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:
A test to ascertain the weight and purity of a coin.
An identifier of a coin, such as date, mint, denomination, or variety.
Also called a contact 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.
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 also on silver coins which circulated in China and Japan, where they are referred to as chop-marks.
A low-grade alloy 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.
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).
Precious metals in the form of coins whose market value is determined by metallic content rather than scarcity.
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.
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.
A coin that has been graded and authenticated by one of numerous independent grading services. See also encapsulated coin.
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.
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.
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.
The term used to describe the positions of the obverse (front) and reverse (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 blank in place while the obverse and reverse are being stamped.
Minor abrasions on uncirculated coinage created by contact with other coins. Also called bag marks.
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.
A metal piece engraved with the design used for stamping a coin.
Caused when a coin planchet 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 die cracks or defects.
A fine raised line on a coin that was caused by a crack in the die.
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 cud.
The combination of a particular obverse and reverse set of dies. If one die is replaced, a new die marriage is created.
A variation in the appearance of a coin struck by a single die, resulting from wear or alteration of the die. For example, the presence or absence of die cracks may signal a specific die state.
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 cents). 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.
A coin where a die 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.
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 varieties of the coin in the same year.
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 dies from which it was minted. These factors are crucial for ancient coinage where variability was higher than in modern mints. See also grade.
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".
A coin that has been struck by hand, using dies and a hammer.
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 rim, the coin may not be stackable, and the highest points of the design will wear away very quickly.
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 carat, 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.
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.
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.
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 dies never intended to be used together.
Non-circulating legal tender. These coins are issued in "limited editions" for collectors and are typically sold for far more than their face value. While these coins are technically legal tender, their bullion value usually far exceeds their face value.
Coins specially struck for collectors using polished dies and planchets. The resulting coins usually have a mirror field and raised areas are frosted in appearance.
A set of proof coins packaged and sold by the mint.
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.
The difference between the face value 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).
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.
An alloy 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 relief in order to prolong die life.
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 die production stage.
A set of coins for any specific year containing one of each denomination of that year.
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.