Glossary of numismatics
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This glossary of numismatics is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to numismatics and coin collecting, as well as sub-fields and related disciplines, with concise explanations for the beginner or professional.
Numismatics (ancient Greek: νομισματική, meaning "monetary") 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 other types of money, such as banknotes, stock certificates, medals, medallions, and tokens (also referred to as exonumia).
Sub-fields and related fields of numismatics include:
- Exonumia, 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, the study of paper money or banknotes.
- Philately, the study of postage stamps.
- Scripophily, the study and collection of stocks and bonds.
- The filing down of a blank to the correct weight before striking, shown by file marks. File marks are often still visible on the surface of a coin even after being struck.
- alliance coinage
- Coins minted by two or more state governments in cooperation. Examples include the Euro coins.
- A homogeneous mixture of two or more chemical elements, where the resulting compound has metallic properties. Common coin alloys include cupro-nickel (copper and nickel) and bronze (copper and tin).
- altered date
- A false date put on a coin to defraud collectors, usually to make it appear more valuable. Such alterations are often easily spotted with the aid of a magnifying glass.
- anepigraphic coin
- A coin without an epigraph or inscription. Many ancient coins used only a simple picture of an animal to show value or weight.
- The process of repeatedly heating and cooling metal in order to relieve stresses. This is often done with coin blanks to make the metal less brittle before striking.
- A test to ascertain the weight and purity of a coin.
- An identifier of a coin, such as date, mint, denomination, or variety.
- bag mark
- A 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 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 also on silver coins which circulated in China and Japan, where they are referred to as chop-marks.
- base metal
- Any non-precious metal or that does not contain gold or silver. Common base metals used in coinage include nickel and copper.
- A raised dot border along the rim of a coin.
- A low-grade of gold or silver with a high percentage of another metal, usually copper. Billon is often produced in response to a sudden debasing of circulating silver coinage due to hyperinflation.
- A coin with one type of metal in the center with an outer ring of a different metal. Examples are the 1 and 2 Euro coins and the Canadian "toonie" two-dollar coin.
- 1. A prepared disk of metal on which the design for a coin will be stamped.
- 2. The un-struck or flat side of a coin or medal.
- A copper-based with zinc.
- Originally referring to metal wasted in coin production, now means coins struck when the previous coin remains stuck to a die, creating an incuse impression in the next struck coin (primarily found in ancient coins).
- A copper-based with tin.
- Precious metals (platinum, gold and silver) in the form of bars, ingots or plate, or in any context where weight is considered as a valuation.
- bullion coin
- Precious metals in the form of coins whose market value is determined by metallic content rather than scarcity.
- bullion value
- The current market value of the raw precious metal content of a coin. For example, the bullion value for Canadian silver coins minted between 1920 and 1966 is 12 times the face value when silver is $20.00 per troy ounce.
- business strike
- A coin intended for everyday use in commerce.
- A strong distinction in the surface appearance of foreground devices relative to the field. Proof coins often exhibit this feature.
- A unit measurement of the weight of precious stones. Usually marked c or car; 1 carat is equal to 200 milligrams. Not to be confused with the similar term , which is used exclusively 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. Modern counterfeit coins are often cast.
- One one-hundredth of the basic monetary unit of a currency system. Originally a Latin term, there are many variations in modern languages, including the English cent and Romance languages centavos, centimos, centesimos or centimes. Each of these units is valued at one one-hundredth of its corresponding base unit, such as the dollar, euro, peso, etc.
- certified coin
- A coin that has been graded and authenticated by one of numerous independent grading services. See also .
- See .
- church tokens
- Tokens generally issued initially by Scottish parishes (die stamped one-side only to show the parish) and later in the United States and Canada. They were square or oblong, made of lead, iron or brass and measured 1/4" to 1".
- A term used to indicate a coin that has wear.
- clad coinage
- Issues of coins that contain a center core and an outer layer of differing metals or alloys bonded together. The current U.S. Quarter, dime, and half dollar are made of cupronickel-clad copper.
- clipping coins
- Describes the removal of, usually, precious metal from the edge of a coin using shears or a similar tool for fraudulent purposes. The removed metal could be accumulated as bullion and sold or used to make counterfeit coins.
- coin alignment
- The term used to describe the positions of the (front) and (back) dies relative to each other. A medal alignment describes a coin struck so that when the "head" side is facing upright (i.e. not upside-down), and the coin is turned on its axis, the "tails" side is also facing upright. A coin alignment describes a coin struck so that when the "head" side is facing upright, the coin must be flipped top-to-bottom to see the "tails" side facing upright. Generally, Canadian coins are struck with medal alignment and U.S. coins are struck with coin alignment.
