Coin Term Dictionary
Dictionary of Numismatic terms:
Below is a glossary of the more commonly encountered Numismatic terms used in the buying and selling of coins. I have concentrated on terms that relate mainly to British coins but coins being all fairly similar you will find they relate to many other coin types.
Illustration 1: The major part of a coin.
Illustration 2: 41mm Cartwheel Twopenny showing Incuse lettering on a raised thick rim.
Illustration 3: Bristol and South Wales Penny token 1811.
(c) Chris Perkins. 23rd July 2003, updated 28th July 2015.
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AE - Abbreviation of Latin aes, an ancient word for copper or coins made of a copper alloy (e.g. Brass or Bronze).
Ag (or sometimes AR) - Abbreviation of Latin Argentum, an ancient word for silver.
AU - Normally referred to as AUNC in UK grading and AU using the American system. Both mean 'About Uncirculated' but the UK grade is a little higher up the scale than the US version. The US version equates to a Good Extremely fine. Please see the UK/US conversion chart here.
Au - Abbreviation of Latin Aurum, an ancient word for gold. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page. (In case you are unaware of what gold looks like!)
Anepigraphic - Coin or medal with no legend.
Bag Marks - When coins are struck they usually fall straight into bags and are transported to banks and shops for distribution. Even though the coins in the bags are Uncirculated they often pick up 'Bag marks' from knocking and rubbing each other in the bag. Usually larger coins tend to have more bag marks because they are heavier, hit each other with more force and have more area to be marked. Collectors will allow for bag marks but often examples that are bag mark free will be worth slightly more.
Base Metal - A non precious metal. For example copper or bronze. All the current coins circulating in most countries (Including Great Britain) are made by alloying 2 or more base metals.
Beading - The tiny dots usually found around the rim of a coin.
Billon - Silver alloy containing less than 50% silver.
Bi-metallic - A coin made of 2 different metals. For example the current UK Two Pound coin, or the 1 and 2 Euro Coins.
Blank - Sometimes called a planchet. Simply the piece of metal before any design is struck onto it. Usually just a simple metal disc and often specially prepared by another company for delivery to the mint.
Blundered Inscription - A mistake made with the writing on a coin. Sometimes due to the illiteracy of the person making the dies (often the tribes that copied the Roman and Greek ancient coins) or more recently an error.
Brilliant Uncirculated - Also called BU. A grade that usually denotes an Uncirculated coin full full mint lustre. See the grading page
Britannia - The Roman name for 'Great Britain'. Just as Germania was Germany and Hibernia was Ireland. Britannia was first represented on Roman coinage by a lady usually holding a shield and with a sea behind her. British coins have featured many different style Britannia's over the years and the only currently circulating Britannia can be seen on the back of the UK 50p coin.
Cabinet Friction - Sometimes a coin that looks in nearly mint condition but has a slight rub on it will be termed as suffering from 'Cabinet Friction'. In other words it's pretty much perfect but has a slight sign of friction on its surface that is probably due to the way it was stored and not wear from circulation.
Cartwheel - A name for the large British Penny and Twopenny struck in Birmingham and dated 1797. So called due to the large rim around the edge and the resemblance to a Cartwheel. Shown in Illustration 2, top of page.
Chevron Milling - A coin with chevron shaped edge milling as opposed to the usual small straight ridges. Not widely used today but originally intended to deter counterfeiting.
Choice Uncirculated - A grade sometimes used to refer to an Uncirculated coin that's slightly better than most, ie with fewer bag marks and strongly struck.
Clipping - The practice of clipping off a portion of a usually silver coin. During Tudor times especially, coins were very thin and people would remove a part of the coins silver from the edge and then pass the coin on for it's full face value. When you had made enough clippings you could then melt down the silver and make a little extra cash by selling it as scrap silver. Major clippings on coins often make them worth less to collectors.
Coin Weight - A round disc, usually of brass that had an identical weight to a certain coin. Used to check the weight of the coin and verify if it's genuine or not.
Collar - The metal ring that holds the coin blank while it's being struck. If the collar is plain the edge of the coin will be plain, but collars are often used for imparting designs, lettering etc on coin edges.
Commemorative - A coin struck to commemorate an event, usually a coronation, jubilee, Royal event or Important person. Commemorative coins usually do not circulate but have a monetary face value. An example of which is the British Millennium Crown which had a face value of 5 Pounds but was not intended to be spent.
