Like all collectibles, the rare coin market has its own terms and slang. The following is a brief definition and explanation
of the most frequently used coin collecting terms.
NOTE:This is a work in progress and we would love to hear your comments and suggestions. Send your thoughts
to [email protected].
Mintmark used by the San Francisco, California branch mint.
Short for 1909-S VDB Lincoln Head cent.
Term applied to the coins struck at the San Francisco, California branch Mint.
Short for Sacagawea Dollar.
The Sacagawea dollar is a one dollar value circulating coin that was introduced in the year 2000. It is also called the "golden dollar" in the non-numismatic community because of its color. The coin honors Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian woman who was a guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804. Glenna Goodacre designed the obverse of the coin and Thomas D. Rogers created the reverse. Sacagawea dollars are struck for circulation at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints, while Proofs are struck in San Francisco.
Slang for the Saint-Gaudens inspired double eagle struck from 1907 until 1933. (The 1933 issue is currently considered illegal to own as the government insists that none of this date were legally released.) This low relief copy of the Extremely High Relief and High Relief designs was the work of Chief Engraver Charles Barber.
Last name of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the preeminent sculptor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. At the request of President Teddy Roosevelt, he redesigned the eagle and double eagle in 1907 although he died mid-production. Also, slang for the Liberty Head double eagle or Saint.
A very deceptive term. Generally, a term to describe coins with a finely pitted surface, however, recent discoveries of coins that have been exposed to saltwater for over a hundred years has made this term inaccurate, if not obsolete. The sand, not the saltwater, likely does the pitting on gold and silver coins in the ocean. A better term for these coins would be sandblasted Uncs or sand-damaged Uncs.
San Francisco Mint
The United States branch Mint located in San Francisco, California that struck coins from 1854 until 1955. After closing as a Mint, it served as an assay office until it reopened as a coinage facility in 1965. This facility manufactures annual proof coin sets, manufactures silver proof coin sets and manufactures commemorative coins. This mint uses the “S” mintmark.
Another of the experimental Proof surfaces used on U.S. gold coins after 1907. The dies were treated in some manner to create the silky surfaces imparted to the coins.
Fine, silky luster seen on many business strike coins, especially copper and nickel issues. Almost no “cartwheel” effect is seen on coins with this type of luster.
A detracting line that is more severe than a hairline. The size of a coin determines the point at which a line ceases to be viewed as a hairline and instead is regarded a scratch; the larger the coin, the greater the tolerance. A heavy scratch may result in a coin not being graded by PCGS.
The first type of coining press used at the U.S. Mint. Invented by Italian craftsman Donato Bramante, this press had a fixed anvil (or lower) die, with the hammer (or upper) die being attached to a rod with screw-like threads. When weighted arms attached to the rod were rotated, the screw mechanism quickly moved the rod with the die downward, striking the planchet placed into the lower die. The struck coin then was ejected and the process was repeated.
Short for small date.
sea salvage coin
A coin retrieved from the ocean, usually from a ship wreck. The conception that these coin will have pitted surface has been exploded by the recent Brother Jonathon and Central America recoveries. These coins do not have pitted surfaces! The action of the shifting tides evidently causes sand to “blast” the surface of some coins, while others protected from this action retain nearly intact Mint luster.
Short for Liberty Seated.
Term commonly used for Liberty Seated coinage.
Any toning, natural or artificial, that results after a coin is dipped or cleaned. This second toning is seldom as attractive as original toning, although some coins “take” second toning better than others.
The profit generated from the printing or coining of currency. This word also has many other related meanings, most often associated with taxes created through inflation.
Term to denote coins that are neither scarce nor common. An example would be Uncirculated 1903 Morgan dollars.
Term indicating a coin that has a significant bullion value and some numismatic value. The most recognized examples are Liberty Head and Saint-Gaudens double eagles.
