List of Coin Collecting Terms - A Numismatic Glossary September 25 2013

This continually-updated glossary is an attempt to provide a list of some of the most common terms for coin collecting beginners, kids, adults, and experienced numismatists alike.  

 

About Good (AG 3) - A coin with very heavy wear.  While all the main features remain, the date and other minor features may be partially worn away.  Generally considered a collectible grade for scarcer coins.  

About/Almost Uncirculated (AU 50-58) - A coin with most, if not all, of its original luster and a small amount of wear.  

Alloy - A mixture of two or more metals.  Most coins are struck from alloys, with the exception of some bullion coins.  

ANA - The American Numismatic Association, the world’s largest association of coin collectors and dealers.  

ANACS - The American Numismatic Association Certification Service, a third-party grading service.  Generally considered a reputable second-tier grading service, behind only PCGS and NGC

Ancients - Ancient coins, encompassing everything from the first coins struck in 600 B.C. up to the start of the Middle Ages.  

Artificial Toning - Coloration on a coin caused by artificial heat and chemical treatments, as opposed to natural toning.  Negatively regarded by most collectors and reduces the value of coins.  

Bag Marks - Minor marks and abrasions due to freshly-minted coins striking one another during the shipping process.  A coin can have bag marks and still be considered uncirculated, as bag marks are not a sign of circulation/wear.  Most commonly seen with silver dollars.  

Barber Coinage - A common term for the dimes, quarters, and half dollars designed by Mint Engraver Samuel Barber.  Coins bearing Barber’s design were first issued in 1892; all three denominations were given new designs by 1916.  

Blank - The flat disk of metal prior to a coin being struck.  (Also, Planchet).  

Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) - Another term for an uncirculated coin: a coin that has no wear.  

Bronze - A harder alloy of mostly copper and some tin.  Commonly used since the very beginning of human coinage.  

Brown (BN) - Adjective used to describe an old copper coin that has lost its original red luster, as part of the natural aging process.  Brown coins can still be uncirculated, and are not considered negatively (though “red” coins generally demand a premium).  

Buffalo Nickel - Common name for the U.S. Indian Head nickel, struck from 1913-1938.  

Bullion - Coins, rounds, or bars struck from high-purity precious metals, most commonly silver, gold, and platinum.  Used primarily for precious metal investment purposes, though certain bullion coins and bars have collectible value.  

Bullion Value - The monetary value of the precious metals within a coin, as opposed to collectible/numismatic value.  

Business Strike - The mint’s striking process for coins produced for general circulation, as opposed to specially polished proof strike coins struck for collectors.  

Bust Dollar - U.S. silver dollars produced from 1795-1804.  

C - Mintmark for the Charlotte, NC mint, active from 1838-1861.  Produced small denomination gold coins.  

Cameo (CAM) - Coins with exceptional contrast between the mirrored fields and the raised features of the design, most often in proof strikes.  Cameo coins demand a premium.  Commonly seen in Morgan silver dollars and many modern proofs.  

CC - Mintmark for the Carson City, NV mint, active from 1870-1893.  Produced silver and gold coins in small quantities.  Coins with CC mintmarks are generally worth a premium because of their small mintages.  

Choice Uncirculated - A term generally used to describe MS-63 and MS-64 coins, rarely MS-65.  

Circulated - A coin that has any amount of wear.  Encompasses all grades from Poor-1 to About Uncirculated-58.  

Commemoratives - Coins struck by the U.S. Mint to commemorate a particular event, anniversary, or person.  

Copper-nickel - A hard alloy with a high proportion of copper to nickel, used widely for modern coins.  

Counterfeit - An unauthentic coin, produced by an individual for purposes of deception, as opposed to the government.  The vast majority of counterfeit coins are worthless.  

D - Mintmark for the Dahlonega, GA mint, active from 1838-1861.  Produced small denomination gold coins.  

D - Now the mintmark for the Denver, CO mint, active from 1905-Present.  Produces many different denominations.  

Deep Cameo (DCAM) - Coins with exceptional contrast between the mirrored fields and the raised features of the design, most often in proof strikes.  An even stronger contrast than normal Cameo.  Worth a substantial premium.  

