Glossary of Terms
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

About Good

A grading term describing a coin that is less than Good. Only the main features on the surfaces are visible. Typically, peripheral lettering, date, stars, or other features are partially worn away. Abbreviated as AG and numerically assigned the number 3.

About Uncirculated

A grading term describing a coin that initially appears to be Uncirculated, but upon closer inspection a little rub or friction can be seen. Abbreviated as AU. Numerical equivalents associated with About Uncirculated are: AU-50, 53, 55, and 58, with AU-50 being the lowest grade and AU-58 being borderline Uncirculated.

Abrasion(s)

Area(s) of a coin where a foreign object or another coin has displaced metal in an abraded fashion. Not the same as hairlines or bag marks.

Accolated

Overlapped impression, as with two or more portraits on the face of a coin. Example: The 1900 Lafayette commemorative silver dollar bears the accolated portraits of Washington and Lafayette.

Accumulation

A group of miscellaneous and random coins, often a monetary hoard, not a coin collection. This term may also refer to a grouping of a particular series, date or type such as an accumulation of Walking Liberty half dollars.

Ace

Numismatic nickname for a $1 bill, particularly a $1 National Bank Note of the Original Series or the Series of 1875.

Adjectival Grading; Adjectival Grading System

The traditional grading system employed until superseded by the numerical grading system. Coins in grades from the most worn (Poor) were described adjectivally in these progressive steps: Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine, About Uncirculated, and Uncirculated. Modifiers such as "choice" and "gem" were sometimes used to indicate an especially nice specimen within a grade level, such as Choice Extremely Fine or Gem Uncirculated.

Adjustment Marks

Small, straight (never curved) striations or file marks found on early United States coins. Caused during planchet preparation (before striking) by drawing a file across the coins to remove excess metal so as to reduce the planchet to its proper weight. The result is a series of parallel grooves.

Aesthetic Appeal

Term used to indicate the artistic or visual desirability of a coin in addition to its numerical or technical grade. Synonym: eye appeal.

AG, AG-3

Designation for About Good.

Agricultural Wreath

A wreath motif created by James B. Longacre and used on the 1854 Type II gold dollar, 1854 $3 gold coin, 1856 Flying Eagle cent, and other issues. Wreath of corn (most prominent), wheat, cotton, and tobacco—called a cereal wreath by Mint Director Snowden in his 1860 book, A Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet Collection of the Mint of the United States. Called tobacco wreath by Edgar H. Adams, The Numismatist, July 1912, pp. 246-247.

AGW (Actual Gold Weight)

An infrequently used term for the weight of pure gold that is in a coin, medal or bar. In contrast, the gross weight of a gold coin includes the weight of alloys.

Album Friction

Evidenced by a slight rubbing on a coin's high points, similar to but not as severe as album slide marks. When repeatedly removed and inserted into albums with clear slides, the slides can impart horizontal scratches if they touch the coin’s surface. To prevent this, carefully push the coin well into the hole so the slide does not touch it.

Album Slide Marks

ines on the surface of a coin, usually parallel, caused by the plastic "slide" of a coin album.

Alchemy

The transmutation of base metals such as lead and mercury into gold; practiced in historic times by various chemists, pretenders, etc.

Alloy

Copper and sometimes silver are mixed with gold to add strength and durability to a coin, and the resulting metal is called an alloy. Coins made of pure gold are very soft, and easily scratched, worn and damaged.

All-Seeing Eye

Eye motif, usually surrounded by resplendent rays. Used on certain copper coins of the 1780s such as the 1783-1786 Nova Constellatio coinage, the 1783 Nova Constellatio silver patterns, the 1785-1786 Landscape-type Vermont coppers (Ryder 2 through 8), and, in more modern times, the small-size $1 note (included as part of a pyramid design, no rays surrounding).

Almost Uncirculated

Another grading term for About Uncirculated.

Alteration

The tampering with a feature of a coin’s surface such as the date, mintmark, etc. to give it the appearance of being another date, mintmark, or variety. An unethical and sometimes illegal practice.

Altered Surfaces

When the surfaces of a coin have been affected by cleaning or other processes resulting in it being less desirable to collectors.

Aluminum

An elemental metal. Aluminum was a precious metal in the 1850s, but by the 1860s came into limited use to strike patterns as well as delicacies for collectors. Aluminum tended to oxidize quickly, forming a protective gray coating, which then stabilized and endures in many instances to the present day. In 1973 the Mint contemplated using aluminum for regular coinage of cents, since copper was rising sharply in price on the commercial market. About a million and a half Lincoln cents were struck with the date 1974, and some were given out as samples, but the metal was never used for regular coinage.

American Auction Association

1970s auction division of Bowers and Ruddy Galleries. This name was discontinued, and later catalogs bore the Bowers and Ruddy Galleries name.

American Eagle

A series of bullion coins created by the U. S. Mint featuring a family of eagles on the reverse. The silver coins were introduced in 1986 in a $1 denomination. The gold coins were first produced in 1987 in 1/10, ¼, ½, and 1 ounce versions.