- The outer ring of the die chamber that holds the in place while the obverse and reverse are being stamped.
- contact marks
- Minor abrasions on uncirculated coinage created by contact with other coins. Also called .
- 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.
- A large coin often struck in precious metal. Modern crowns are usually not highly circulated due to being too large and/or too heavy. The United States' last crown-sized coin minted for circulation was the Eisenhower Dollar, last struck in 1978.
- A defect in which a coin has raised metal near its edge. It is caused by a chipped die.
- To lower the silver/gold value of the coin by altering its purity, but with the same face value as the pure coin. This often happens during periods of high inflation.
- Small, tooth-like projecting points on the inside edge of a coin.
- The artist or creator of a coin's design.
- A pattern or emblem used in the design of a coin.
- A metal piece engraved with the design used for stamping a coin.
- die clash
- Caused when a coin fails to be placed between two dies during the minting process, causing the 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 or .
- die crack
- A fine raised line on a coin that was caused by a crack in the die.
- die defect
- An imperfection of various sorts caused by a damaged die. May refer to a crack or clash or a chip out of the die, etc. A defect from a chipped die is called a .
- die marriage
- The combination of a particular and set of dies. If one die is replaced, a new die marriage is created.
- die state
- A variation in the appearance of a coin struck by a single , resulting from wear or alteration of the die. For example, the presence or absence of may signal a specific die state.
- die variety
- A minor variation in a die, including repunched mintmarks, doubling or deliberate minor changes to the die design.
- A coin issued in the United States worth $0.10 (ten ). While the term dime is American in origin, Canadians often use the term as well.
- The chemical cleaning of a coin with a diluted acid. This "cleanliness" is a result of the surface of the coin being dissolved by the acid. Dipped coins almost always have a lower numismatic value than when they were in their former "dirty" state, hence most numismatists do not recommend dipping or any other method of cleaning coins as doing so will likely reduce the coin's value.
- Double Eagle
- (U.S.A.) A gold coin struck in the United States from 1850 to 1933, worth $20.00 (twenty dollars).
- double strike
- A coin where a is struck, bounced, and then struck again slightly offset from first strike (common on ancient and medieval coins where hubs were not used), resulting in a coin with a "doubled" image.
- doubled die
- A that received two misaligned impressions from a hub; more commonly, a coin struck by such a die.
- The popular name of a Spanish gold coin originally valued at 4 dollars. The formal term was "2 escudos".
- (Australia) The centre of the with a value of fifteen pence.
- 1. (U.S.A.) A gold coin minted in the United States from 1795 to 1933, worth $10.00 (ten dollars).
- 2. (U.S.A.) A series of minted in the United States from 1986 through the present.
- The rim of a coin, often containing a series of reeds, lettering or other decoration.
- A large French silver coin made during the end of the monarchy. Also a proposed European currency unit.
- The image or likeness of a person, usually depicted on the of a coin or medal.
- A reproduction made by electrodeposition, frequently used in museum displays.
- An artificial or naturally occurring 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 , usually a .
- encapsulated coin
- A coin that has been authenticated, graded and enclosed in plastic by an independent service.
- A person who cuts the image of a design onto a .
- Usually a mismade 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 mismade coin errors are usually unique, but the engraving errors appear on all of the coins produced until the error is corrected. This may result in two or more of the coin in the same year.
- essai, essay
- A trial strike, also in currency a strike intended to test the design.
- A segment of a coin design separated by a line (usually indicating the ground in the design) in which a legend is placed/inscribed.
- face value
- The value that is written on a coin. For example, an American one-cent coin has a face value of 1 . A collectable coin or is usually worth many times its face value.
- Generally a representation of a rare or never-issued coin.
- The background area of a coin not used for a design or inscription.
- A coin that is very worn and/or damaged, but may still be included in a collection if it is a .
- Purity of precious metal content expressed in terms of one thousand parts, e.g. 90% pure is expressed as .900 fine. The purest gold bullion coin is .99999 fine.
- See .
- fleur de coin (FDC)
- A 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 from which it was minted. These factors are crucial for ancient coinage where variability was higher than in modern mints. See also .
- flip strike
- An error caused by the coin flipping over after being struck, and then struck a second time, resulting in each face of the coin showing a "ghost" of the opposite face.
- A coin of exceptionally high quality or good condition, such as Gem Uncirculated or Gem Proof.
