Glossary of Numismatic Terms
Supplied by David Cassel

A or B or C - (Capital letter suffix to a J-number) assigned by a grading service or others but not assigned by Judd, changes or modifies what is generally acknowledged however ommitted in an original closed end numbering system.

a. or b. - (suffix to a J-number) assigned by Judd Adams and Woodin, A-W, AW - published in 1913 and then the second edition in 1959, United States, Pattern, Trial, and Experimental Pieces. In its time, the most accurate and complete cataloguing of U.S. pattern, etc. coins. In 1959, the first edition of J. Hewitt Judd, M.D., United States Pattern and Experimental Trial Pieces was released. (Judd inverted A-W’s Trial, and Experimental Pieces to Experimental and Trial Pieces.) I have trouble keeping them straight. That is why I refer to them as “Judd” or “A-W.” There are various A-W entries that are more accurate than Judd’s. These occur when Judd disagreed with A-W’s cataloguing and can be demonstrated through the use of SEM-EDX analysis. Nevertheless, the Judd book is in more use today than the A-W book.

Ae - copper (Ae)

A.k.a. - also known as

Al - aluminum

Ag - silver Comparette used Ar (argentum, L.) to abbreviate silver

Annealing - Tempering, the process by which metal is heated, sometimes repeatedly, to soften and make less brittle for working.

Billon - for our purposes, a primarily copper coin with less than half its weight in silver. According to Webster’s Dictionary: “An alloy of silver with more than its weight of copper, tin, or the like

Bn - brown, a copper or bronze coin’s color designation given by the encapsulation services, sometimes a misnomer

Commercial grading - the practice of grading a coin in relation to its perceived value The grading services do not admit to commercial grading but nevertheless they practice it. In the December 14th, 1998 issue of Coin World the very rare Adams 1804 Draped Bust $1 demonstrates the following: “When the coin was sold in 1993 the coin was in a PCGS Proof 45 holder. In 1997, NGC graded and encapsulated the coin Proof 50, today the coin is graded by PCGS as a Proof 58 and has just been placed into the collection of a collector for a price in excess of $800,000.” The provenance is well documented. I’ll pick up the provenance line (quoting once again from Coin World) “Stack’s auction house in New York sold it again in 1989 for $242,000” (it sold a few more times) “then Heritage sold the coin in 1993 to a Kansas dealer who placed the coin into a collection of a Kansas collector for $485,000. The coin then graded PCGS 45.” (it sold a few more times) “until earlier this year (1998) brokered to Yaffe, Goldman, and Terranova.” Now nearing the end of 1998 the coin is in a PCGS proof 58 holder and sold for in excess of $800,000. In just four years (1993 through 1998) this very well known and important rare coin increases from a technical grade of proof 45 at $485,000 to commercial grade of proof 58 in excess of $800,000. This is “gradeflation” at its finest.

Concordance - Agreement. For the purpose of this website, it is the number cross-reference file for the 4 major pattern books Pollock, Judd, Adams & Woodin and Taxay. To go to the pattern concordance, click here.

Corrosion - the reaction that takes place on base metal coins caused by the interaction of one substance on another. Corrosion of a coin’s surface always results in the loss of metal. Tarnish or toning, what happens on silver, can not be called corrosion because no metal is lost in the process.

Crack out - as a noun, a coin that was removed from its slab for close examination or for possibly resubmission to an encapsulation service as a raw coin. As a verb, the removal of a coin from a slab.

Cu - copper (Ae)

Device - the design struck onto a coin planchet through the employment of dies being struck. The area surrounding the device (s) is the field of the coin.

Die(s) - two steel cylinders that come together on each side of a coin planchet and thereby create the resultant coin’s surface. If the devices are engraved into a die’s surface the result on a coin planchet (blank of metal) will be a raised design feature. If on the other hand, the design is beyond the die’s face, (this is a hub or the master hub from which more dies can be made), the resultant coin will have an incuse or intaglio design. Two good examples of incuse designed coins are the quarter eagle gold Indian Head Type of 1908 - 1929 and the gold Indian Half Eagle of the same time.