Conder Token - The name given to privately issued British tokens mainly in the late 1700's and 1810's. Almost all had face values of a Farthing, Halfpenny and Penny and were issued because small change was very hard to come by at the time. Conder was the name of the man who first catalogued this large array of token issues. Shown in Illustration 3, top of page.
Conjoined - Two or more busts shown facing the same way with one on top of the other. The only British example of this is William and Mary 1688-94.
Contemporary Forgery - A forgery of a coin intended to fool the public at the time the coin was in circulation.
Copper Nose - The late Henry VIII silver coins were so debased that often the copper was exposed under the silver and Henry VIII became known as 'Old Copper nose'.
Copper-nickel - An alloy of Copper and Nickel. See Cupro-Nickel.
Counterfeit - A fake coin made without official recognition and resembling a real coin.
Countermark - A mark stamped on an existing coin usually to indicate a new value. The best British example is the Spanish American coins that were stamped with the image of George III (1760 - 1820) and made legal tender in Great Britain as a dollar (4s 9d) in the late 1700's.
Cruciform Shields - 4 shields in the form of a cross. The most recent British example is probably the florins of George V (1911-36).
Cupro-nickel - A mixture of Copper and nickel used to make many current coins including all the silver coloured current British coins (5p, 10p, 20p, 50p). First used in Great Britain after the use of silver was completely stopped in 1947.
Debasement - The issuing authority uses less or no more precious metal in a coin but retains the coins face value. Doesn't happen much nowadays because no circulating British coins contain any precious metals. The last time it happened was when silver was removed completely from British silver coins in 1947 and replaced by an alloy of copper and nickel.
Decimalisation - Great Britain was decimalised in 1971. In other words switched to currency ordered in multiples of ten. See how it used to be when Great Britain and Northern Ireland was predecimal.
Demonetised - When a coin or currency is no longer legal tender. A British example is when the Half Pence was demonetised in 1984 due to it's low value and an even more recent example is when many European currencies were demonetised and replaced by the Euro currency in 2002.
Device - The part of a coin, usually on the reverse that is not a bust or lettering. Example, the Portcullis device on British One Penny coins. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Die Axis - The angle at which the top and bottom coin dies oppose each other when the coin is struck. All circulating British coins are up/up. In other words you can hold a coin by the top and bottom, turn it around and the other side is up the correct way up. The other main die axis is when you hold a coin by the top and bottom, turn it around and the other side is upside down. I represent this 180 degrees rotation by the term up/down. During ancient times coins often had random die rotation depending on how the dies were placed before striking.
Die Variety - Because dies wear out often different pairs are used to strike coins and a coin of one type can be circulated with a slight die variety. The variety can be a very minor difference that you would never notice if you didn't know it existed! Some collectors are keen to collect all the known die varieties of certain coin types.
Die Wear - Dies that get worn through use will start to strike coins with less definition and the coins that are weakly struck due to die wear will often sell for lower than better struck coins.
Die - The metal object bearing a negative image that is used to strike coins with heavy force and impart its design on the coin in the positive. Coins all need 2 dies, one for the Obverse and one for the Reverse.
Edge Inscription - The words on the edge of a coin. A modern example is the edge of British One pound coins which bears a different inscription each year.
Edge Nicks - Edge damage caused to a coin at the same time as bag marks occur and for the same reasons.
Edge Plain - A plain edge with no ridges or words, like for example the British 2p coin.
EF (Extremely Fine) - A grade, see the grading page
Effigy - The name given to the Head on the obverse of a coin. For example the Effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on all current British coins. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
English Shilling - In 1937 to honour the Scottish background of Queen Elizabeth (The late Queen Mother) 2 different Shillings were introduced, one to represent Scotland and the other England. This practice continued until the end of the Shilling denomination in 1966 (and then again in the 1970 proof sets)
Engraving - The engraving of the dies with the negative coin image.
Error - A mistake on a coin. Anything from being struck slightly off centre to being made of the wrong metal or wrong size. Often error coins sell for much more than normal ones.
Exergue - The area of the coin usually below the main design on the reverse separated by a line and usually containing the date. A good example would be a Pre-decimal British penny. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
F (Fine) - A grade, see the grading page.
Fair - A grade, see the grading page.
Fantasy - Usually a representation of a rare or never issued coin. A good example are the recent fantasy coins of Edward VIII, created in limited numbers, of good quality and designed to fill collectors album holes as the very few contemporary Edward VIII are out of the reach of 99.9% of collectors due to price.
