' or 'siliquae', 1/6th of a scruple; this became the standard in purity in western Europe.

Key Coin  Rarest or highest valued coin within a series.

L [ top ]

Laureate  Head crowned with a laurel wreath.

Legal Tender  Coins or currency which must be accepted in payment of debt.

Legend  Principle inscription on a coin.

Lettered Edge  The outside edge of a coin containing an inscription.

Low Relief  A coin with the raised design not very high above the field.

Luster  Appearance of a coin's ability to reflect light; brilliance.

M [ top ]

Master die  Original die from which working dies are made.

Medal-coin; See also NCLT.

Milled Edge  Raised rim around the outer surface of a coin.

Defective coin produced by a mintMint Error  Defective coin produced by a mint.

Mint Luster  Shiny "frost" on the surface of an uncirculated or mint coin.

Mint Mark  Small letter (or other symbol) indicating which mint the coin was struck at.

Mint Roll  Uncirculated coins set wrapped by issuing authority of a certain quantity.

Mint Set  Set of uncirculated coins packaged and sold by the mint.

Mis-strike  Off centre striking of a coin.

Monster Box  Large plastic shipping boxes for silver bullion coins, holding 500 coins. US Silver Eagles are shipped in green monster boxes while Maple Leafs are shipped in red monster boxes.

Motto  Inspirational phrase or wording. Examples include "In God we Trust" on US coins or "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" on French coins.

Mule  Coin struck from two dies not intended to be used together.

N [ top ]

NCLT  Non circulating legal tender. 1 commemorative coins, 2 old coins, 3 rare coins, 4 restricted coins.

O [ top ]

Obverse  Front or face side of coin.

Overdate  Shown date made by superimposing numbers on a previously dated die.

Over Graded  Coin in worse condition than stated.

Overstrike  Impression with new dies on a previously struck coin.

P [ top ]

Regular coin, Essai (Pattern) and Piefort Pattern  The term "pattern" is used in numismatic world, to describe any coin minted from official dies that is not a regular emission, and intended to check or try out new metals, way of design or plan of coinage. Patterns can be divided in three categories:

Pattern: A coin which represents a new design, motto, or denomination, proposed but not adopted, at least for the same year. Most of the unadopted designs fit into this modality.

Die Trials: Coins made with the regular issue dies, in metals other than the proper. Usually minted to verify details of a new coin, value or design.

Experimental Pieces: Very similar process to "Die Trials", but with subtle differences. A coin minted with a die, official or not, to try a new metal, alloy, or shape.

Patina  Surface film caused by oxidation, usually green or brown, mostly found on older silver, copper or bronze coins.

Pedigree  Record of previous owners of a rare coin.

Piefort  A piece struck on a planchet twice or more the normal thickness. The French spelling used in Europe is piedfort.

Planchet  Blank prepared piece of metal on which the coin is struck.

Privy  Small mark, often hidden, on a coin, traditionally to indicate the mintmaster or moneyer.

Proclamation Coins  Coins declared legal tender even though they are not issued by the sovereign, but by another sovereign.

2002 Lincoln cent, Obverse, proof with cameo. Proof  Coins specially struck for collectors using polished dies and planchets.

Proof Set  Set of proof coins packaged and sold by the mint.

Punch Mark  Coin struck from 'punching' the coin with symbols or seal. Ex: Five Punch Marked coins of ancient India. Punch Marks generally represent animals, tree, hills, and human figures. These coins were issued by royal authority and generally marked with banker's punches on the reverse.

Q [ top ]

Quarter (U.S.A./Canada)  United States or Canada $0.25 coin. Short for Quarter Dollar.

Quarter Eagle (U.S.A)  United States $2.50 coin.

R [ top ]

Raw  Coin that has not been encapsulated by any coin grading service.

Reeded Edge  Edge of a coin with grooved lines around the perimeter. Also known as a milled edge.

Relief  Part of the coin's design that is raised above the field.

Re-strike  Coin struck from genuine dies at a date later than the original issue.

Reverse  Back side of the coin. Opposite of 'Obverse'.

Rim  Raised portion of the design along the edge that protects the coin from wear.

Round  Round one ounce silver bullion piece.

S [ top ]

Series  Set of years coin was minted with a specific design and denomination.

Scruple  One Roman scruple = 1/24 Roman uncia; the modern (nominal) estimate of the weight of the Roman scruple is 1.125 g.

Slab  Plastic case containing a coin that has been graded and encapsulated.

Spanish dollar  Coin issued in Spain and its colonies from 1497 to 1864. Equal to 8 Reals. Also known as a 'Piece of Eight'.

Spot Price  Quoted market value of precious metals in bullion form.

Stainless Steel  A combination of iron, carbon and another element, usually nickel, to prevent rusting.

T [ top ]

A rare and historic Bechuanaland Border Police canteen token. Token  Privately-issued piece that has redeemable value for goods or services, but not an official government coin.

Trade Dollar  Silver dollar issued specifically for trade with a foreign country.

Truncation  Sharply cut off bottom edge of a portrait or bust.

Type  Coin's basic distinguishing design.

Type Set  One of each coin of a particular design, series or period.

U [ top ]

Uncirculated  Coin that has never been used, thus retaining its original luster.

Uniface  A coin struck with the design on one side only.

Union  A proposed United States gold coin worth one hundred dollars. Only one pattern 'half union' is known to exist. Platinum $100 coins are not technically 'unions'.

Unique  Item of which only one is known to exist.

Upset  A coin struck which the obverse and reverse are at different angles to each other.

V [ top ]

Variety  Coin's design that sets it apart from the normal issue.

Y [ top ]

Year Set  Set of coins for any specific year containing one of each denomination of that year.


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