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Precious Metals & Coins Glossary

A

Accolated
see conjoined.
Adjustment
The filing down of a blank to reduce it to the correct weight before striking, revealed by file marks on the surface.
Ae
Abbreviation of aes (Latin, “bronze”), used to denote copper, brass or bronze.
Aes grave
(Latin, “heavy bronze”) Heavy coinage of the Roman Republic from 269 bc.
Aes rude
(Latin, “rough bronze”) Irregular lumps of bronze used as money before the adoption of regular coinage, c. 400 bc.
Aes signatum
(Latin, “signed bronze”) Regular bars or ingots cast to a standard weight, stamped to guarantee their weight, 289–269 bc.
Alliance Coinage
Coins struck by two or more states in conjunction.
Alloy
Mixture of metals, such as bronze (copper and tin).
Altered
Deliberately changed, usually to increase the value of a coin (such as changing a common date to a rare one by filing one of the digits).
Aluminium
Lightweight silver-coloured metal used for coins of low denominations.
Aluminium-bronze
Durable, gold-coloured alloy of aluminium and copper.
Amulet
Coin whose design confers talismanic properties, often pierced and worn to ward off evil spirits. See also touchpiece.
Anepigraphic coin
Coin with no inscription.
Angel
Gold coin named for its image of Archangel Michael, first used in France in 1340 and introduced to England in 1465, with a value of 6 shillings and 8 pence.
Annealing
Process of heating and cooling metal to relieve stresses before it is processed.
Annulet
Small circle used as an ornament or spacing device in inscriptions.
Antoniniani
Roman imperial coins named after the emperor Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) in whose reign they were first minted.
Ar
Abbreviation of argentum (Latin, “silver”).
Assay
Test to determine the fineness of precious metal.
Attribution
Identification of a coin by such data as the issuer, date, reign, mint or denomination.
Au
Abbreviation of aurum (Latin, “gold”).

B

Barbarous
Descriptive of coins struck by Celtic and Germanic tribes in imitation of Greek or Roman coins.
Base metal
Non-precious metal or an alloy containing neither gold nor silver.
Bath metal
Inferior bronze alloy used at Bath, England, for casting cannon, but also employed by William Wood of Bristol to produce tokens for Ireland and colonial America.
Beading
Border of raised dots round the rim of a coin.
Billon
Alloy of copper with less than 50 per cent silver.
Bimetallic
Made of two different metals or alloys; such coins usually have a centre in one metal and outer ring in another.
Bimetallism
Descriptive of coinage consisting of coins in two different metals with a fixed ratio between them, such as gold and silver or silver and bronze.
Bit
(1) Segment of a coin that has been cut up in order to circulate at half or one quarter the value of the entire coin. (2) Nickname of the 1 real piece that circulated in North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, worth one eighth of a dollar, or 12 1/2 cents.
Blank
Disc of metal cut or punched out of a strip or sheet, on which a coin is struck. Also known as a flan or planchet.
Blundered inscription
(1) Jumbled lettering in inscriptions on barbarous coins, reflecting the illiteracy of the makers copying Greek or Roman coins. (2) Unreadable inscription as a result of a mis-strike.
Bon pour
(French, “good for”) Inscription on 1920s French tokens used during a shortage of legal tender coins.
Bourse
Area in a coin exhibition where dealers sell their wares.
Bracteate
(from Latin bractea, a thin piece of metal) Coin struck on such a thin blank that the image impressed on one side shows through on the other.
Brass
Alloy of copper and zinc.
Brockage
Mis-struck coin with only one design, normal on one side and incuse on the other, caused when a struck coin clings to the die and strikes the next blank to pass through the press.
Bronze
Alloy of copper and tin.
Bullet money
Globular pieces of silver with impressed marks, used as currency in Thailand from the 14th century until 1904.
Bullion
Precious metal whose value is reckoned solely by its weight and fineness.
Bullion coin
Coin struck in precious metal, now usually with an inscription giving its weight and fineness, whose value fluctuates according to the market price of the metal.
Buyer’s premium
Percentage of the purchase price at auction paid by the winning bidder to the auction house.