FDC - Abbreviation for Fleur de Coin.
Field - The blank flat part where no design or lettering is present. On proof coins this part is usually mirror like. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Filler - A coin in bad condition bought just to fill a hole in a collection due to its date and usually until a better example can be found.
Fillet - A name for a head band. On some Victorian coins there are varieties where the Queen wears a slightly different fillet combination.
Flan - The blank after it has been struck.
Fleur de Coin - A French term denoting an Uncirculated coin. I personally use it to represent the highest possible grade. A coin perfect in every way. Needless to say there are very few coins that are perfect in every way and this term is mainly used to refer to specially struck proof coins.
Frosting - Frosting is used on the non field parts of many proof coins to produce a beautiful contrast between the mirror like fields and the frosted design parts. Shown clearly in the picture.
G (Good) - A grade, see the grading page.
Ghosting - The reason a coin will sometimes show a faint sign of one sides design on the other. The best example are the early pennies of George V where the head is nearly always visible behind Britannia on the reverse. Ghosting is due to the dies hitting each other without a blank in place. See example.
Grade - The name of the condition of the coin depending on how much wear is in evidence. Grading coins properly is not easy and usually is the main factor of a coins price and demand.
Graining - The usual American name for the ridged 'Milled' type edge.
Hammered - The name given to coins created by placing the blank between the two dies and hitting the top die with a hammer, by hand to impart the image on the coin. Until the recent invention of powered machinery to strike coins, hammering by hand was the only way a coin could be made.
Heaton Mint - Represented by a small 'H' to the left of the date on certain British George V pennies. A company in Birmingham that not only was commissioned to make British coins but also struck many coins for other countries (mainly colonial).
Holed - The name given to a coin with a hole in it! Usually because it has been used as jewellery in the past. Needless to say collectors don't often want coins with holes in them unless that's how they were made.
Hybrid - Another name for a mule.
Imitation Money - A copy of a coin not intended to deceive and usually to be used by children as play money.
Incuse - A element of design or lettering that is in a sunken form, ie not raised. A good example is the incuse lettering around the edge of a Modern British One pound or two pound coin. (on some two pound coins it reads 'Standing on the shoulders of giants'). The lettering is also incuse on the raised rim of the Cartwheel Pennies and Twopennies. Shown in Illustration 2, top of page.
Intrinsic - The value of the metal in the coin and nothing to do with the face value. With bullion gold coins they are usually worth their intrinsic metal value (or bullion value) and are not wanted by collectors unless a rare type. In days gone the intrinsic value of a coin was identical to its face value.
Key Date - A difficult to find date of an otherwise fairly easy series. Examples are the 1946 and 1949 Threepences and most of the 1905 silver coins. Click here to see the British key date coins from 1821 - 1970.
Kings Norton Mint - Represented by a small 'KN' to the left of the date on certain British George V pennies. Another company in Birmingham that not only was commissioned to make British coins but also struck many coins for other countries (mainly colonial).
Laureate - The name given to a bust of a usually male person (usually The King) with a laurel of leaves places on his head in a Roman style. The last British coinage example was George IV (1820-30) on his early coinage. Shown on George III in Illustration 2, top of page.
Legend - The name given to the writing on the coin. Usually consisting of Latin abbreviations. For example on a Victorian Young head bronze Half Penny the obverse legend is 'VICTORIA D:G: BRITT: REG: F: D:' Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Low Relief - A coin with low relief is one with the raised design not protruding as much as is usual.
Low Tide - A variety of British penny and half penny struck only in a few years (end of 1800's and beginning of 1900's) with a lower tide behind Britannia. This variety is less common than the standard tide level.
Lustre - The bright new tone coins have when they have just been struck resulting from the centrifugal flow of metal caused by striking. Over time through handling and wear coins usually loose this lustre. Once it's lost it cannot be replaced and coins with some or all original mint lustre will usually sell for more.
Matt Proof - A proof finish that leaves a dull surface on the coin as opposed to the usual mirror like finish. This was used on some coronation year coins of Edward VII (1902-10) and was repeated on other proofs in later years, all of which are extremely rare.
Maundy Money - Every year on Maundy Thursday the monarch gives sets and odd coins with a face value of her age to the same number of men and women as he/she has years. Each set has a face value of 10 pence and consists of a 4 pence, 3 pence, 2 pence and 1 pence. The coins are small silver coins and are not normally circulated.
