legendary Coins and Currency
Exhibition Collection Search Timeline Game Visit
 
Glossary

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

About Uncirculated (AU)
A coin which shows only very slight signs of wear. In relation to the Sheldon scale, the AU designation corresponds to the numerical grades 50-58.

Abrading
Wearing away the highest points of a coin’s designs. Abrading can come from lengthy circulating, mishandling, or some accidental source of friction.

Adjustment Marks
File marks made by the mint on a silver or gold planchet to correct its weight.

Alloy
A substance composed of two or more metals, intimately mixed and united, ordinarily by being heated until molten.

Assay Piece
A coin selected to be assayed, or produced for an assayer.

Assayer
The person responsible for assessing and insuring the purity and quality of precious metal, jewelry and coinage.

Authentic
Genuine, made when and where the coin purports to have been made.

Bag Mark(s)
The hits and ticks on coins that were caused by contact with other coins. During the early years of minting, coins were ejected from the presses and into bins or bags along with many other coins. These bags were physically handled several times before reaching their final destination, causing the coins to hit each other and create lots of "bag-marks." Coins with the fewest bag-marks are obviously more valuable.

Bluebacks
Name given to Confederate currency due to the color of ink most commonly used for printing the notes’ backs.

Branch Mint
Name given to Confederate currency due to the color of ink most commonly used for printing the notes’ backs.

Brilliant Uncirculated
A grading term for a coin that has no trace of wear, but may show contact marks, spotted surfaces, or breaks in the luster.

Bullion
Precious metal, either gold, platinum, or silver. The term usually refers to pure gold, pure silver, or other pure metals, although it is occasionally used for coinage, which is generally ninety percent pure, the remainder a base metal added to improve durability.

Business Strike
A coin intended for general circulation and commercial use. Compare to proof.

Cameo
A term used to describe proof and proof-like coins in which the devices are in contrast to the fields. This occurs when the fields are mirrored and reflective and the devices are frosted, which will give the appearance of a dark background (sometimes black background) behind a light or white central portrait or device.

Carat Purity
The percentage of pure gold in a coin or other object, expressed in relation to a twenty-four-point scale. Twenty-four carats is pure gold, twelve carats equals a gold content of fifty percent, and so forth.

Cartwheel
A term used to describe the brilliant, coruscating luster often seen on uncirculated white or brilliant coinage.

Chatter
Usually refers to a small, but noticeable cluster of ticks on a coin. Sometimes the term is otherwise used to describe the vibratory movement of a die which produces minor double-striking.

Choice Brilliant Uncirculated
A term used to describe a high quality uncirculated coin.

Circulated
Term used to describe coins with obvious signs of wear or damage from use as a medium of exchange in regular commerce, or through mishandling.

Clash Marks
Marks on the die caused during minting by dies striking each other without a planchet between them. Each die impresses reversed portions of its design on the other.

Class
This word has no unique meaning in numismatics. It just serves as a means of distinguishing one thing from another.

Classic Rarity
There have always been certain "special" issues which, over time, have proven to be the most popular coins to the numismatic community. The issue date doesn't necessarily have to be the single most rare date in a series, but it is almost certainly scarce. Examples, include the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent or the 1934-S Peace dollar.

Collar
A thick metal ring, into which the planchet is deposited, used for making the reeded or smooth cylindrical edge on a coin. The collar keeps the planchet from expanding freely when it is struck by the dies.

Colonials
Generic term for coins made in (or for) America prior to the Federal Mint beginning operations.

Condition Census
The five finest known examples of a particular date coin listed according to their condition. For example, condition census for the 1848-C Half Eagle is as follows: MS64, MS64, MS62, MS61.

Denomination
Face value of a coin.

Dentated
Having teeth or conical projections. Early United States coins had dentated borders, the small “teeth” put there to discourage forgers and clippers. “Denticled” and “Dentils” refer to the same thing.

