New Numismatist’s Glossary – All the Terms you Need to Know

Numismatist is the study of money and the history of its varied forms. Although numismatists are usually associated with studying coins, it also includes the study of banknotes, stock certificates, medals, medallions and tokens.

Whether you’ve been collecting coins for years, or even if you’ve just started a coin collection, knowing the correct terminology can help you to gain a better understanding of your collection.


Adjustment - before striking coins will go through adjustment, this is when the coin is filed down to the correct weight.

Alliance Coinage – are coins that have been minted by two or more state governments.

Alloy – a mixture of two or more similar elements with the resulting compound having metallic properties. Cupro-nickel (copper and nickel) and bronze (copper and tin) are the most common alloys.

Attribution – this is the identifier of a coin, normally a date, mint, name denomination or a variety.


Base Metal – Common base metals include nickel and copper. They are non-precious metals or alloys that don’t contain gold or silver.

Billon – a low-grade alloy of gold or silver that has a high percentage of another metal, usually copper, often be the result of a sudden debasing of circulating silver coinage, due to hyperinflation.

Bi-metallic – the name given to a coin with one type of metal in the centre and an outer ring made from a different metal.

Brockage – originally the name given to metal that was wasted during coin production. Now commonly given to a type of error coin in which one side of the coin features a normal design and the other has a mirror image.

Bullion – platinum, gold or silver bars, ingots or plates of precious metal. The value of bullion is determined by the value of its precious metal content, defined by its purity and mass.

Bullion Coin – a coin struck from a precious metal. The market value of precious metal coins are determined by metallic content, rather that scarcity.


Cameo – normally found on proof coins, where there is a strong distinction in surface appearance of foreground devices.

Carat – a unit of measurement of the weight of precious stones. 1 carat (c or car) is equivalent to 200 milligrams. This is different from “Karat”, which is used with gold.

Clad Coinage – are coins that contain a centre and outer layer that are different metals or alloys bonded together.

Crown – often struck in precious metal, these coins can be larger than ordinary coins. Modern crowns are not highly circulated due to them being too large and/or heavy.


Debase – altering the purity of a coin to lower the silver/gold value, but with the same face value as the pure coin. Often happening during times of high inflation.

Device – the pattern or emblem that is used in the design of a coin.

Die – a piece of metal that has been engraved with the design, which will be used for stamping the coin.

Die State – a variation in appearance to a coin struck by a single die, a result of wear or alteration of the die.


Effigy – an image or likeness of a person usually on the obverse of a coin. Most effigies you will find feature the reigning monarch at the time the coin was minted.

Essai/Essay – a trial or test strike before striking the rest of the coins.

Exergue – a segment of the coin’s design that is separated by a line (usually indicating the ground in the design) in which a legend is placed/inscribed.


Fantasy – a representation of a rare or never before issued coin.

Field –  the background area of a coin that is not used for a design or inscription.

Fineness – the purity of precious metals content that is expressed in terms of one thousand parts. 90% is expressed as .099 fine. The purist gold bullion coin you will find is .99999 fine.

Fleur de coin (FDC) – a coin of exceptionally high quality, where quality is determined not just by the wear of the coin in circulation but also the wear and artistic quality of the dies it was minted from.


Grade – the condition of a coin or amount of wear that a coin has received over the years. Grading criteria might also include colour, strength of strike and “eye appeal”.


High Relief – the term given to a coin that features a raised design high above the field. These coins have more problems than regular coins, including details not coming up sharp enough and dies having a shorter lifespan.

Hub – a positive-image punch that impresses the coin’s design onto a die.


Incuse – the part of a coin’s design that has been impressed below the surface. Not as popular as the “relief” method due to the difficulty in striking clearly. Dies also have a shorter lifespan when using this method.

Intrinsic Value – the current market value of a coin based on its metallic content. The intrinsic value is the same as its bullion value, when coins are struck from precious metals.


Karat – unit of measurement for the purity of gold.

Key Coin –  a rarer or higher valued coin within a series.


Legend – the main inscription on a coin.

Low Relief – unlike with high relief coins, a low relief design is not very high above the field.

Luster – a coin’s ability to reflect light. The percentage of the original mint luster is one of the factors that are considered when determining grades of “Mint State”.


Medal Alignment – a method of striking coins, where both obverse and reverse dies being aligned in the same direction.

Mint Luster – the shiny “frost” on that can be found on the surface of an uncirculated or mint state coin.

Mule – a coin that has been struck from two dies that were never intended to be used together.


NCLT – stands for “Non Circulating Legal Tender”. While these coins are technically legal tender, their bullion value will normally far exceed face value.


Obverse – the front or heads side of a coin.

Overdate – the shown date that is made by placing numbers on a previously dated die.

Overstrike – the impression that is made with new dies on a previously struck coin.


Pattern – non-regular issue coins, that have been minted from official dies.

Piedfort – the name used for a coin that has been struck on a planchet thicker than normal. Commonly Piedfort coins will be twice as thick as your regular coin.

Planchet – a blank piece of metal that has been prepared for when the coin is struck on it.

Privy – a small, often hidden, mark traditionally to indicate the mintmaster or moneyer.

Proclamation Coins – are coins that are declared as legal tender even though they have not been issued by the sovereign, but by another sovereign.

Proof – are coins that have been specifically struck for collectors using polished dies and planchets. They will normally have a mirror field and raised areas that are frosted in appearance.


Quarter (U.S.A/ Canada) – United States or Canada’s $0.25 coin. Short for Quarter Dollar

Quarter Eagle (U.S.A) – United States gold $2.50 coin.


Raw – a coin that has not been encapsulated by any coin grading service.

Re-Strike – when a coin is struck from genuine dies but at a later date than the original issue.

Repunched Date – if a date was punched into the die and then punched into a different position. Often done to cover a mistake.

Reverse – the back or tails side of the coin. Opposite of obverse.

Round – a round one-ounce bullion piece that is generally issued privately.


Slab – a plastic case that contains a coin which has been graded and encapsulated.

Stainless Steel – a combination of iron, carbon and another element, often chromium, to prevent rusting. Coins struck on stainless steel maintain shiny appearance and are very durable. Coins need to have a low relief in order to prolong die life.


Token – privately issued piece that has a redeemable value for goods or services but isn’t a government coin.

Trade Dollar – a silver dollar issued specifically for trade with a foreign country.

Truncation – sharply cut off bottom edge of a portrait or bust. Initials of the engraver are normally found on the truncation.

Type Set – one of each coin of a particular series, design or period.


Uncirculated – a coin that has never been used and retains its original luster.

Uniface – a coin that has only been struck with the design on one side.

Upset – when a coin’s obverse and reverse are struck out of alignment.


Variety – the fine details of a coin’s design which set it apart from the normal issue.


Year Set – a set of coins for any specific year that contain one of each denomination of that year.


Zinc – grey inexpensive metal, normally alloyed with copper to make brass coins. Also used in pure form for emergency coinage when usual coinage metal was not available due to war or other serious crisis.