- The condition of a coin or the amount of wear that a coin has received. Common grade terms used in North America, from worst to best, are Poor (Po), Fair (Fr), About Good (AG), Good (G), Very Good (VG), Fine (F), Very Fine (VF), Extra/Extremely Fine (EF or XF), Almost Uncirculated (AU), Uncirculated (UNC), and Brilliant Uncirculated (BU). Grading criteria may also include color, strength of strike, and "eye appeal".
- Fragments of cut and bent silver items that were used as bullion or as currency by weight in antiquity.
- A coin that has been struck by hand, using and a hammer.
- high relief
- A coin with the raised design high above the field. Coins struck in high relief often have problems with details not coming up sharp enough and dies having a shorter than usual lifespan. If the design is higher than the , the coin may not be stackable, and the highest points of the design will wear away very quickly.
- holey dollar
- (Australia) A Spanish eight-real coin with a hole in the centre, stamped with New South Wales 1813 on the and five shilling on the .
- A positive-image punch that impresses a coin's design onto a .
- Part of the coin's design that has been impressed below the surface (intaglio). Not as popular as the "relief" method due to the difficulty of striking clearly and the shorter lifespan of dies.
- A bar of pure metal formed by pouring the molten metal into a mould. It may be stamped with its weight and purity.
- Lettering or wording on a coin.
- intrinsic value
- The current market value of a coin based on its metallic content. For a coin struck on precious metals, this is the same as its .
- A unit measurement of the purity of gold. Usually marked K or k; 24K is pure gold, 18K is .750 fine. Not to be confused with the similar term , which is used with precious stones. Both terms 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", 1/6 of a scruple, which eventually became the standard of purity in Western Europe.
- key coin
- A rarer or higher valued coin within a series. As an example, 1923 and 1925 are key coins in the Canadian small cent series.
- A style of coin portraiture started in ancient Rome whose coins often showed the Emperor's head crowned with a laurel wreath. The American Barber coins from 1892 to 1915 and the first portrait of Queen Elizabeth II used in Great Britain from 1953 to 1967 are modern examples.
- legal tender
- Coins or currency which must be accepted in payment of debt.
- The principal on a coin.
- lettered edge
- The outside edge of a coin containing an .
- low relief
- A coin with the raised design not very high above the .
- The appearance of a coin's ability to reflect light; brilliance. Percentage of the original mint luster is one of the factors in determining grades of "Mint State" coins (e.g. MS-60, MS-65).
- master die
- An original from which working are made.
- Maundy money
- An annual gift made on Maundy Thursday of a set of pure silver coins made by the Royal Mint and distributed personally by the monarch to the poor of Canterbury. The number of sets distributed reflects the age of the monarch at the time.
- medal alignment
- A method of striking coins in which both the obverse and reverse dies are aligned in the same direction. Most Canadian coins are struck this way. Contrast .
- See .
- milled coinage
- Machine-struck coinage. In contrast to coinage and .
- milled edge
- The edge of a coin with grooved lines around the perimeter.
- mint error
- A defective coin produced by a mint.
- mint luster
- The shiny "frost" on the surface of an uncirculated or mint state coin.
- mint mark
- A small letter or other symbol inscribed on a coin, indicating at which the coin was struck. Examples are "S" for San Francisco on U.S. coins, or "A" for Paris on French coins.
- mint roll
- Newly minted coins wrapped in rolls of a certain quantity, by the mint or issuing authority.
- mint set
- A set of uncirculated coins packaged and sold by a mint.
- Mint State (MS)
- Another term for or , usually used in North America. Conditions range from MS-60 to MS-70.
- An off-centre striking of a coin.
- monster box
- A large plastic shipping box for silver bullion coins, holding 500 coins. U.S. are shipped in green monster boxes while Canadian Maple Leafs are shipped in red monster boxes.
- An inspirational phrase or wording. Examples include "In God We Trust" inscribed on U.S. currency, or "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" inscribed on French currency.
- A coin struck from two never intended to be used together.
- Non-circulating . These coins are issued in "limited editions" for collectors and are typically sold for far more than their . While these coins are technically legal tender, their usually far exceeds their face value.
- "emergency money" or "necessity money" refers to money issued by an institution in a time of economic or political crisis.
- The front or "heads" side of a coin.
- A date shown made by superimposing numbers on a previously dated .
- A coin in worse condition than stated.
- An impression with new dies on a previously struck coin.
- 1. A coin minted from official dies that is not a regular issue, and intended to evaluate new alloys or designs. Patterns can be divided in three categories.
- 2. 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.
- 3. Die trials: A coin made with the regular issue dies, in metals other than the proper. Usually minted to verify details of a new coin, value or design.
- 4. Experimental pieces: A 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.
