Like any specialized hobby or discipline, the field of coin collecting has a set of vocabulary all its own. For new collectors, all these special terms can be a bit daunting. But with a few basics, anyone can be well on the way to enjoying coin collection. Below is a glossary of frequently used coin collecting terms.
Types of coins
Despite the seemingly endless number of coins available to collectors, all coins fall into one of three broad categories.
- Business Strike Coins: These are coins that are minted to be used as currency. Because they are circulated, business strike coins are usually made from metal alloys. Although these alloys are more resistant to wear, business strike coins usually appear quite worn after only a few years.
- Commemoratives: Designed and produced entirely for collection, commemorative coins are generally highly detailed and artistic. Commemorative coins are usually minted from precious metals, so they are popular not only among numismatists, but also investors.
- Error Coins: These coins contain errors or flaws from the minting process. Error coins can occur in either business strike or commemorative coins. The relative rarity of error coins can make them extremely valuable to collectors.
- Proof Coins: Similar in design to business strikes, these coins are struck multiple times during the minting process, and usually at slower speeds with a higher striking pressure, which produces a very sharp and detailed mirror-like look.
The Parts of a Coin
Collectors use special names to describe the different parts of a coin. This vocabulary makes it possible for people worldwide to discuss coins using the same terminology.
- Obverse: This is considered the “front” side of the coin. It is the side that has the name of the country on it. In many countries, the obverse also features a bust of a government leader.
- Reverse: This is the “back” of the coin. For commemorative coins, the special design is generally on the reverse side.
- Rim: The narrow raised edge that runs around both faces of the coin, the rim makes stacking coins easier and protects the design from wear.
- Inscription: The writing on a coin that includes important information like country of origin, denomination, and mint location. Sometimes also called a legend, an inscription might also include a motto.
- Relief: Any area that is raised with part of a coin’s design is part of its relief. In contrast, the flat areas, without design, are known as fields. Some coins are specially minted in Ultra High Relief, for added dimension and detail.
Factors That Influence A Coin’s Price
Two primary factors influence the price of coins: grade and rarity. Although some collectors confuse the two, they are independent of one another.
- Grade: A coin’s grade is based on its condition. The higher a coin’s grade, the more it will be worth. Coins are graded from Poor (no visible details except the date and lettering) to Proof (nearly flawless). Sometimes also called “Mint State,” Proof coins have fine details and no wear. Find out more about a coin's grade.
- Rarity: When fewer coins are minted, each coin becomes more valuable, simply because the coin is scarcer. Coins that are more difficult to find, or that were minted in limited numbers generally fetch a higher price from collectors.
The shared terminology of coin collecting allows gold and silver coin collectors to communicate about their hobby with people all over the world. With a little practice, new collectors can master the vocabulary of this challenging and rewarding discipline.
This information is provided for general reference purposes and does not constitute professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information, please consult with a professional expert.