U.S. Coin Glossary - Littleton Coin Company
 
 
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U.S. Coin Glossary

Find definitions for commonly used words referring to coin compositions and designs, the minting process, coin condition and ways to collect, or view our illustrated example of frequently used coin terms – The Language of Coins (PDF)

Alloy – A mixture of two or more metals.

Assay – To analyze and determine the purity of metal.

Bag Mark – A mark on a coin from contact with other coins in a mint bag.

Bank Note – A form of legalized paper currency issued by a bank.

Bullion – Precious metal in the form of coins, bars, ingots, etc.

Business Strike – A coin intended for circulation (as opposed to a Proof coin specially made for collectors).

Bust – A portrait on a coin, usually including the head, neck and upper shoulders.

Clad Coinage – Coins with a core and outer layer of differing substances. Most modern U.S. dimes, quarters, and half dollars feature a clad composition.


2006-S San Francisco Old Mint Commemorative Silver Dollar

Collar – A metal piece that restrains the expanding metal of a planchet during striking, and creates the 3rd side of a coin (edge).

Commemorative – A coin of special design, issued to honor an outstanding person, place, or event in history.

Condition – The physical state of a coin.

Counterfeit – A coin or piece of currency imitating a genuine article and intended to deceive buyers or users.

Currency – Any medium of exchange including coins, paper money and other items of value used in daily commerce.

Date Collecting – Building a collection of coins containing one issue from each year, regardless of the mint. With date collecting, you can assemble one coin from each year of a particular series, or of a particular denomination.

Date and Mint Mark Collecting – Very popular, and considered by many the most challenging. A date and mint mark collection consists of one coin from each U.S. Mint and each year for a particular series. Many series have a hard-to-find date that can be expensive.

Denomination – The value represented by specific currency, such as a nickel, dime or dollar.

Designer – The artist who creates a coin’s design (but doesn’t necessarily engrave the design into a coinage die).

Device – A symbol or figure on a coin.

Die – A piece of metal bearing the design of the coin. Two dies (front and back) come together against a coin blank to strike a finished coin.

Edge – The outer border of a coin, considered the "third side" of a coin (not to be confused with "rim"). Some coins feature lettering, reeding, or ornamental designs on their edges, formed by the collar.

Encapsulated coin – A coin that has been independently certified and encapsulated in a sonically sealed holder. The holder has a bar-coded identification insert that notes the coin, variety, date and grade.


Adams Presidential Dollar with Overlapped Rim Error

Engraver – The person who cuts the design into a coinage die (not necessarily the designer)

Error – A coin improperly produced but not detected, and released by the mint.

Face Value – The sum for which a coin can be spent or exchanged (a dime’s face value is 10¢), as opposed to its collector or precious metal value.

Field – The portion of a coin’s surface not used for design or inscription.

Fractional Currency – Paper money issued in denominations of 3¢, 5¢, 10¢, 15¢, 25¢ and 50¢ from 1863-1876.

Grade – The condition or amount of wear that a coin has received. The ANA scale measures or grades coins from About Good-3 to Perfect Uncirculated-70.

Hairlines – Minute lines or scratches on coins, usually caused by cleaning or polishing.


Inscriptions on a 1999-D Delaware Quarter

Incuse – The design of a coin that has been impressed below the coin’s surface, rather than raised above the surface.

Inscription – The lettering that runs across the fields of a coin.

Intrinsic Value (melt value) – Refers to the value of the metal in a coin.

Key Date – A scarce date required to complete a collection, usually more difficult to find and afford.

Legal Tender – A coin, note, or other article issued by a government as official money.

Legend – The lettering that circles a coin’s fields just inside its borders.

Medal – A metal object resembling a coin but not of legal tender status.

Mint – A facility that produces coins. Today there are U.S. Mints in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco.


The "W" Mint Mark on this 2008-W American Silver Eagle represents the West Point Mint.

Mint Luster – The dull, frosty or satiny shine or finish found on coins, resulting from the centrifugal flow of metal as dies strike the coin blank.

Mint Mark – A small letter that identifies the mint that struck the coin.

Mint Set – Uncirculated set of coins of each denomination from a particular mint.

Mint State – Same as Uncirculated.

Mintage – The quantity of coins produced.

Motto – A phrase or slogan on a coin that is often political or religious, and meaningful to a particular country.

Numismatics – The study and collecting of coins or articles used as money.


Obverse of a 2008-D Lincoln Head Cent

Obsolete – A coin design or type that is no longer produced.

Obverse – The front (or "heads") side of a coin, which usually features the date and the principal design.

Paper Money – Any currency made of paper or similar woven material (U.S. issues include obsolete Silver Certificates and current Federal Reserve Notes).

Pattern – An experimental or trial piece, generally of a new design or metal.

Planchet – The blank piece of metal on which a coin design is stamped.

Proof – A specially produced coin made from highly-polished planchets and dies, and often struck twice to accent the design.

Proof Set – A complete set of Proof coins of every denomination made in a year.

Reeding – A design made up of vertical striations applied to the circumference of the coin’s edge. The product of semi- and fully-automatic coining machines developed in the late 18th century, reeding helps to deter clipping.

Relief – Any part of a design that is raised above the coin’s surface is in relief.


Reverse of a 2008-D Lincoln Head Cent

Restrike – A coin minted after the year of its date from the original dies.

Reverse – The back (or "tails") side of a coin.

Rim – The raised circumference of a coin’s obverse and reverse, circling the design and protecting it from wear (not to be confused with "edge").

Roll – Coins packaged by banks or dealers in quantities: 50 cents, 40 nickels, 50 dimes, 40 quarters, 20 half dollars, 20 dollars.

Series – All dates and mint marks of a specific design and denomination.

Staining – A white to yellow coloration which occurs naturally during the minting process, commonly found on uncirculated silver coins.

Strike – The process of stamping a coin blank with a die bearing the design. A strike may be considered full, average or weak on a particular coin, and will affect the value of rare coins.

Toning – Coloration (patination) caused by chemical reaction to the air or other materials over time.

Type Collecting – Assembling coins on the basis of design instead of by date and mint mark; collecting a coin of each different design in a series.

Uncirculated – Without rub, friction or wear from circulation.

Variety – A minor change from the basic design type of a coin.

Year Set – Collection including at least one coin from each year within a series. May include coins from a single mint, or coins bearing different mint marks.

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