Die crack(s) - Damage to one or more of the dies used in striking a coin leaves evidence on the resultant coin’s surface. Since the crack in the coin’s die leaves a recess in the die, this results in metal flowing into the recess and appearing as a blemish in hi relief on the coins surface. The blemish can appear as a crack. As the defective die worsens, the blemish on the coin’s surface enlarges. It is possible to know the sequence of a coins striking relative to another, both products of the same die, by the progression of the blemish (crack) on the coin’s surface. If the die deteriorates to the point that the die breaks apart, the resultant flaw takes on the blemish of a cud, a “blob” of metal somewhere near the coin’s edge.

Die hairline scratches or striations - (see Die Wear)

Die Trial - any coin struck from production dies in the wrong metal. In the early years, pre-1800, die trials were struck to test the dies. In later years, the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s most were deliberately struck for sale to collectors often in complete sets.

Die Wear - After striking coins repeatedly, due to heat and friction, the surfaces of the dies show wear. Periodically, the striking process is halted and one or more of the dies are resurfaced to remove blemishes. After the fine sanding of the die faces, hairlines if not polished completely out will leave very fine gouges in the die faces. This in turn will produce mirror image raised hairlines in each coin struck after the dies were resurfaced. In all cases the scratches will be unique to each coin before resurfacing. With each successive resurfacing, new die polish lines will appear and the die polish lines that have not been completely polished out previously will also appear. Now you have two sets of unique die polish lines. In time, if enough flat die face surface is repeatedly re-polished, this process will remove substantial die metal surface. What results is that the design features (devices) will be shallower in relation to the die fields and then small detail becomes smaller.

Another curious blemish arises when the steel dies were improperly stored over a period of time and allowed to rust. If the dies are put into use after acquiring rust, the coiner would have to remove the rust from the die. If the rust pits are deep enough, sanding the face of the die to clean it up would possibly leave hair lines or pits if not sanded deep enough. Excessive sanding to get to the full extent of the rust pit removed would concurrently remove die face and ultimately, detail of design if the pit (s) were deep. For example, a detail such as a small star that was cut into the die would become lower in relief and smaller at the cross section of its base. The coiner might elect to not sand down the die face too excessively. The result of this decision will be seen on the coin struck afterwards. Metal from the softer planchet will be forced into the rust pitted areas of the tool steel die and this will result in outward bulges on the coins surface.

EDS Analysis - Energy dispersive spectroscopy (spectrographic analysis) a form of analysis, for our purpose, synonymous with SEM-EDX analysis.

Electrotype - A copy or fake coin made by electroplating a wax impression of a presumably genuine coin.

Essay(s) - (see Patterns)

Exergue - The lower portion of a coin below a base line that contains date, mint mark, etc.

Eye appeal - that visual quality of a coin’s appearance that sets it above similar coins, a fresh look, hard to express it but you know it when you find a coin with great eye appeal.

Fantasy piece - Piece de Caprice as Dr. Judd has referred: “Coins produced by Mint personnel using the Mint equipment and facility that were un-authorized.” Without exception, these coins were always rarities and when sold, commanded very substantial prices. They were made to be rare and they were made to enrich their maker.

Fe - Iron

Field - the flat surface of a coin upon which the coin’s device are contrasted. In proof coinage, the planchet is usually highly polished leaving the field mirror-like after the striking.

Flan - a.k.a. planchet, a blank of metal to be struck between dies to produce a coin.

FPL - fixed price list, a dealer’s inventory of his coins for sale at a stated asking price

Fully struck - Sharp detail of a coin’s design. Many factors combine to produce such coins. (see soft struck below for comparison)

Hub - a mirror image copy of a die in relief which was used to make “carbon copy” dies

J- (Judd number) - J. Hewitt Judd, M.D. author of United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces catalogued pattern, etc. coins. The first edition published in 1959 has led to a total of seven editions being published. The current edition published in 1982 is probably the final edition. Although the Andrew Pollock III, book United States Patterns and Related Issues published in 1994 by Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc. is the current state of the art pattern book, the Judd numbering system appears, at least for the moment, to be irreplaceable.

L.E. - lettered edge

Lint mark - A small depression, usually curved, A small thread left on the surface of a die that was recently wiped after polishing gets pressed into the coin’s surface upon striking.

Milled edge - reeded edge (R.E.) for our purpose.

Mule - a pairing of odd dies that are not suitably regarded as for instance, a two headed coin, example J-219 is a very flagrant marriage of two large flying eagle cents obverses, one with legend and one without.

