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).

Aluminum

  • Lightweight silver-coloured metal used for coins of low denominations.

Aluminum-bronze

  • Durable, gold-coloured alloy of aluminum 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 center 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.


TG Precious Metals