Denomination - The value of a coin (i.e. quarter, half dollar, etc).  

Denticles - Small, tooth-like projections around the rim of many early U.S. coins.  

Ding - A small dent or mark.  

Dipped - Used to describe a coin that has been partially submerged in a soap or chemical solution to make it appear brighter.  Unskilled, or repeated, dipping can result in loss of luster and loss of value.  A coin professionally dipped may suffer no ill effects to either.  

Double Eagle - A $20.00 gold coin, produced by the U.S. Mint for general circulation from 1849 to 1932.  

Eagle - A $10.00 gold coin, produced by the U.S. Mint for general circulation from 1795 to 1932.  

Extremely Fine (EF 40-48) - A coin with small amounts of wear and possibly some remaining luster.  

Fasces - The bundle of wooden rods on the reverse side of Mercury dimes.  An ancient Roman symbol of martial power and authority.  

Full (Separated) Bands (FB, FSB) - Used to describe Mercury dimes with full separation between the two horizontal bands on the fasces.  An indicator of a strong strike, generally demands a premium.  

Full Bell Lines (FBL) - Used to describe Franklin half dollars with fully defined sets of lines on the Liberty Bell.  An indicator of a strong strike, generally demands a premium.

Full Head (FH) - Used to describe Standing Liberty quarters with a fully defined head/helmet on Lady Liberty.  An indicator of a strong strike, generally demands a premium.

Full Steps (FS) - Used to describe Jefferson nickels with six fully defined steps on Monticello.  An indicator of a strong strike, generally demands a premium.

Fair (FA-2) - A heavily worn coin with very little detail remaining.  Usually only considered collectible for rare/valuable coins.  

Good (G 4-6) - A heavily worn coin with all major design details remaining and close to a full rim.  

Fine (F 12-15) - A coin with moderate to considerable evenly-spread wear.  All lettering is visible.  

Half Eagle - A $5.00 gold coin, produced by the U.S. Mint for general circulation from 1795 to 1929.  

Hairlines - Thin scratches on a coin’s surface caused by cleaning or mishandling.  

ICG - Independent Coin Graders, a third-party grading service.  Generally considered a reputable second-tier grading service, on par with or better than ANACS, and behind only PCGS and NGC.  

Key Date - A coin that that is relatively rare or valuable within any given series.  

Luster (Mint Luster) - The original shine of a coin.  Luster is diminished by wear, cleaning, and dipping.  Coins with their original luster are more valuable.  

Melt Value - The value of the metals within a coin (as if melted down at a refinery).  

Milk Spots - Small white spots on high-purity silver and bullion coins caused by improper pre-minting treatment of the coin blanks.  Commonly found on "Maple" silver bullion coins from the Canadian Mint.  

Mint - A government facility where coins are produced.  The U.S. currently operates four branch mints—Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point.  

Mintage - The number of coins produced in a given year, at a given mint.  As a general rule, coins with lower mintages demand higher values because of their relative scarcity.  

Mintmark - A small letter placed somewhere on the coin’s design to indicate at which mint that coin was produced.  Not all coins will have mintmarks.  Not to be confused with the designer’s initials.  

Mint State (MS 60-70) - A coin in its original uncirculated condition with no visible wear.  Ranges from MS-60, a coin with a low eye appeal and many surface marks, to MS-70, a perfect coin.  

Misaligned Die (MAD) - A striking error in which the dies are incorrectly positioned, resulting in an off-center strike.  Worth a premium to collectors of error coins, depending on the level of misalignment.  

NGC - Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, a third-party grading service.  Generally considered one of the two top-tier grading services in terms of quality, along with PCGS.  

Noise - Marks on the surface of a mint state coin, usually caused by contact with other coins.  An uncirculated coin with lots of noise may merit a low mint-state grade, such as MS-60.  Not to be confused with wear.  

O - Mintmark for the New Orleans mint, active 1838-1909.  Produced gold and silver coins.  

Obverse - The front side, or "heads", of a coin.  