Device
In numismatics, a major or minor visual element on a coin. For example, the eagle and the head of Liberty. The devices are a critical focal point when grading a rare coin. A coin's grade is determined in no small part to how well-struck these devices are. In addition, it is often the devices which show the first signs of wear—another important consideration when determining the grade.

Die
An incuse (depressed) design on the end of a short steel rod used to strike planchets to make coins. Prior to 1996, all dies were made at the Philadelphia mint.

Die Breaks
Raised irregular areas on a coin, the result of metal from the planchet being forced through a portion of the die that has broken and fallen out during the minting process.

Die Cracks
Raised, irregular lines on a coin, the result of a die having cracked and metal being forced through those cracks at the time of striking.

Die Polish(ing)
An area of raised lines or highly reflective area of a coin, most often in the fields, that resulted from being struck with dies that had been recently polished by the coiner.

Doubloon
The popular name for the Spanish and Spanish-America eight-escudo gold coin, worth sixteen dollars in early America. Ephraim Brasher based his “doubloon” on this model.

Edge
The terminating border of a coin. When a coin is thick enough, or when it is composed of precious metal, the edge may have some sort of lettering or decoration, put there to discourage counterfeiting, clipping, or filing away bits of the gold or silver.

Field
The area of a coin between the devices and/or lettering-the flat, open areas.

Fin
The edge of a coin produced when excess metal is pushed up in the die.

Frosted Surfaces
A white texture produced on the surface of a coin during the minting process. It is usually most prevalent on the earliest coins off the working dies.

Gem
Used in a generic sense to describe a high-quality coin. Gem uncirculated coins are said to grade MS65 or higher.

Gilt
Plated with a precious metal, usually gold, sometimes silver.

Gold Standard
A monetary arrangement under which the basic unit of currency is defined against a stated amount of gold.

Grain Weight
The precious-metal content of something (e.g., a coin), expressed in terms of pennyweights and grains. One pennyweight contains 24 grains, or one-twentieth of a troy ounce.

Grease-Mark
Aberrations on a coin's surface, caused by oil or grease contact during some part of the minting process.

Hairlines
Thin scratches on a coin, usually in the fields or across the devices that are caused by rough or careless cleaning, wiping, or drying of a coin.

High Points
The area of deepest relief on a coin. That point which extends furthest out on the coin and is most prone to wear.

High Relief
The designing of a die so as to create a deep, concave field upon the surface of a coin for maximum contrast with the devices. It requires the use of increased pressure in striking or sometime multiple strikes to attain the desired effect. Most notable coins struck in high relief are the 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and 1921 Peace dollar.

Incuse
Design elements of a coin that are impressed, not shown in raised relief.

Ingot
A mass of metal cast into a convenient shape for transportation or storage, to be later remelted and reworked into coins or other products. The word most commonly refers to cast gold or silver bars.

Inscription
Words, numerals or abbreviations on a coin — other than dates, mint marks, or engraver's signature.

J number/ Judd number
A number assigned by numismatist J. Hewitt Judd, M.D. Judd was a numismatic author who compiled the first edition of United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces in 1959. His guide, an extensive revision of Adams and Woodin's earlier work on patterns, became a standard reference for collectors. Most often pattern coins are referred to by Judd numbers, e.g. J-1550.

Key/ Key Date
An extremely low mintage and /or certified population, which results in higher collector interest. Nearly every coins series has one or two issues with such dates. For example, the 1916-D in the Mercury dime series or the 1911-D in the $2-1/2 Indian series.

King of Coins
Usually refers to the famed 1804 silver dollar.

Knife Rim
A result of the minting process when a piece of extruding metal on the rim of a coin caused by metal forced between the die and collar—usually because the collar has stretched slightly over time. Knife Rim coins were objectionable because they did not eject properly from the dies and did not stack properly. Also known as Wired-Edge.

Legend
The inscription on a coin such as "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA."

