Coin Diagram with Terms and Definitions
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This coin diagram above shows all the parts or terms used in describing a coin. In order to better grade, understand and enjoy coin collecting it is important to understand these terms. It also aids in your discussions with other rare coin collectors or dealers.
Device - a design element on the coin such as a bust of a person, and eagle or any other element. Usually the devices are raised, but on some coins they are below the coin surface (incused).
Rim - A rim is where the edge and the obverse and reverse sides of the coin meet. On many coins there is a raised rim as shown above. The rim can be seen on both the reverse and obverse on this coin. The rim is used to help protect the coin from wear, by providing a raised surface right around the circumference of the coin.
Edge - The edge of the coin is called the "third side" by some. The edge can be plain (smooth), reeded, ornamented, or have letters embossed into it. The edge is the side around the circumference of the coin, the edge is not the same as the rim, the coin rolls on its edge.
Obverse - The face or front of a coin. "Heads." Usually has a person, date on this side, but not always.
Reverse - The back of the coin. "Tails." Usually has secondary design elements, the denomination, and other inscriptions. But not always (look at some modern commems).
Date - The year of the mintage is shown on most coins.
Fields - The open areas of the design, usually they serve as the background and surround the devices. Clean fields are desired in rare coins. Fields that do not have bag marks and are mirror smooth can raise the grade of a coin.
Denomination - The monetary value of the coin.
Mint mark - the mint that produced the coin usually stamps a mint mark for the coin. This shows what mint struck the coin. Most common in the U.S. are S, P, D, CC, O, and WW.
Legend - The words on a coin are the legend or inscription.
Motto - an inscription that has special meaning in the country, such as "In God We Trust" -- the motto of the U.S.
Exergue - The area set off from the design for the date. Many times this can be delineated with a line or depressed area. (See the buffalo nickel.)
Dentils (aka Denticles) - the small serrated edge around the rim (tooth-like design around the circumference of the rim). Sometimes small dots can be used, but often, just a gear-like design.