A term used to describe a coin that has some mirror-like surface mixed with satin or frosty luster. Reflectivity is obscured on such a specimen, unlike the reflectivity on prooflike and deep mirror prooflike coins.
A particular design or motif used over a period of time. This can used for a single denomination, or in some cases, used for several denominations. The Liberty Seated series encompasses five denominations, the Barber series three, etc.
A term indicating a collection of coins in a series, a collection of types, or a collection from a particular Mint. Examples include a complete series set (Lincoln cents from 1909 to date); a type set of gold coins (8 or 12 piece sets are the most common); a set of branch mint quarter eagles (Dahlonega quarter eagles from 1838 to 1859)
Listing of registered PCGS graded sets of coins. These include Morgan dollar sets, Proof Barber quarter sets, Mercury dime sets, etc.
Specifically, Dr. William Sheldon who wrote the seminal work on 1793 to 1814 large cents.
The large cent book, first published in 1949 as Early American Cents with only Dr. Sheldon listed, updated in 1958 with Walter Breen and Dorothy Paschal also listed as authors with the new name, Penny Whimsy.
The reference number for 1793 to 1814 large cents per the Sheldon books, Early American Cents and Penny Whimsy. When certain Sheldon numbers are mentioned among large cent aficionados, an immediate hush is observed until all the facts of that particular specimen are disseminated.
The rarity scale introduced in 1949 in Early American Cents.
The emblem used on certain issues that has horizontal and vertical lines in a shield shape. These are first found in the center of the heraldic eagle and on each succeeding eagle until the end of the Barber quarter series in 1916. They shield as a single motif first appeared on the two-cent coins of 1864, later also used on the nickels of 1866. Starting in 1860, Indian Head cents used the shield motif at the top of the wreath on the reverse.
Common name for the Shield five-cent coin struck from 1866 until 1883. The 1866 and some 1867 coins have rays between the stars on the reverse and are referred to as Rays type (or With Rays type). Those 1867 through 1883 coins without the rays are called No Rays type.
Areas on Matte, Roman, and Satin Proofs where the surface has been disturbed. On brilliant Proofs, dull spots appear where there are disturbances; on textured-surface coins such as Matte, Roman, and Satin Proofs, these disturbances create “shiny” spots.
This term has two definitions. The first refers to rolls of coins that contain double the normal amount of coins in a roll. For instance, a shotgun roll of silver dollars contains 40 coins. The name derives from the length of the rolls being similar to the length of a shotgun shell. These double rolls were common and popular during the great roll boom of the 1960s. The second definition of "shotgun roll" refers to a paper-wrapped roll that is machine-crimped like the end of a shotgun shell.
Common term for a bourse or coin show. Example: the ANA show was great!
A term to indicate that the buyer of a particular numismatic item in a particular grade wants to view the coin before he buys it. He may have a customer who wants an untoned coin – or a toned coin, or some other specific requirement.
A term to indicate that the buyer of a particular numismatic item in a particular grade will pay a certain price without examining the item.
Term to indicate coins struck in silver (generally 90% silver and 10% copper but there are a few exceptions).
Short for silver commemorative coins.
Originally, those commemorative coins struck from 1892 until 1954, although not in every year. These are all struck in 90% silver and 10% copper alloy. Of course, those post-1982 silver commemorative issues also could technically be so called.
A coin of the one dollar denomination that is struck in a composition of 90% silver (or so) and 10% copper. The silver dollar was introduced in 1794 and was issued for circulation in intermittent years through 1935. The most frequently seen silver dollars are the Morgan design (1878-1921) and the Peace design (1921-35). These coins remained in circulation until the 1960s, mostly in the western US. Modern dollar coins are sometimes called "silver dollars" as well, even though the pieces struck for circulation contain no silver.
Slang for Wartime nickel.
