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Dictionary of Terms Used in 
Numismatics & Coin Collecting

Back to Famous Coins Exhibit Back to the Main Guide Page or Dictionary A-I

key date: Coins that are considered scare due to low mintage or low surviving specimens for that date (and possibly mint mark). Prices are higher on scarce issues, and they are harder to find.

legal tender: money or currency that is backed by a government – used for exchange

loupe: a magnifying glass – helps for grading coins

luster: the amount and strength of light reflected from the surface of a coin

Matte Proof: experimental proof coin that has sandblasted or acid-treated surfaces

mint: Coins are struck in facilities called "mints." There are private and governmental mints. Only mints run by governments produce legal tender coins.

mintage: The number of a specific type of coin produced at a mint in a specific year. For example, in 2001, there were 500,000 commemorative buffalo dollars minted of various styles (Proof, uncirculated, etc.)

mint mark: a small letter or mark on a coin that identifies the mint at which the coin was made. In the US, these are typically: W – WestPoint; P (or no mintmark) – Philadelphia; S – San Francisco; D – Denver; CC – Carson City (older coins); O – New Orleans.

mint set: complete set of coins produced by the mint in a specific year, typically contains all circulating coins, but not special issues or commemoratives..

mint state: "MS" coins that do not circulate and therefore have no signs of wear are considered "Mint State". The abbreviation "MS" is used to demote this. These coins are also known as brilliant uncirculated (BU) or even just, uncirculated. These coins are graded on a scale from MS 60 to MS 70, MS 70 being considered "Perfect."

motto: Many coins contain phrases or words that are an important principle of the country that mints them. "In God We Trust" is an example of a U.S. motto.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC): coin grading service that encapsulates and grades coins so you can be assured of the quality of the coin. NGC is considered a leader in coin grading.

numismatics: the study or collection of coins, currency, tokens, and even medals

obverse: The front of a coin, typically contains a bust or picture of a person, but this is not required.

Off center: coins that are struck "off center" by the press. These coins can be slightly off center, in which case you will see one side of the coin has a larger border than the other. Coins that are struck significantly off center will be missing part of the design, since planchet will have been missed by the die.

original roll: coins stored in rolls with distinct quantities, typically wrapped in paper or stored in a tube at the time of minting.

overstrike: a coin that has been struck again over the previous strike.

pattern: an experimental coin from a mint, typically minted to test a new design, or concept, or potentially to test new manufacturing processes.

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS): coin grading service. PCGS is a coin grading service that encapsulates and grades coins so you can be assured of the quality of the coin. It is considered a leader in coin grading.

PL: "Prooflike" is a term used for uncirculated coins with mirror-like fields.

planchet: flat piece of metal on which a coin’s image is struck. The planchets are typically prepared for coin striking in a specific process by the mint.

PQ: "Premium Quality" applies to coins on the high end of a grade.

PR: "Proof" is a term used to describe a coin minted from highly polished planchets and dies resulting in a well-struck coin with highly reflective fields. Typically these coins are struck twice to ensure a deeper more full strike, and they are closely inspected before release from the mint. Many proof coins have frosted devices resulting in a cameo appearance.

prooflike: "Prooflike" is a term used for uncirculated coins with mirror-like fields.

proof set: a complete set of proof coins of each denomination produced by a mint

PVC: "Polyvinyl Chloride" is a chemical used in coin flips and protective sheets. PVC can damage coins, search for archival storage holders instead.

Raw coin: a coin that has not been graded or "slabbed" by a grading service.

RD: "Red" a term applied to a copper coin that has maintained 95% or more of its original color

relief: when a coin's design is raised above the surface (opposite of incuse).

replica: a reproduction of a coin, typically does not have much numismatic value.

restrike: coins that are minted using the original dies from a previous strike, but the minting is done in a different year.

reverse: back side of a coin ("tails")

rim: circular raised area around the edges of the coin.

series: collection of coins containing all mint marks and dates for a specific value and design.

Sheldon Scale: grading system (from 1 through 70) that was codified by Dr. William Sheldon. This scale is used today for grading the quality of many coins.

slab: a slab is an archival plastic holder used for encapsulating coins, they are issued by grading services for coins that can be graded and assigned a numeric value. The slab has the date, grade, mintmark, issuing service name and ID, quality and any special notes such as PL for "ProofLike."

slider: a coin that is graded AU but looks good enough to be BU. May be improperly sold as BU by less than scrupulous dealers.

strike: the actual minting or stamping a coin planchet with its design; can also refer to the quality of a coin (i.e. This coin has a good, solid strike).

surface: The reverse and obverse of a coin; can also refer to the fields only.

toning: some coins acquire a colored or darker tone over time due to age and the metals oxidizing or otherwise becoming tarnished.

Type: A variation in coin design, can be in its material makeup or design (such as the steel pennies of World War II).

uncirculated: coin grade with no signs of wear, it must also have never been circulated (also considered "mint state" or "uncirculated")

variety: coins that are variations of the original coin design are considered varieties. Alteration of the Morgan’s tail feathers are an example of a Morgan variety.

VF: "Very fine" - coins with light or moderate wear on the highest points of the design are considered VF; they still have clear features and devices. See grading references for exact details of grade.

VG: "Very good" – coins that are well worn but still have clear devices and features. See grading references for exact details of grade.

whizzing: Creating artificial luster on a coin by brushing a coin with a motorized cleaning device. This lowers the value of the coin since ht ecoin is physically damaged by the process.

XF: "Extremely Fine" coins that are lightly worn with sharp and well defined features.

Dictionary A-I


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