- A surface film caused by oxidation, usually green or brown, mostly found on older silver, copper or bronze coins.
- A record of previous owners of a rare coin.
- A coin struck on a that is thicker than normal, typically twice as thick. "Piefort" is a common misspelling.
- A prepared piece of metal on which the coin is struck.
- The (front-side) image.
- A small mark, often hidden, on a coin, traditionally to indicate the mintmaster or moneyer.
- proclamation coins
- Coins declared even though they are not issued by the sovereign, but by another sovereign.
- Coins specially struck for collectors using polished and . The resulting coins usually have a mirror and raised areas are frosted in appearance.
- proof set
- A set of coins packaged and sold by the mint.
- punch mark
- A coin struck from "punching" the coin with symbols or a seal, e.g. 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.
- (U.S.A./Canada) A coin issued in the United States or Canada, worth $0.25 (twenty-five ). Short for "Quarter Dollar".
- Quarter Eagle
- (U.S.A.) A gold coin issued in the United States, worth $2.50 (two dollars and fifty ).
- A coin that has not been by any coin grading service.
- reeded edge
- See .
- The part of the coin's design that is raised above the , opposite of .
- A coin struck from genuine at a date later than the original issue. Some of the 1804 U.S. Silver Dollars were re-strikes.
- repunched date
- A coin variety on which the puncheon with which the date is applied to the has been used a second time, often to cover a first, failed attempt.
- The back or "tails" side of a coin. The opposite of .
- reverse proof
- A coin that has its frosted and the design and lettering with a mirror finish. Standard proof coins have the fields mirrored and the design and lettering frosted.
- The raised portion of the design along the edge that protects the coin from wear. It also makes the coins stackable and easy to roll by machine.
- A round, one-ounce piece, generally issued privately.
- A set of years in which a coin was minted with a specific design and denomination.
- One Roman scruple is equal to 1/24 Roman uncia; the modern (nominal) estimate of the weight of the Roman scruple is 1.125 grams.
- The difference between the of a money and the cost to produce and distribute it. When a government issues new coinage, it earns the seigniorage in profit (or loss if negative).
- silver dollar
- A one-dollar coin minted in the United States until 1935, and in Canada until 1967. Dollar coins made after those dates are also sometimes called "silver dollars", although they are actually made of nickel or other metal. Dollar coins struck in Canada since 1987 are more commonly referred to as loonies because of the loon design on the reverse.
- The plastic case containing a coin that has been and .
- Spanish dollar
- A coin issued in Spain and its colonies from 1497 to 1864, equal to eight reales. It was in the United States until 1857.
- spot price
- In numismatics quoted market value of one troy ounce of a precious metal in form.
- stainless steel
- An of iron, carbon and another element, usually chromium, that is resistant to rusting. Coins struck on stainless steel are very durable and maintain their shiny appearance, but the hardness of the metal requires that the coins have a low in order to prolong life.
- A privately issued piece that has redeemable value for goods or services but is not an official government coin. An example is a subway token.
- A brass that was used to make Canadian 5-cent coins in 1942 and 1943, during which there was a shortage of the usual nickel due to World War II. A shortage of copper forced a switch to chromium-plated steel in 1944.
- trade dollar
- issued specifically for trade with a foreign country.
- The sharply cut off bottom edge of a portrait or bust. The coin engraver's initials are often found on the truncation.
- A coin's basic distinguishing design.
- type set
- One of each coin of a particular design, series, or time period.
- A coin that has never been used, thus retaining all or most of its original .
- A coin struck with the design on one side only.
- A proposed United States gold coin worth $100 (one hundred dollars). Only one pattern "half union" is known to exist. Platinum $100 coins are not technically "unions".
- An item of which only one is known to exist.
- A coin struck on which the and are out of .
- Fine details of a coin's design which set it apart from the normal issue. Varieties arise as a result of intended or unintended alterations to the basic coin design that occur during the production stage.
- A grey, inexpensive metal, usually alloyed with copper to make brass coins, but also used in pure form for emergency coinage when the usual coinage metal is not available due to war or other serious crisis. Much of the coinage struck in Nazi-occupied Europe was tin-plated zinc.
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- Allen G. Berman. Warman's Coins And Paper Money: Identification and Price Guide. Penguin, 2008. ISBN 9781440219153
- Tenney, Mary McWhorter (1936), Communion Tokens: Their History and Use, With a Treatise on the Relation of the Sacrament to the Vitality and Revivals of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, pp. 11–16
- Jonathan Edwards. Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Coins in the Numismatic Collection of Yale College, Volume 2. Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1880. p. 228.
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