C

Carat
(US karat) Term used to denote the fineness of gold, being 1⁄24 of the whole. Thus 22 carat gold is .916 fine.
Cartwheel
Nickname of the British penny and 2 pence copper coins of 1797, weighing respectively 1oz/28.35g and 2oz/56.7g, with raised rims resembling cartwheels.
Cased set
Set of coins in mint condition, packaged by the mint.
Cash
(from Portuguese caixa and Tamil kacu, a small coin) Cast circular coins in copper or bronze with a square central hole, used as subsidiary coinage in China.
Cast coins
Coins made by pouring molten metal into moulds, rather than by striking discs of metal with dies.
Clad
Descriptive of a coin with a core of one metal covered with a layer or coating of another.
Clash marks
Mirror-image traces found on a coin struck with dies that have been damaged by having been previously struck together without a blank between them.
Clipping
Removing slivers of silver or gold from the edge of coins, an illegal but widespread practice until the 1660s, when milled coins began to be struck with grained edges.
Cob
Irregularly shaped silver piece sliced from a bar of silver and crudely stamped for use in Spanish America in the 16th to 18th centuries.
Coin
Piece of metal marked with a device and issued by a government for use as money.
Coin weight
Piece of metal of exactly the weight of a known coin, used to check weight and fineness of matching coins.
Collar
Ring within which the obverse and reverse dies operate to restrict the spread of the blank between them; it is often engraved with an inscription or pattern that is impressed on the edge of the coin.
Commemorative
Coin struck to celebrate a historic anniversary or personality or publicize an event.
Conjoined portrait
Obverse portrait with two heads or busts in profile, facing the same direction and overlapping. Also known as accolated or jugate.
Convention money
Coins struck by neighbouring states and mutually acceptable; specifically the issues of Austria and Bavaria, which spread to other German states in the early 19th century.
Copper
(1) Metal widely used for subsidiary coinage for more than 2500 years, usually alloyed with tin to make bronze, but also alloyed with nickel or silver. (2) Nickname for small denomination coins.
Coppernose
Nickname derived from the debased English silver shillings of Henry VIII because the silver tended to wear off the king’s nose, the highest point of the obverse.
Counter Piece
resembling a coin but actually intended for use on a medieval accountancy board or in gambling.
Counterfeit
Imitation of a coin for circulation, intended to deceive the public and defraud the state.
Countermark
Punch mark applied to a coin to change its value or authorize its circulation in a different state.
Crockards
Debased imitations of English silver pennies, produced in the Low Countries and imported into England in the late 13th century.
Crown
gold Gold of 22 carat (.916) fineness, so called because it was first used in England in 1526 for the gold crown; it remains the British standard.
Cupellation
(Latin cupella, little cup) Refining process used to separate gold and silver from lead and other impurities in a bone ash pot called a cupel; used in assaying to determine the fineness of precious metals.
Cupro-nickel
(US copper-nickel) Alloy of copper and nickel.
Currency
Money of all kinds, including coins, paper notes, tokens and other articles, passing current in general circulation.
Current
Descriptive of coins and paper money in circulation.
Cut money
Coins cut into smaller pieces to provide proportionately smaller values for general circulation.

D

Debasement
Reduction of a coin’s precious metal content.
Decimal currency
Currency system in which the basic unit is divided into 10, 100 or 1000 subsidiary units.
Demonetization
Withdrawal of coins from circulation, declaring them to be worthless.
Denomination
Value given to a coin or note of paper money.
Device
Term derived from heraldry for the pattern or emblem on a coin.
Die
Hardened piece of metal bearing the mirror or wrong-reading image of a device, used to strike one side of a blank.
Die break
Raised line or bump in a relief image caused by a crack in the die.
Dodecagonal
Twelve-sided.
Dump
Coin struck on a very thick blank.

E

Eagle
US gold coin with an American eagle obverse and a face value of $10, circulating until 1933.
Ecclesiastical coins
Coins struck under the authority of an archbishop or other prelate, prevalent in the Middle Ages and surviving in coins of the Papacy.
Edge
The side of a coin, perpendicular to the obverse and reverse surfaces, which may be plain, inscribed or grained.
Edge inscription
Lettering on the edge of coins designed to prevent clipping.
Edge ornament
Elaboration of the graining on milled coins designed as a security device.
Effigy
Portrait or bust on the obverse of a coin.
Electrum
Naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver prevalent in the ancient coins of the Mediterranean region; it was also known as white gold.
Encased money
Stamps enclosed in small metal discs and used in lieu of coins during the American Civil War and in Europe during and after World War I.
Engraving
Technique of cutting designs and inscriptions in dies used for striking coins.
Epigraphy
Study of inscriptions engraved in stone or metal, usually to determine the date and provenance of an artefact so inscribed.
Erasure
Removal of the title or effigy of a ruler from coinage issued posthumously, notably in Roman coins of Caligula and Nero.
Error
Mistake in the design or production of a coin.
Exergue
Bottom segment of the face of a coin, usually divided from the rest of the field by a horizontal line and often containing the date or value.