Ni - nickel metal, when used in this work will be synonymous with cupro-nickel, usually 25% Ni, more or less and 75% Cu, more or less. If Ni intended to refer to pure Ni it will be designated “pure Ni.”. This definition of mine is not necessarily consistent with Dr. Judd’s use of the term. The problem, as I see it, is that Dr. Judd never explained what he meant by nickel. In some cases, for the similar appearing coin, he has two entries. One is for Ni and the other is for Cu-Ni. There are other cases where he states “Ni” and the coin turns out to be Cu-Ni after analysis.

Novodel - a coin struck from new dies which is backdated.

Pattern - (The following is quoted and/or paraphrased from a resource that may be absent from your library. “Scott’s Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins, 1971,” prepared and edited for the Scott Publishing Co., by Don Taxay) “The pattern is an essay intended for submission by the Mint Director to a higher authority, generally the Secretary of the Treasury or Congress. It may be struck in the metal intended for adoption, or, for reasons of economy, in a less expensive one. Regular patterns represent a proposed change of design and experimental patterns embody a more radical innovation such as size, shape, edge, or composition. Patterns may be adopted or unadopted. Essays embody a new idea or design proposed for adoption in the regular issue and they are made during the course of regular Mint business. Regular patterns represent a proposed change of design while experimental patterns embody a more radical innovation such as size, shape, edge or composition.” For additional reading, consult Andrew W. Pollock III, “United States Issues and Related Issues,” page 1.

Pb - lead

Pol. (or P.) - Andrew W. Pollock III, The author of: United States Patterns and Related Issues, published in 1994 by Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., Box 1224, Wolfeboro, NH, 03894, 800-222-5993. Pollock has expanded all areas of numismatic knowledge on U.S. pattern, etc. coins and brought to print a magnificent work.

P.E. - plain edge (not a reeded edge)

Pedigree - The lineage or provenance of a coin’s ownership where known

Piece de Caprice - (see fantasy piece)

Planchet - a disc of metal that can be struck with dies to produce a coin

Planchet hairline striations - If a planchet is polished heavy enough before being struck, the striations will appear as hairline scratches into the coin’s surface rather than above the coin’s surfaces as the case would be from die polish striations.

PR or Pr - proof

R - Rarity scale (by William H. Sheldon):


R - 8, 2 or 3

R - 7 (High) 4 - 6, (Low) 7 - 12

R - 6, (High) 13 -20, (Low) 21 -30

R - 5, 31 - 75

R - 4, 76 - 200

R - 3, 201 - 500

R - 2, 501 - 1250

R - 1, Over 1250

Raw - a coin that is not encapsulated, (not slabbed)

RB - red-brown, a designation given by the encapsulation services for copper and bronze coins (but not billon coins) to designate a coin color that is neither red nor brown

Rd - red, a copper or bronze coin color designated by the encapsulation firms

R.E. - reeded edge, channels, grooves or teeth usually perpendicular to coin’s obverse or reverse

Restrikes - (struck from within the Mint as opposed to outside the Mint) “The regular restrike is an impression made from a correctly matched pair of regular dies, but after the date shown, and for other than coinage purposes.” Quoted from: Scott’s Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U. S. Coins” by Don Taxay.

Scratch - usually referred to marks added to a coin’s surface after it leaves the mint. Hairlines caused in the manufacture of coins may look like scratches but do not qualify as such. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between the technical grade and the commercial grade of a coin. Excessive mint caused hairlines may reduce the commercial grade of a coin below the technical grade of a coin. The grading services do not have distinctions of technical and commercial grade. Often rare coins are given higher grades for commercial reasons than they would otherwise be entitled to as technical grades. However, if the same rare coin has excessive hairlines (mint caused) it may receive a lower commercial grade.

SEM-EDX - abbreviation for: Scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive x-ray analysis. The testing of coins which is harmless to the coins surface, scans the surface and graphs the elements encountered. Several areas of the coin are tested to establish a consistency rather than an inconsistency of metallurgical analysis. The test can cost as much as $150 per coin and is offered as a service by the grading and encapsulation firms. A certificate is issued which not only states the coin’s metal analysis but also states a certificate number that coincides exactly with the grading service holder certificate number.