On certain early American coins, a silver plug was inserted into a hole in the center of the coin, which was then flattened out when the coin was struck. The purpose of the plug was to add weight or value to the coin to bring it into proper specifications. Examples include the 1792 Silver-Center Cent, a Specimen 1794 Silver Dollar, and several varieties of 1795 Silver Dollars.
Term to indicate a Kennedy half dollar struck from 1965 to 1970, whose overall content is 40 percent silver and 60 percent copper. These are commonly referred to as silver-clad halves because two outer layers containing primarily silver (80%) are bonded to a core made primarily of copper (79%).
The lines representing the folds on Miss Liberty’s flowing gown on Walking Liberty half dollars. The early issues (1916-1918 and some coins through the entire series) are particularly weak in this feature. Well struck coins with full skirt lines often bring substantial premiums over those that are weakly struck.
Short for small letters.
Numismatic slang for the holder in which a coin is encapsulated by a grading service. The coin contained therein is said to be slabbed.
The process of sending a coin to a third-party grading service to have it authenticated, graded, and encapsulated in a sonically sealed holder.
A term used to describe an AU coin that looks, or can be sold as, Uncirculated. Occasionally used as a reference to another grade; a slider EF coin, for example, would be a VF/EF coin that is nearly EF.
Slang for the octagonal and round fifty-dollar gold coins struck during the California gold rush. Allegedly, their name came from the fact that criminals used the two-and-one-half ounce coins wrapped in a handkerchief and slugged their victims on the head with this “weapon.” This could be a myth, as their massive size also could be construed to be a “slug” of gold. The 1915 Pan-Pac fifty-dollar commemorative issues are also referred to a slugs.
Those cents of reduced size, replacing the large cent in 1857. The 1856 small cents technically are patterns, but have been so widely collected with the regular issues that their acceptance is universal.
Term referring to the size of the digits of the date on a coin. (Use of this term implies that a large or medium date exists for that coin or series.)
The plain eagle on a perch first used on the 1794 half dime and half dollar, although the 1795 half eagle is the first coin to use the term to denote a type coin.
Term referring to the size of the lettering of the date on a coin. (Use of this term implies that large or medium letters exist for that coin or series.)
Common short name for the particular variety of two-cent coin of 1864 with small letters in the motto. The inscription “IN GOD WE TRUST” was first used as a motto on the two-cent coinage of 1864.
A term referring to the particular diameter of a coin in a series. (Use of this term implies that there is a large size or diameter with the same motif. Examples are the Large and Small size Capped Bust quarters.)
Short for Special Mint Set
Short for Specimen Strike.
A die made by an electrolytic deposition method. The surfaces of such a die are very rough, so they usually are extensively polished to remove the “pimples.” The recessed areas of the die, and the relief areas of any coin struck with the die, still have rustlike surfaces with tiny micro pimples.
A coin made from spark-erosion dies. These are characterized by the telltale “pimples” noted mainly on the areas in relief.
Special Mint Set
A set of special coins-neither business strikes nor Proofs-first struck in limited quantities in 1965 and officially released in 1966-1967- to replace Proof sets, which were discontinued as part of the U.S. Mint’s efforts to stop coin hoarding. The quality of many of the 1965 coins was not much better than that of business strikes-but by 1967, some Special Mint Set (SMS) coins resembled Proofs. In fact, the government admitted as much when it revealed how the 1967 issues were struck. In 1968, Proof coinage resume. There have been similar issues since; the 1994 and 1997 Matte-finish Jefferson nickels, for example, are frosted SMS-type coins. There also are a few known 1964 SMS coins, these likely struck as tests in late 1964 for the new 1965 SMS strikings.
Term used to indicate special coins struck at the Mint from 1792-1816 that display many characteristics of the later Proof coinage. Prior to 1817, the minting equipment and technology was limited, so these coins do not have the “watery” surfaces of later Proofs nor the evenness of strike of the close collar Proofs. PCGS designates these coins SP.
Color that is uneven, both in shade and composition.
