Understanding Coin Terminology
Certain terms and phrases are quite unique to coin collectors. It's wise to familiarize yourself with them, because you'll come upon them frequently in the coin-collecting arena. In the following sections are some of the commonly used terms that are bandied about in the numismatic hobby.
Scott Travers is a coin connoisseur who is dedicated to making certain that you, the collector, are not taken advantage of in the marketplace. His book, The Insider's Guide to U.S. Coin Values, provides a thorough listing of coin values, trends in the hobby, and an explanation of coin grades.
An alloy is a combination of two or more metals.
ANA stands for the American Numismatic Association. They can be found online at www.money.org.
Bag marks is a generic term that applies to scratch marks or minor abrasions on coins caused by contact with one another. The term is derived from the history of newly minted coins getting such boo-boos in their transport bags, as they made their way into circulation. However, coins can have bag marks on them without ever having spent a moment in a bag.
If it isn't gold, silver, or platinum, it's considered a base metal.
Bourse refers to a gathering of dealers peddling their wares on tables at conventions and collector shows. You'll see this term used in relation to all kinds of collecting fields, not just coins.
Since antiquity, many coins have been composed of predominantly copper, with small amounts of tin and zinc in the mixture. This alloy is known as bronze.
Bullion is the word that identifies a metal that has yet to be made into coinage. It is also commonplace to see the term bullion content used to describe the total amount of gold and silver in a minted coin.
The bust is the portrait on a coin's obverse (front side). A bust, more specifically, means the head and upper portion of the shoulders. No full body images are called busts.
Casting is an alternative method to manufacturing coins. Casting does not involve the more widely used striking process. Instead, molten hot metal is poured into dies bearing a coin's intended design. The liquefied metal fills up the crevices of the die. When the metal cools and hardens, the finished coin is removed from its mold or cast.
Defective dies on occasion lead to visible lines on the coin's portrait or image's head. These defects are referred to as cracked skulls.
The word cull covers a lot of ground. It is applied to coins with serious damage, wear, or corrosion.
Symbols of consequence that are used repeatedly on the reverse side of a coin—and often in association with a motto—are called devices. The American eagle, for example, is a device.
In a maneuver known as sweating, people put a bunch of coins in a sack and shake them in order to knock off bits from individual coins. The coins are then introduced back into circulation at face value. And the sweaters gather the bits of metals and turn a profit.
In the numismatic world, a die is the metallic disc, which is engraved with the image, lettering, and dating that will transform a planchet into a coin. The planchet, or blank—in the position of meat in a sandwich—is simultaneously struck by two dies (one for the obverse side of the coin, and another for the reverse), resulting in the images being transferred onto it. The blank is then blank no more, but a coin.
The planchet, also called a blank, is a flat metal disk, the size and weight of a finished coin. The planchet gets struck with die-cast imprints of a coin's overall image, lettering, and dating.
Toning refers to the color of a coin. There are various hues and patterns visible on most coins. Tonal changes are inevitable over time. And so many variables affect a coin's coloring, from where it has been stored, to how it has been handled, to its exposure to the elements.