F

Face
Obverse or reverse surface of a coin.
Face value
Value of the denomination applied to a coin, distinct from its intrinsic value.
Facing
Descriptive of a portrait facing to the front instead of in profile.
Fantasy
Piece purporting to be a coin but either emanating from a non-existent country or never authorized by the country whose name is inscribed on it.
Field
Flat part of a coin between the legend and effigy or other raised parts of the design.
Flan
see blank.
Forgery
Unauthorized copy or imitation, produced primarily to deceive collectors.
Frosting
Matt finish used for the high relief areas of proof coins to contrast with the polished surface of the field.

G

Globular
Descriptive of a coin struck on a very thick dump with convex sides.
Gold
Precious metal used for coins since the 7th century BC.
Grade
Description of the condition of a collectable coin for the purposes of valuation and trade.
Graining
Pattern of close vertical ridges around the edge of milled coins, originally devised to eliminate the fraudulent practice of clipping. Also known as reeding or milling.
Gun money
Emergency Irish coinage of 1689–91 struck from gunmetal by the deposed James II in order to pay and supply his troops during the Williamite or Jacobean War.

H

Hammered
Descriptive of coins struck by hand, using a hammer to impress the dies.
Hoard
Group of coins buried or hidden in the past.
Holed coin
(1) Coin minted with a central hole. (2) Coin pierced after striking, to wear as jewellery or a talisman.
Hub
Right-reading metal punch used to strike working dies.

I

Incuse
Descriptive of an impression that cuts into the surface of a coin.
Ingot
Piece of precious metal, cast in a mould and stamped with its weight and fineness.
Intrinsic value
Net value based on the metal content of a coin, as opposed to its nominal or face value.
Iron Metal
used in primitive currency such as the spits of ancient Greece, and for emergency coinage in both World Wars.

J

Jeton
(from French jeter, to throw) Alternative term for counter.
Jugate
(from Latin jugum, yoke) Alternative term for conjoined.

K

Key date
The rarest date in a long-running series.
Klippe
Coin struck on a square or rectangular blank hand-cut from sheet metal, originally in a time of emergency.

L

Laureate
Descriptive of a design incorporating a laurel wreath, either adorning the brows of a ruler or enclosing the value.
Legal tender
Coin declared by law to be current money.
Legend
Inscription on a coin.
Long cross coinage
English pennies first issued by Henry III, on which the arms of the cross on the reverse reached to the rim.
Lustre
Sheen or bloom on the surface of an uncirculated coin.

M

Maundy money
Set of small silver pennies distributed by the British sovereign to the poor on Maundy Thursday (preceding Good Friday), a medieval custom still enacted. Ordinary coins were originally used but special 1, 2, 3 and 4 pence coins were first minted in 1822.
Milling
Mechanical process for the production of coins, in use from the 16th century.
Mint
Establishment in which coins are produced. Also used as a grading term.
Mint set
Coins still enclosed in the package or case issued by the mint.
Mint-mark
Mark on a coin identifying the mint at which it was struck.
Mirror surface
Highly polished, flawless surface of the field of a proof coin.
Mis-strike
Coin on which the impression of the die has been struck off-centre.
Moneyer
Mint official in pre-industrial era responsible for striking coinage of legal weight and quality.
Mule
Coin whose obverse and reverse designs are wrongly matched. Can be comprised of different denominations or even separate foreign currencies.

N

Nickel
Base metal used extensively in coinage as a substitute for silver, frequently alloyed with copper to make cupro-nickel.
Non-circulating legal tender
Coins that, though technically valid for use, do not circulate in practice (such as silver and gold commemoratives). Abbreviated to NCLT.
Numismatics
(from Latin numisma, coin) The study and collection of paper money, coins and medals.