Lettered Edge
Lettering around the edge (cylindrical surface) of a coin. Opposed to plain edge or reeded edge.

Lint Mark
A small, thin, irregular depression on a coin's surface seen on proof coins, caused by a piece of lint adhering to the die or planchet during striking.

Luster
The brilliance or shine on a metal. Luster is considered to be one of the four most important factors in appraising the value and grade of a coin. Alternate spelling: Lustre.

Matte
A coin struck by dies that were specially treated to impart a textured or granular surface and finish to a coin.

Mint Bloom
The term used to refer to the lustrous appearance of a coin immediately after striking.

Mint Cabinet
A numismatic collection reposing within a mint. The collection of the United States Mint was known as the Mint cabinet until its transfer to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1920s.

Mint Marks
A distinguishing letter, letters, or other symbol placed on a coin to identify its place of origin.

Motto
The inscription on nearly all U.S. coins issued after 1865, "In God We Trust."

Mule
A coin struck from improperly matched dies.

Numismatics
A term derived from Latin nomisma or coin, is the study or collection of coins, tokens, paper money and sometimes related objects like medals and other items used for money.

Obverse
The front of a coin (heads). The other side is known as the “reverse.”

Orange-Peel
Term used to describe the roughness on the surface of a coin (as struck), resembling the skin of an orange.

Patina
A term usually used to describe lighter shades of toning.

Patination
The surface appearance (as a coloring or a mellowing) of something grown beautiful through a lengthy passage of time or extended use. The rosy gold surface on early American gold coins is a good example of patination.

Pattern
Refers to a proposed coin design that was never adopted. Patterns often come in other than the proposed metals.

Pedigree
Although "provenance" is the more correct terminology, pedigree is used to describe previous ownership of a certain coin. The certification services will often recognize important numismatic collections by placing a pedigree on the certification holder to identify it as such. Coins bearing certain pedigrees often carry significant premiums in value. Some of the most popular and significant provenance are Bass, Childs, Eliasberg, Farouk, Garrett, Hawn, Norweb, Parmelee, Pittman, and Starr.

Pewter
A soft metallic alloy whose principle ingredient is tin. Pewter was sometimes used to create patterns or try out coining dies before regular production. But its softness rules it out for normal, circulating coinage.

Pickled
Etched in dilute acid.

Pitted
Refers to the depressed surfaces of a damaged coin caused by various forms of abuse such as being buried in the ground for many years.

Plain Edge
No lettering around the edge of a coin.

Planchet
The blank metal disc with raised rims struck by dies to create a coin.

Plug
To fill in a hole on a coin with metal. Occasionally, one will come across a coin which had a hole drilled in it for wearing on a chain. Some will try to repair the coin by "plugging" the hole.

Porous
A rough surface on a coin caused by a planchet in poor condition. Also caused by burial or other prolonged contact with contaminants.

Presentation Piece
Coins minted with unusual care, often from new dies on carefully selected, prooflike blanks. Intended for visiting dignitaries and other VIP's—mostly prior to 1817 when the Philadelphia mint standardized its proofing process).

Press
A machine for creating coinage or currency.

Private Issues
Coins or currency issued and guaranteed by private mints, banks, and other entities—as opposed to official coins or notes, the products of governments or other public authorities.

Proof
A specially made "specimen striking" of coinage made for presentation, souvenir, exhibition or numismatic purposes. A proof coin is usually distinguished by sharpness of strike, high wire edge and brilliant mirror-like surfaces—as a result of more than one blow from a die. Pre-1968 proofs were minted only at the Philadelphia mint except for a few very rare instances in which presentation pieces were struck at branch mints. Proof refers to the method of manufacture and is not a condition.

Prooflike
Most often used as a designation in the Morgan dollar series and usually a characteristic of the first coins struck on newly polished dies. It may also refer to a coin whose fields have a mirrored finish and sometimes frosty devices as well—that sometimes causes a cameo effect.