So for example when the Queen was 71 she gave 71 men and 71 women 71 pence each (7 sets and the odd penny each). When the tradition started the money was given to the poor and represented quite a significant sum. Nowadays 10p isn't a lot but the ceremony continues and the sets are of course worth much more than 10p each!
Milled - A machine struck coin. Also the name of the ridged edges that could first be produced with coins that were milled (also called graining). Shown on many modern coins including the modern British 5p and 10p coins.
Mint - Sometimes a name used for a coin that is in 'Mint' (or as struck) condition. Usually used by novices as the official Uncirculated and other grades are preferred. Also the name of the place where the coins are Minted. ie the Royal Mint in Wales.
Mintage - A number that is a count of the number of coins struck. For example the mintage of the 1888 Shilling is 4,526,856.
Mintmark - Sometimes called a privy mark. Any kind of mark put on a coin when struck to indicate usually the place of striking, the person in charge of striking it, the company responsible or even the die type used. The best British examples are some of the Pennies of George V which have either an 'H' or 'KN' next to the date to indicate they were not struck at the Royal mint. (See Heaton Mint and Kings Norton mint)
Mirror Finish - When the blank and die are polished prior to striking, it produces a coin with a highly reflective surface. Usually only seen on the field area of proof coins or to a lesser extent perhaps to the first coins struck with a new die.
Misstrike - An coin that has not been struck properly.
Modified Effigy - A modification of the Monarchs Effigy. Usually only used when referring to the minor changes to George V' bust in 1926 in an attempt to reduce the ghosting on the coins.
Mounted - A coin that has either been secured in a bezel or has been somehow mounted in a ring or for use as jewellery. Previously mounted coins are always damaged by their mounting and often result in a lower price.
Mule - A mule is the name given to a coin that either on purpose or by mistake ended up being struck with a pair of dies that were not intended to be used together. A very good example, and certainly topical at the time of writing is the British Twopence which was struck in 1983 with the older 'New Pence' type reverse in error. This mule coin is very rare and never normally found in change! Read about it here.
Mute - A 'silent' coin. Same as Anepigraphic.
Non Circulating Legal Tender - or NCLT. A coin struck by the national issuing authority mainly to be sold to collectors. The coins also have a face value and can be spent in the country of issue. As they normally cost more than face value this doesn't often happen. Numerous British examples have been made for a considerable time now and include the Gold and Silver Britannia series and all the recent commemorative Crown coins.
Numismatics - The study of money or means of exchange. Usually exclusively used for the study of coins and tokens.
Obverse - Technically the side of the coin that is uppermost when the coin is struck but usually referred to as the side of the coin with the 'Head' on it. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Off Metal Strike - A coin struck either in error or deliberately on a different than usually used metal. An example of which would be the British Five pence I was recently offered that had been struck on a bronze Two pence blank in error! Off metal strikes are usually worth more than normal coins.
One Year Type - A major coin type (not normally a commemorative) that was only issued in one year. An example that comes to mind is the British Crown of 1902 which was only struck in 1902.
Ornamental Trident - A variety of the trident held by Britannia on some Victorian Copper coins.
Overdate - To save money and time, rather than altering a date on a die, the date was often changed instead of a bran new die being created. On some coins it is possible to see traces of the old date on the coin.
Overstrike - When a coin is made by striking an existing coin. The main British example is the George III Bank of England dollar which was struck on a Spanish coin. Not to be confused with a countermark an overstrike is a full re strike. Coins that show traces of the host coin are usually worth more.
Patina - The often dark green tone found on especially Roman and ancient bronze coins. A coin with an even patina will be worth more than a coin that has been scrubbed to bare metal. Patinas vary in colours, usually due to the chemical make up of the soil the coin was found in.
Pattern - A proposed design of a coin that may, or may not have been chosen to be circulated at a later date. A number of Edward VIII pattern coins were produced for testing but when the King abdicated a few of these pattern pieces 'escaped'. There are also very rare patterns of the 1933 Penny.
Piedfort - A coin that is struck on a thicker blank than is usual. Recently the Royal mint starting striking Silver Piedfort coins, these have proved popular with collectors. It fascinating to see a coin twice or more times it's normal thickness!
Pile - The die at the bottom of the coin when the coin is hammered. Usually it was pointed so it would stay located.
Pitting - Small holes in the surface of a coin or die, often caused by a damaged die or even blank.
Plain Edge Proof - Some proof coins were only struck with a plain edge to differentiate them from the usual circulated striking with a milled edge, others were only struck with plain edges, like the 1937 George VI (1937-52) gold coins. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Planchet - French name for a blank.