O

Obverse
“Heads” side of a coin.
Off-metal
Descriptive of a coin struck in a metal other than that officially authorized.
Overdating
Method of changing a date without the expense of engraving an entirely new die. One or more digits are altered by superimposing other numerals using a punch.
Overstrike
Coin produced when a previously struck coin is substituted for a blank, on which traces of the original design remain.

P

Patina
Surface quality acquired as a result of environmental interaction over time, such as the oxidation of metal.
Pattern
Design piece prepared by a mint for approval by the issuing authority, not actually put into production. Patterns may differ from issued coins in metal or minor details, but many bear designs quite different from those eventually adopted.
Pellet
Raised circular ornament, sometimes used as a spacing device in the inscription.
Pieces of eight
Nickname for Spanish silver 8 real coins.
Piedfort
(US piefort) Coin struck on a blank of two or three times the normal weight and thickness.
Pile
Lower die bearing the obverse motif, the opposite of the trussel.
Planchet
see blank.
Plate money
Large, cumbersome copper plates used as money in Sweden, 1643–1768.
Platinum
Precious metal first used for coins in Russia in 1819 and occasionally in recent years for proof coins.
Privy mark
Secret mark incorporated in a coin design as a security device or to identify the particular die used.
Profile
Side portrait often used on the obverse of coins.
Proof
Originally a trial strike but in recent years a coin struck to a very high standard, often in precious metals.
Punch
Piece of hardened metal bearing a design or lettering used to impress a die or a coin.

R

Recoinage
Process of recalling and demonetizing old coins, which are then melted down and made into new coins.
Reeding
see graining.
Relief
Raised parts of the design.
Restrike
Coin produced from the original dies, but long after the period in which they were current.
Reverse
“Tails” side of a coin, usually featuring arms, the value or a pictorial design.
Rim
Raised border around the outside of a coin’s face.

S

Scissel
Clippings of metal left after a blank has been cut; sometimes a clipping accidentally adheres to the blank during striking, producing a crescent-shaped flaw.
Scyphate
(from Greek scypha, skiff or small boat) Cup-shaped, used to describe Byzantine concave coins.
Sede vacante
(Latin, “vacant see”) Inscription used on issues of ecclesiastical mints between the death of a prelate and the election of his successor.
Series
All the issues of a coin of one denomination, design and type, including modifications and variations.
Short-cross coinage
English pennies on which the arms of the reverse cross fell far short of the rim.
Siege money
Emergency currency issued under siege.
Silver
Precious metal widely used for coinage from the 6th century bc onward.
Slabbing
Method of encapsulating a coin permanently, particularly in a rectangular plastic case, to prevent deterioration.
Specie
(Latin, “in kind”) Money in the form of coins, especially of precious metals.
Steel
Metal refined and tempered from iron and used in a stainless or chromed version for coinage since 1939. Copper-clad steel is now extensively used in place of bronze.

T

Tin
Metal used for small coins in Malaysia, Thailand and the East Indies, and in British halfpence and farthings (1672–92). It is more usually alloyed with copper to form bronze.
Token
Coin-like piece of metal, plastic or card issued by merchants, local authorities or other organizations, often during periods when government coinage is in short supply, but also produced extensively as a substitute for money.
Touchpiece
Coin kept as a lucky charm and often pierced to wear as jewellery, notably the English gold angel, which was believed to cure or ward off scrofula, a skin disease known as the King’s Evil.
Trade coin
Coin produced for use outside the country of origin as part of international trade, such as British and American trade dollars.
Truncation
Stylized cut at the base of the neck of a portrait, sometimes the site of a mint-mark, the engraver’s initials or a die number.
Trussel
Upper die used in hammered coinage bearing the reverse design, the opposite of the pile.
Type
A major variety of a series of coins.
Type set
Set comprising one coin of each type in a series.

U

Uniface
Coin with a device on one side only.

V

Vis-à-vis
(French, “face-to-face”) Descriptive of a double portrait in which the two heads face each other.

W

White gold
Ancient term for electrum, which differs from the modern definition.

Y

Year set
Set of coins produced annually by a mint, usually containing a specimen of each coin issued by the mint during the year.

Z

Zinc
Metal alloyed with copper to produce brass; zinc-coated steel was also widely used in Europe during both World Wars.

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World Coins Glossary

We are delighted to offer this glossary by permission of Lorenz Books, publishers of one of our favorite books, The World Encyclopedia of Coins, written by Dr. James Mackay.