Glossary of Coin Terms

Coin collectors have a vocabulary they use to describe the coins they collect. Learning the lingo will help you clearly communicate with other coin collectors (numismatists). If I missed a term, please say so in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.

A

Abrasion – marks, scrapes, scuffs on the surface of the coin.

Ag – abbreviation for silver.

Alloy – a mixture of metals.

Alteration – physically changing the coin. This can be for the purposes of fraud, changing the date or mint mark to make it more valuable. Or it can be for the purposes of creating art or simply to string a necklace through the coin.

Authentic – a coin that has been verified by a certification or grading company. A coin that has been authenticated should come with a certificate of authenticity (COA).

Au – abbreviation for gold.

B

Bar – a precious metal in the form of an ingot.

Barber – Dimes, quarters and half dollars from the era of Charles E. Barber, Chief Engraver of the US Mint, are named after him.

Bicentennial – coins minted in 1976 on the 200th anniversary of the United States.

Bit – a unit of measurement equal to 1/8… which is the same as 1 piece of eight (piece of eight… 1 of 8… 1/8… get it?).

Blank – the piece of metal they stamp to make a coin. It’s also called a planchet.

Blemish – a flaw on the surface of the coin.

Broad strike – a coin with an error. When a coin is broadstruck the collar die is missing, causing the coin to be slightly off center, part of the design detail will be missing, and the coin will be sightly distorted.

BU – abbreviation for the coin grading term Brilliant Uncirculated.

Buffing – polishing a coin to “enhance” it’s appearance. Don’t do this.

Bullion – precious metal like silver, gold, or platinum in the form of coins, ingots, bars, etc.

Bullion coin – coins made of silver, gold, or platinum.

Business strike – coins produced for general circulation. As opposed to proofs or special collector coins.

Bust – the head portrait on a coin.

C

Cast coin – a technique for making coins involving pouring molten metal into a coin mold, as opposed to striking the a coin blank with dies.

Carson City Mint – A branch of the US Mint located in Carson City Nevada. Coins minted here will bear the CC mint mark.

Centered – describes how well the blank was centered in the die when it was struck. If the rim has a uniform width all around it’s said to be well centered.

Certified – a coin that has been professionally graded and certified. Often they come with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA).

Charlotte Mint – a US Mint branch location in Charlotte North Carolina identified by the mint mark “C”.

Circulation – coins in the public money supply. Any coin that shows wear is considered circulated.

Clad – the process of covering one type of metal with another type of metal. For example, a copper core with an outer layer of nickel is a clad coin. Most modern coins are clad.

Colonials – coins produced when the US was a collection of colonies.

Coppers – slang for copper coins like large cents.

Counterfeit – a fake.

Counter mark – a coin that is intentionally marked by the government.

D

Denver Mint – branch of the US Mint in Denver Colorado. Coins minted here will bear the “D” mint mark… but so will coins made in Dahlonega Georgia. See this guide on mint marks.

Denomination – the amount or value of the coin: cent, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar.

Denticles – a pattern along the inside rim of coin resembling teeth.

Disme – the French version of 1/10… some old coins still says “disme” but we eventually dropped the “s” and called it a “dime”.

Doubloon – a Spanish gold coin.

Double Eagle – a twenty dollar gold piece.

E

Eagle – a $10 gold coins minted prior to 1932…  not to be confused with the post 1986 gold bullion “American Eagle”

Edge – the side of the coin. Most modern coins have a reeded (ridges) edge, but some special coins will have lettering or designs, some old coins will have smooth or plain edges.

Eisenhower Dollar – or “Ike” dollars feature President Dwight Eisenhower and were made from 1971-1978.

Error Coin – a coin that was made with a defect.

Extra Fine – a coin grade. If a coin is in extra fine condition you’ll be able to make out all the lettering and details, only wear on the higher points of the coin.

F

Face Value – the amount of money marked on the coin… not what it’s worth to a collector but what you could spend it on if you bought a coffee.

Fair – a grade given to a coin showing heavy wear. Some details and lettering of the coin may not be visible.

Fine – a grade given to a coin where most of the details are visible but the details won’t be crisp. It shows some signs of wear.

Fine Gold – gold that’s been refined to be 99.9% pure. Modern American Gold Eagles are .999 fine gold but older gold coins were not 99.9% pure gold… more like 90%.

Fineness – a scale for the purity of the metal with 1.000 being 100% pure. Modern gold and silver coins have a fineness of .999 whereas old gold coins might be .900.

G

Gem – a grade for a coin in perfect condition.

Gem BU – see the term “gem” above, the BU stands for “Brilliant Uncirculated”.

Gold Eagle – usually refers to the post-1986 “American Eagles” US gold bullion coins.

H

Half Eagle – the nickname for the $5 gold coin minted from 1795 to 1929.

Hammer Die – a top metal stamping piece containing the coin design that will strike the blank. The bottom die is called the “anvil die”.

Hammered Coin – a coin that was struck by a person swinging a hammer. This was the standard method for striking coins before the invention of the coin press in the 1700’s.

Head – often referred to as the “obverse” or front of the coin.

I

Ingot – a chunk of gold usually in bar form.

Ike Dollar – a dollar coin featuring President Dwight Eisenhower made from 1971-1978.

Inscription – the words on a coin.

Inverted Date – an error coin where the date is upside down or backwards.

J

Junk Silver – commonly circulated silver coins that aren’t worth much more than their weight in silver.

K

Kennedy Half Dollar – a half dollar coin first minted in 1964 featuring President John F. Kennedy.

Key Date – a rare year for a coin that make sit more valuable to collectors.

L

Lettered Edge – writing on the edge of the coin.

Liberty Head – used to refer to coins featuring the Statue of Liberty.

M

Mercury Dime – nickname for a silver dime minted from 1916-1945 featuring a winged Liberty Head that resembled the Roman god Mercury.

Mint – the place where coins are made. It can also be used to refer to the condition of the coin… mint meaning uncirculated.

Mint Mark – a letter on the coin that identifies the location it was made.

Mintage – the number of coins produced.

Morgan Dollar – silver dollars minted between 1878-1904, 1921 designed by George T. Morgan.

MS Scale – a coin grading scale that goes from 1-70 with 70 being a perfect coin. Th “MS” stands for “Mint State”.

Numismatics – the study or collecting of currency.

Numismatists – the people who study or collect currency.

O

Obverse – the front (usually a head) side of the coin. This other side is called the Reverse.

Off Center – error coin situation where the coin is not aligned in the die when struck causing an off-center design on the coin. Parts of the design may be missing depending on how off-center the coin was when struck.

Over Strike – error coin where the blank is accidentally struck twice.

 

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