The following coin glossary contains nearly 200 coin collecting terms. This helpful resource is for beginners and veterans alike.
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face value – The value in which a coin is made to be spent or exchanged. Most always displayed on the obverse. Sometimes the collectible value of a coin exceeds the face value. These are considered collectible coins and are usually pulled from circulation.
fair – A heavily worn coin. Date may be only partially visible. F-2 is one of the lowest grades on the scale of 1-70 (70 being flawless).
filler – A coin used to “fill in” the hole in a collection until a better grade coin can be found or purchased to replace it.
field - The background surface of a coin. On a proof coin, the field would be mirrored.
fine – Fine is a medium grade for a coin. Fair on the Sheldon scale is F-12 and F-15. A Fine coin will have some detail present. However, it is not sharp and there is a lot of details missing.
fineness – Represents the exact measured purity of precious metals. Expressed in terms of one thousand parts. Example: A coin of 90% pure silver is regarded as .900 fine.
finest known – For a particular issue, this would be the highest known grade between the professional grading services.
first strike – or Early Release, A grading service term used by PCGS, NGC, ANACS and other grading services. First Strike designation determines the coin was struck and released within the first 30 days from the initial release date. These coins tend to go for a small premium over regular issues because some experts believe when coins are struck with brand new dies, the images are more detailed.
flip – A plastic sleeve to store a coin. Does not protect against the elements.
focal point- the area of a coin in which a collector’s eye is immediately drawn.
friction – The rubbing of a coin against another coin or hard object that results in wear on its surface. Typically, friction causes unwanted wear on a coin resulting in lower desire and value of a coin.
frosted proof - A proof coin that has a mirror like surface in the field with a contrasting frosted surface for the design.
gem BU -A gem quality brilliant uncirculated coin. Indicates that this uncirculated coin displays original mint luster and is extremely attractive for the type of coin.
gouges – Heavy gashes on a coin where the metal was gouged out from coming in contact with something hard. Typically gouge marks are far worse than “contact marks” or “bag marks”.
grade - A rating or description that indicates the condition and wear of a circulated coin and also describes of degree of perfection for uncirculated and proof coins. Currently, the Sheldon scale is used. A system from 1 to 70 measuring coins from About Good -2 to Mint State Uncirculated- 70. The single most determining factor of value in a coin is it’s condition. The higher the grade the more the coin is worth.
gram - Metric weight used when weigh precious metals. A troy ounce is equal to 31.10 grams.
hairlines - Very light lines or scratch marks on a coins surface. Sometimes hairline marks are caused when coins are cleaned or polished.
hammer die – The hammer die is the top die used when striking coins. However, years ago this was done with a hammer. See “anvil die”.
head - The obverse or front of the coins. Usually features a portrait of someone, so call this the head side.
hub – A positive image punch to press a coin’s design into a die for production.
incuse - Describes the portion of a coin’s design that is pressed into the coins surface as opposed to raising above the surface. Incuse is opposite of relief. Example: the $2 1/2 and $5 Indian US gold coins are struck using and incuse design. Incuse designs were not popular for circulation as they held dirt easily.
ingot – See “bars”
inscription - The words struck or written on a coin.
intrinsic value - The precious metal value that a coin is made of. Also referred to as a coins bullion value.
investment grade – Generally this promotional term is used for coins in MS-65 condition and better.
junk silver – 40% to 90% Silver coins of circulated quality. Describes bags and common US silver coinage that was pulled out of circulation when silver was disappearing. Does not indicate that the coins are damaged in any way. Junk silver rolls or bags usually will not contain any scarce date issues or low mintage high quality coins.
key date – A low mintage, scarce date coin that is often hard to find. Key date coins are of the highest levels of demand and demand premium prices.
legal tender - Coins, paper money, and other currencies issued by a government and used as an accepted form of exchange. The legal tender value of a coin is the value placed on it by the government. It may be different than the intrinsic value (bullion value) or collector value.
legend – The main lettering on a coin, usually the phrase “United States of America”.
light line – Band of light present when a coin is photographed or inspected. More prominent on proof coins.
limited edition – Many times coin dealers will put together difficult sets and individually number them making them a limited edition. This adds a bit of pedigree for the collector and sometimes these coins are worth a higher value.
liner – a coin that is on the fence between two grades.
matte proof - Matte proof coins are special proofs that have a grainy sandblasted look on the surface. Matte proof coins were rarely made in the early part of the 1900′s.
medal – An object made of metal that resembles a coin. Usually struck and given out to a special person or for an event. Medals have no intended value and are not designed to circulate as currency.
medium of exchange – Something accepted as having a certain monetary value that is used to purchase goods and services. Most often paper money and coins are used as mediums of exchange.
mercury dime – Name for the US 10 cent dime piece made between 1916 and 1945. Originally called the Winged Liberty Head dime, the name mercury dime caught on with the general public when it was compared to the Roman God “Mercury”.
milled edge – The coin manufacturing process that produces the edge of the coin.
Mint – Place where coins are struck (manufactured). The U.S. Mint produces the vast majority of its coins in Philadelphia and Denver. The Mint facilities in San Francisco and West Point are used to produce proof issues, precious metal coins and commemorative coins.
mint luster - When an uncirculated coin is struck, a frosty, yet satiny brilliance will be present on the coins surface. These coins will even somewhat reflect light.
Mint mark – The letter of the producing Mint is always struck on the coin to designate which on of the operating Mints the coin was produced at.
Mint set – This yearly set consists of one of each of the circulated coins for that year. An entire Mint set would consist of both the P and D versions. They are usually produced in a little higher quality than the coins produced for circulation. Currently, the US Mint sets are struck in what the Mint is calling a brilliant unique finish.
Mint state - Describes an uncirculated coin. The state of the coin is mint quality.
mintage – This figure plays a huge roll in coin collecting. For each coin produced, the Mint releases a total number of coins struck at each Mint location. Figures are available by contacting CoinAdvisor.com.
monster box – Authorized bulk purchasers for the Mint get access to buy large quantities of particular coins. They are carefully placed in hard plastic rolls then the rolls are put into a green monster box for sale. Example: a silver eagle monster box in 1997 would consist of 500 brilliant uncirculated 1997 silver eagles.
motto – A consistently used representative phrase or principle usually found on a coin. Example: “In God We Trust”, and “E Pluribus Unum”.
MS69 – “MS” is an abbreviation for “mint state”. The number that follows indicates the quality level of the coin. The quality numbers run from 1 to 70, with a 70 being an absolutely flawless coin.
mylar – A clear polyester material used for the storage of coins.
NGC - See Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.
nickel – Name for the US five cent piece. Although only 1/4 of the five cent piece is actually made of the metal nickel, it gives the appearance that it is solid nickel because the edge does not feature another metal. It is actually made of a mixture of 75% copper and 25% nickel.
Numismatic Guarantee Corporation – NGC is an independent third party coin grading and certification service. One of the most respected in the industry.
numismatist – Term used to describe a coin collector. Often used to indicate someone more serious about the hobby or one who studies an area of coin collecting.
numismatics – The hobby of coin collecting. The study of coins and currency.