Seigniorage - The difference between the face value of a coin and the government’s cost to issue a coin including bullion plus striking costs.

Sheldon scale of numerical grading - A system of grading both proof and mint-state coins numerically rather than adjectivally. Coins that do not show signs of wear fall generally into categories of 60 and above. Sixty is the base grade in this area, 63 is the lowest designation for “choice,” 64 choice +, 65 the lowest category of “gem,” 66 is gem +, 67 is “superb gem” and anything 67 and higher, are coins to dream about.

Slab - a slang term used to refer to an encapsulated coin from one of the encapsulation services. A holder contains information that identifies a particular coin. It protects a coin from all but the harshest of treatment. It tends to make a commodity out of its contents because people trust the grade assigned, the authenticity (guaranteed), and other features.

Si - Silicon an ingredient used in the manufacture of a few experimental base metal pattern coins having the ability to retard the oxidation that ordinarily accompanies similar, primarily aluminum or tin coins not having silicon added. If you test a 65 or higher tin or aluminum coin, the odds are that you will find a small amount of silicon. Only mishandled tin and aluminum coins might be found, having a small amount of silicon that received a lower grade due to factors other than oxidation.

Softly struck - Weak or flat features. If in the manufacture of coins certain steps are not taken to produce a quality fully struck coin the coin may exhibit a soft struck quality. Devices will not be fully developed. Very good examples of soft struck coins are certain Morgan dollars from the New Orleans Mint. In order to prolong the life of the coin dies, the pressure of striking the coins was reduced. This produced coins with rounded shallow detail. Soft or flat hair curls of Miss Liberty or her ear, or the breast feathers of the eagle or the eagle’s toe nails are examples of soft struck coins that many readers can attest to. Nickel metal coins rarely exhibit the high quality crisp detail that the same coin would exhibit in any other metal commonly used in coinage.

Sn - Tin, a base metal used in the manufacture of some token Postage Currency 10 cent coins and some Trade Dollars. Tin has been alloyed with other metals for experimentation purposes.

Splasher - popular name used to defined uniface die and hub trials.

Specific gravity - “The ratio of the weight of a given volume of a substance to the weight of an equal volume of some reference substance (water), or equivalently, the ratio of the masses of equal volumes of the two substances.” (Columbia Encyclopedia definition.) Simply stated: If you have two or more coins occupying the same space (volume) but of differing weights, you can quantify the relative differences and eliminate if not establish the metal possibilities. The specific gravities of the metals are all well documented. Just to name a few: Aluminum 2.6989, Bismuth 9.75, Chromium 7.2, Cesium 1.873 (softest metal known), Copper 8.96, Gold 19.32, Iron 7.87, Lead 11.35, Magnesium 1.738, Manganese 7.2 to 7.45 depending upon form, Nickel 8.902, Palladium 12.02, Platinum 21.45, Silicon 2.33, Silver 10.50, Tin (gray) 5.75, Tin (white) 7.30, Titanium 4.54, Tungsten 19.30, Zinc 7.133.

Strike - The force or pressure and angle with which the dies are struck, the quality of the planchet, the softness or hardness of the metal planchet, the heat of the planchet at the time of striking, the condition of the dies and other factors combine to produce a good or bad image or design on a coin.

Technical coin grade - Mint caused blemishes may reduce the technical grade to a lower commercial grade. A coin may be as fine as when struck, but if softly struck, or struck on a poor quality planchet, with visible die polish lines, or corrosion, etc. may cause the coin to have a poorer eye appeal, hence, a lower commercial value than one not so struck. Most prefer a blemish free coin to one with blemishes, even if Mint caused. The grading services don’t recognize technical grades as the final grade for their encapsulated products. Rather they factor in the technical grade with the commercial grade. Often what result is more weighted to the value of the coin. Token coinage - A coin with an intrinsic value and seigniorage (a government’s cost to issue a coin, bullion plus striking costs) less than its face value

Trial piece - see Die Trials

Weak strike - (see soft strike)

WM - white metal - an alloy made primarily of tin.

Wrappers - A term given to the document that held the coins produced at the Mint which described the qualities of the coins contained therein.

x-Ray Florescence Testing - A scientific analysis that is capable of producing similar test results to those of SEM-EDX or EDS analysis.

This glossary was taken from:

“United States Postage Currency Coins”

Copyright David Cassel