P - Mintmark for the Philadelphia mint, active 1792-Present.  Produces many different denominations.  Prior to 1980, coins minted at the Philadelphia mint had no mintmark.  

PCGS - Professional Coin Grading Service, a third-party grading service.  Generally considered one of the two top-tier grading services in terms of quality, along with NGC.

Polished - A form of doctoring usually used on silver coins, in which polish is applied to make the coin brighter.  Can usually be easily identified by noticing the amount of wear on a coin and the lack of luster.  Significantly reduces a coin's value.  

 

Poor (P-1) - The lowest possible grade for a coin.  A coin so worn down that it is barely identifiable.  Usually only considered collectible for extremely rare/valuable coins.  

Premium Quality (PQ) - Used to describe the finest coins within a given grade, or slabbed coins that are undergraded.  

Proof-like (PL) - A business strike coin that has mirror-like surfaces similar to a proof strike.  Most commonly seen in Morgan dollars.  

Proof Set - A set of proof strike coins sold directly to collectors by the Mint.  Usually contains each of the denominations struck within a given year.  

Proof Strike (PF) - A special method of producing coins in which the dies are highly polished, the blanks are specially selected and treated, and each coin is struck multiple times.  Produces a well-struck coin with mirrored surfaces.  Proof strikes are sold by the Mint directly to collectors for a premium.  Proof strikes are available for many series of U.S. coins, though not all.  

PVC - Polyvinyl chloride, commonly used in flexible coin flips.  When left undisturbed over long periods of time, may breakdown and leave a damaging green stain on the coin contained.  

Quarter Eagle - A $2.50 gold coin, produced by the U.S. for general circulation from 1796-1929.  

Rainbow Toning - A type of colorful toning, with a wide spectrum of colors, most typically seen on Morgan dollars.  Can occasionally occur naturally on other coins, but is often induced artificially.   

Red (RD) - Adjective used to describe an old copper coin that still has its original red luster.  Generally worth a premium.

Red-Brown (RB) - Adjective used to describe an old copper coin that has anywhere between 5 to 95% of its original red luster.  

Restrike - A coin restruck with the same date years later.  

Reverse - The back side, or "tails", of a coin.  

Rim Ding - A dent on the outer rim of a coin.  Large or numerous rim dings can negatively impact value.  

S - Mintmark for the San Francisco, CA mint, active 1854-Present.  Produces many different denominations.  

Semi-key - A coin that is uncommon, but not one of the rarest dates within a given series.  

Series - A particular design of coins.  Examples: Washington quarters, Franklin half dollars.  

Slab - A hard plastic holder used by third-party grading services to encase coins.  

Sleeper - An undervalued coin.   

Slider  - A coin with a very small amount of wear that just barely disqualifies it from being bumped up to a higher grade.  Most commonly used in reference to high AU coins.  Coins that are extremely close to a higher grade are "super sliders."

Steel Cent - Lincoln pennies struck out of steel in 1943, in an effort to conserve copper for the war.  The only magnetic U.S. coins.  

Thumbed - A form of coin doctoring in which a coin’s surface is rubbed with a finger.  The skin’s oils can hide marks or scratches.  When detected, significantly reduces a coin’s value.  

Toning - Coloration on a coin’s surface resulting from natural chemical processes.  Can range in color from rainbow hues to black.  

VDB - The Lincoln cent designer Victor David Brenner’s initials, visible on the reverse of some 1909 Philadelphia and San Francisco minted pennies.  The San Francisco (S-VDB) pennies are worth a substantial sum.  

Very Fine (VF 20-35) - A coin with a moderate amount of wear and minor design features visible.  

Very Good (VG 8-10) - A well worn coin with all major design features clear and a full rim.  

W - Mintmark for the West Point, NY mint, active 1988-Present.  Produces bullion coins and precious metal commemoratives.  

War Nickel - Jefferson nickels struck from 1942-1945 with a special alloy of silver, manganese, and copper.  Nickel was a critical war material.  Can be identified by large mintmarks above Monticello.  

Whizzed - A form of coin doctoring in which a coin’s surface is buffed to give it the appearance of luster.  When detected, significantly reduces a coin’s value.