Punches
The letters and other elements, made of iron or steel, used to create coin dies. Punches can range from simple letters to entire designs.

Rebus
A representation of words or syllables by pictures of objects or by symbols whose names resemble the intended words.

Reeded Edge
The minting of a coin using raised parallel lines along the outside edge of a coin. The primary purpose of a "reeded edge" was to show any signs of shaving or other tampering with the size and weight of a coin.

Relief
Degree to which the devices on a coin protrude outward from the fields. As a general practice, the higher the relief, the more blows from the hub necessary to make a working die—and the more blows necessary to bring up the design on the finished coin or medal.

Restrike
Any coin struck after the original striking date or the date appearing on the coin.

Reverse
The back of a coin (tails). The front is known as the “obverse.”

Rolled Edge
A misnomer for the flattened or rounded rim of the 1907 Indian $10, caused by an adjustment to the die to control the metal flow and prevent knife edges from occurring. Reportedly over 30,000 were struck, but all save 42 were melted, creating a rare and valuable variety. Other coins, including proof Lincoln cents have "rolled edges"—they were struck from dies that controlled the metal flow around the collar. The only recognized "rolled edge" variety is the 1907 Indian $10.

Roman Finish
Refers to that regularly found on proof gold coins minted in 1909 and 1910. These are much more mirror-like than the matte finish but less so than brilliant proofs.

Rub
A small amount of wear on the high points that removes it from the uncirculated category.

Rusted Dies
Dies which have been damaged (pitted) through corrosion. The "rusted" areas of a die create raised bumps on the coin during the striking process, thus giving the coin a flat or dull appearance.

Satin Finish
One with a surface more closely resembling roman gold than matte and very close to regular brilliant-proofs. Most common examples of Satin finishes include some 1921 and 1922 Peace dollars.

Scrip
Currency issued for temporary use during an emergency. The Great Depression saw thousands of scrip notes from hundreds of sources.

Slide Marks
For many years, collectors used to store their coins in cardboard albums. To keep the coins in place and at the same time visible, clear plastic slides covered the top and bottom holes. In order to remove a coin from the album, you had to slide the plastic cover across the face of the item. The friction of the plastic against the coin's devices sometimes caused unremovable lines to appear.

Slug
A $50 dollar gold piece, also, a lump of metal before it is made into a coin.

Sovreign
A British gold coin, equal to twenty shillings. Sovereigns are still struck as bullion coins and for collectors, but they no longer circulate in daily commerce.

Stirations
Lines on the surfaces of a coin caused by defective planchets used during the minting process or in the die itself.

Strike
The process of impressing an image onto a planchet during the minting process. Strike plays an important role in the grading of a coin.

Territorial Gold
Also referred to as Pioneer Gold. Circulating gold pieces issued by various private minters during the mid 19th century. Such coins were mostly struck in Oregon, Utah, and California.

Toning
The film or coloring on the surface of a coin caused by a chemical reaction between the coin's metal and some other substance such as the sulfur from older cardboard books, flips, or envelopes. Rainbow-colored, original toning is often a desirable characteristic for a coin.

Type
A major division of a design. For example, Seated Liberty quarters and Barber quarters represent two distinctly different Types of coins, just as Barber dimes are a different Type than Barber half-dollars.

Uncirculated
Generalized term that refers to a coin which shows no signs of circulated wear or mishandling. Uncirculated coins can still have lots of marks and chatter—which is different from other detrimental aspects to a coin's surfaces and devices.

Uniface
Refers to a coin with a design on only one side, the other side blank.

Variety
Any coin recognizably different in dies from another of the same design, type, date and mint. For example, the 1883 nickels with and without "CENTS" are different varieties of the same basic type and design.

Wear
The loss of metal on a coin’s devices caused by handling in circulation. The amount of wear on a coin is a key factor in determining its grade.

 
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Learning Resources Printable Exhibition
Copyright© Privacy Policy Press Credits