Plug - Often a gold coin that has been holed will have the hole filled with a plug of gold so the coin appears more collectable (although not normally to deceive). Some old coins made of tin were also plugged with a small piece of copper to make forgery harder.
Posthumous issue - Coins featuring a dead King or Queen. King George V died in the January of 1936 so it is likely that most of the 1936 coins that bear his portrait were posthumous issues.
Proof - A coin struck with specially prepared dies and blanks to give a usually mirror like finish and far superior in quality to any circulated coin. Often confused as a grade, when it is actually a quite different type of coin.
Prooflike - A coin that looks like a proof but isn't really. A great British example that is often confused as a proof is the 1951 Festival of Britain crown.
Puncheon - A commonly used section of design that may be used on one or more different dies. For example the Queens head that is used on British coins is also used on Australian coins and it therefore would make sense to use a Punch to impart the same image of the Queen on the Australian used die instead of creating the Australian die from the start.
Raised Edge Proof - A Proof coin with raised (not incuse) lettering. Mainly used to refer to the 1935 Raised lettering George V Jubilee coin.
Reducing Machine & the Reduction Process - In modern times the engraver of the coin does not work on a tiny piece of metal, he or she engraves a huge round bit of plaster. When finished a reducing machine is used to create a coin sized image of the design which is then used to make the dies.
Reeding - Another name for the small grooves on some coins, also called milling and graining.
Regnal Date - The number of years the Monarch has been King or Queen for. Used occasionally on modern British coins, especially on the Crowns of Queen Victoria.
Relief - The raised part of the coin that is not the flat field or the rim.
Reverse - Technically the side of the coin that is face down when the coin is struck but usually (and correctly) used to describe the 'Tail' side which doesn't have the monarch on it and is usually considered of less importance than the 'Head'. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Rim - The side or edge of the coin. Collectable coins should only be handled by the rim to minimise damage caused by chemicals in human hands. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Rust Marks - A coin that has been struck with dies that have begun to rust or corode will show pitting after being struck and the marks are often called die rust marks.
Scottish Shilling - A shilling variety issued from 1937 - 1966 (and again in the 1970 proof set) see English Shilling.
Series - The name given to a date run of usually identical coins. For example the Edward VII Penny series consists of the dates 1902-10 inclusive.
Specimen Set - A set of non proof coins usually of one date and boxed. Struck to be sold to collectors or for presentation purposes and not for circulation.
Specimen - A single non proof coin. Struck to be sold to collectors or for presentation purposes and not for circulation.
Sterling - The most common British silver standard which is .925 fine (92.5%) silver and contains 75 parts per 1000 of other alloys. Also the name given to the British Pounds currency (Pounds Sterling)
Tanner - A slang name for a predecimal sixpence coin.
Tie - The knot in the ribbon on the back of the monarchs head.
Token - A privately issued coin which stands for a normal coin value. Often they are not legal tender but have been widely accepted locally due to the shortage of proper regal coinage. See also Condor Tokens.
Toning - The name given to what happens to the colour of a coin over time. Often silver coins will tone beautifully and show traces of blues and purples. Normally worn coins do not get a chance to tone.
Toothed - Usually referring to the border of the coin with miniature toothed like pattern around the rim. Similar to beading and shown on the picture at the top of the page but the teeth are 'attached' to the rim.
Truncation - The base area of the 'Head' on a coin. Shown in Illustration 1, top of page.
Type Coin - Some collectors collect type coins to represent a whole series of coin dates. For example to represent the series of Edward VII Pennies (1902-10) just two type coins would be needed... One from anywhere in that range and the slightly different 1902 low tide variety. The collector now has all the Edward VII penny types.
Unc (Uncirculated) - A grade, see the grading page
Uniface - A coin with a design on just one side. Normally as a pattern or trial piece.
Unique - Only one example known
Unpublished Variety - A variety of a coin that is not listed in any major coin publication. For example the 1927 British Half penny I have that has a milled edge and seems to have been struck on a shilling sized piece of metal!
VF (Very Fine) - A grade, see the grading page
Weak Strike - A coin struck with insufficient pressure resulting in the design elements showing less detail than they should. Sometimes a coin that is struck weakly will appear to be in a lower grade than it actually is and it takes year of coin collecting to tell a weakly struck EF coin from a well struck VF example!
Further discussion on any of the entries on this page can be initiated in the Forum.
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