An important part of coin collecting is knowing the terminology associated with the multitude of features of rare coins. The last thing you want is to approach a veteran numismatist about a potential rare coin purchase for your collection only to sound like an imbecile when pointing out attributes about the coin. This is a for sure way to lose your chance at many potentially great coin investments.
With that being said, as an entry-level numismatist, it’s time you get up to speed on the all of the basic terminology you need to know to go about coin collecting with a voice of certainty and knowledge. The basic foundation to this is getting a grasp on the anatomy of rare coins.
For a coin to be considered a coin, it has to contain contain three distinct features: the name of the issuing nation, the denomination, and the date. Additionally, however, minted coins also contain a number of other features that help distinguish them anatomically. Perhaps the most basic anatomical features to mention are devices and fields. Device denotes all of the design elements on a coin including portraits, pictures, and inscriptions; both the mint date and a leader’s face on the surface of a coin are considered devices. The field, on the other hand, is the background onto which the devices are added; this can be highly polished to add greater contrast and beauty to a coin.
For a coin to be considered a coin, it must contain three distinct features: the name of the issuing nation, a denomination (how much it is worth), and a date.
Additionally, however, coins also contain a number of other features that distinguish them anatomically.
Perhaps the most basic anatomical features to mention are devices and fields. Device pertains the main graphical design elements on a coin including portraits, pictures, and inscriptions.The field, on the other hand, is the background onto which the devices are added; this can be highly polished to add a greater level of contrast and beauty to a rare coin.
Coins generally have two sides (if you find one that has more, we’d be curious to see it), the front, or “heads” side, known as the obverse, and the reverse, often called the back or “tails” side. A coin’s obverse is usually distinguished by a portrait or depiction of an iconic person, or in the case of some older U.S. coins, the image of a personified Lady Liberty. One interesting feature of most coins is that they always remain rightside-up if flipped vertically; if flipped horizontally, however, the side you see will be upside-down.
The edge is the outer portion of a coin that you see when examining a coin from the side — the surface that the coin rolls on in other words. Edges usually consist of a chiseled pattern that may be reeded, lettered, or decorated.
Reeded edges are the lined edges you see on dimes and quarters. They were originally developed so that merchants could determine if people had been filing bits of precious metal off of the edges of their coins. Lettered and decorated edges usually include some kind of significant motto or motif of their originating country and can also be used as a form of security against coin counterfeiting as they are incredibly difficult to reproduce.
The rim is the raised portion along the outside border of a coin. Rims are often raised slightly above the highest portion of a coin’s relief to give the coin an embossed stroke of sorts that protects the coin’s devices from wear and also to aid in stacking.
The mint mark plays a major role in coin collecting because in most cases, you will set out to collect an entire set of a particular rare coin with each coin having their different respective mint marks. The mint mark is the small letter on the obverse of a coin that designated where the batch of coins was originally minted. Most rare U.S. coins will have been made in many, if not all, of the major minting branches throughout the country. The following are the different Mint Marks you can find on today’s U.S. coins:
Outside of U.S. coins, many ancient or foreign coins will feature a similar letter, or oftentimes a symbol, to convey the minting location.
Describing your coins to collectors can be a daunting endeavor if you don’t know the correct terminology that is used universally throughout the coin collecting and numismatic world. We hope that this basic guide to the anatomy of coins helps you to gather a better understanding of the terminology behind coin collecting. Now that you know what to look for when investigating potential rare coins to add to your personal collection, you can be better ensured that you are not only getting an authentic coin, but one that will serve you as a good investment.
If you would like more information on coin terminology or have general questions about coin collecting, reach out to the numismatists at Preferred Coin Exchange — your destination for the best rare coin dealers and coin collecting consultants.