A discolored area on a coin. This can be a small dot of copper staining on a gold coin or a large, dark “tar” spot on a copper coin. The spot(s) can have a small or large effect on the grade of a coin depending on the severity, size, placement, number, and so on.
Short for Augustus Saint-Gaudens or slang for the Standing Liberty double eagle or Saint.
The official composition of U.S. silver coinage, set by the Mint Act of 1792 at approximately 89 percent silver and 11 percent copper, later changed to 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper-the composition seen in most U.S. silver coins.
Motif with Miss Liberty in a upright front-facing position. The design was used in 1907 on the Saint-Gaudens double eagles and later on the Hermon A. MacNeil quarter first struck in 1917.
Standing Liberty quarter
Common name of the Hermon MacNeil designed quarter dollar struck from 1917 until 1930.
A line on a coin resulting from its improper removal from a holder, usually one of the two-by-two inch cardboard type. Staples should be completely removed from any holder before the coin is removed!
A term for the five-pointed and six-pointed devices used on many U.S. coins. On the earliest U.S. coins, thirteen stars were depicted, representing the thirteen original colonies/states. As new states were admitted into the Union, more stars were added; up to sixteen appeared on some coins. Adding stars for each state was impractical, however, so the number was reduced to the original thirteen. Exception include the forty-six stars, later forty-eight stars, around the periphery of Saint-Gaudens double eagles, reflecting the number of states in the Union at the time those coins were issued. Also, as a single motif, the star was used on the obverse of the three-cent silver issue from 1851 until 1873.
One of the 1999 and later Washington quarters struck with unique reverse designs for each state, issued in the order of admittance to the United States. (The order for the original 13 colonies was determined by the date which each state ratified the Constitution.)
A coining press driven by a steam-powered engine. This type of press, more powerful than its predecessors, was installed in the United States Mint in 1836, replacing the hand and horse-powered screw presses except for most Proof strikings and die hubbing.
Common name for the 1943 cents (and certain 1944 cents struck on left-over steel blanks) struck in steel and plated with zinc.
Slang for 1943 steel cents.
A term applied to the experimental four-dollar gold coins struck by the U.S. Mint in 1879-1880. So named for the large star on the coins’ reverse.
Sterling silver is a composition of 925 parts pure silver with 75 parts of copper. This is usually defined as .925 fine silver. Sterling silver is used to make jewelry and some household items, most notably silverware (knives, forks, etc.).
A counterfeit edge collar used for various-dated fakes. These have the same repeating characteristics.
Merchant tokens, usually composed of copper, which helped alleviate the small change shortage during the nineteenth century. These were widely accepted in their immediate areas.
Alternate form of “flow lines.”
Term for the incuse polish lines on the die which result in raised lines on coins. These are usually fine, parallel lines though on some coins they are swirling, still others with criss-cross lines. Planchet striations are burnishing lines not struck away by the minting process and are incuse on the coins.
strike – n.
Term to indicate the completeness, or incompleteness, of a coin’s intended detail. v. The act of minting a coin.
The flat metal, rolled to proper thickness, from which planchets are cut.
A term used to describe a coin produced from dies and a coining press.
A replica of a particular coin made from dies not necessarily meant to deceive.
A fake coin produced from false dies.
An error caused by a foreign object that got between the dies and the planchet when a coin was struck. A common Struck Thru error is a piece of wire that leaves an indentation that is usually mistaken for a scratch.
The buyer of a particular lot from an auction, whether it is a mail-bid, internet, or a “normal” in-person auction.
The condition of the surface of a coin. On weakly struck coins, this is a better indicator grade than is the coins’ detail.
The entire obverse and reverse of a coin, although often used to mean just the field areas.
A procedure in which coins are placed in a bag and shaken vigorously to knock off small pieces of metal. Later these bits of metal are gathered and sold, producing a profit as the coins are returned to circulation at face value. Mainly employed with gold coins, leaving their surfaces peppered with tiny nicks.