American Numismatic Association

A nonprofit educational organization founded in 1888, dedicated to encouraging the study and collecting of money and related items. The ANA helps people discover and explore the world of money through a vast array of programs including education and outreach, museum, library, publications, conventions, and seminars. They are headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Read more about them at money.org.

American Numismatic Association Grading System

Adopted in 1977, the ANA Grading System was described in the book, Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins, and evaluated coins based upon the Sheldon scale for grading.

American Numismatic Association Hall of Fame

Pantheon and gallery located at the American Numismatic Association Headquarters, Colorado Springs, CO. Numismatists past and present who are deemed worthy and elected for the honor are enshrined by being included in the exhibit, a highly desirable honor. The first honorees enshrined in 1969 were: Edgar H. Adams, George J. Bauer, Frank G. Duffield, Dr. George F. Heath, Edward T. Newell, Wayte Raymond, David C. Wismer, Howland Wood, and Farran Zerbe.

American Numismatic Association Headquarters

A.k.a. ANA. Headquartered at: North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO, on the campus of Colorado College. Built in the 1960s on land leased for $1 per year for 100 years (option of 100 years renewal) from the college. Action center for executive, editorial, membership, museum, authentication, and other functions. Focal point for exhibits, seminars, other events.

American Numismatic Society

A museum and research institute devoted to the study of coins from all periods and cultures. They are headquartered in New York City, New York. Abbreviated as "ANS."

ANA

An abbreviation for the "American Numismatic Association."

ANACS – (American Numismatic Association Certification Service)

An authentication service started by the ANA that later provided grading services. The ANA later sold the acronym and this service, which now operates as a third-party grading service.

ANACS Certificate

Issued by the ANA Certification Service, a written document of authenticity and/or grade that bears a unique number.

Ancients

A term for world coins struck circa 600 B.C. to circa 450 A.D.

Annealing

A process by which a die or planchet is heated and then cooled to soften the metal for die preparation or the striking of a coin.

Annular

Ring like, ring form. Refers to a coin with a circular perforation or hole at the center, certain pattern cents of 1850 being examples.

Annulet

In heraldry and in numismatic descriptions, a small ring or related emblem as part of a design.

ANS

An abbreviation for the "American Numismatic Society."

Anvil Die

Usually the reverse of the coin, the lower, stationary die. On some issues with striking problems, the obverse is used as the lower die. Due to the physics of minting, the stationary lower-die impression is slightly better struck than the upper-die impression.

Arcade Tokens

Metallic tokens used in penny arcades, amusement emporiums, and related places. Sometimes bearing a denomination, these tokens could be used in place of cents, nickels, quarters, or other coins in coin-operated devices.

Argentan

A variety of “German silver,” an alloy without silver, which contains a mixture of nickel, tin, copper, and other metals.

Arms

In heraldry, on banknotes, and on coins and medals, the representation of a state, family, or other entity, often incorporating a shield with patterns and designs, so as to permit easy identification of that entity. Certain state copper coins, commemoratives, and other United States issues included arms of various states.

Arrow and Rays

Term referring to a design element on quarters and half dollars dated 1853. The rays were removed the following year due to striking difficulties created by the complicated design.

Arrows

Design element seen on many U.S. coins, most frequently in the eagle's left claw.

Arrows at Date

The arrows to the left and right of the date on a coin. The Mint added these to the dies to indicate a weight increase or decrease.

Artificial Toning

Toning or patination applied to a coin by chemical, heat, or other means to decrease its brightness or brilliance and to give it the appearance of having acquired attractive colors over a long period of time. Such coins are plentiful in the marketplace, including in certified holders, and a keen eye is needed to identify them.

Ask

The price that represents what a seller is willing to accept for a particular coin issue and grade. This changes with market fluctuations. See also: Bid; Spread

Assay

To evaluate and calculate the purity of a metallic alloy.

Assay Bar, Assay Ingot

A rectangular (usually) ingot or bar of silver or gold, produced by an assay office (see listing) and stamped with data, usually including the name of the assayer, weight, fineness (purity), metal, a serial number, and, sometimes, the date and market value.

Assay Office

A facility established by the federal government or by private individuals to receive and evaluate precious metals, especially gold, silver and copper. The government operated assay offices in Butte (Montana), New York City, Denver, and elsewhere. During the Gold Rush several assay offices did good business in California, including Kellogg & Humbert, Harris & Marchand, Justh & Hunter, Moffat & Co., and the United States Assay Office of Gold, among others.

Assayer

One who performs assays. Position at the Mint from 1792 onward. Most assayers operated in the private sector, however, especially in the conduct of business in assay offices, mines, refineries, etc.

Athena

Goddess symbolic of Athens. Athena and her owl (denoting wisdom) are motifs on the 1915-S commemorative $50 gold coins, round and octagonal formats, issued for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Attributes

The components that determine a coin’s grade, primarily marks (or hairlines for Proofs), strike, eye appeal, and luster.

Attribution

The assigning or referencing of a coin to its source, engraver of its dies, or of its die variety as described in a numismatic work. Example: United States copper cents of the 1793-1814 years can be attributed to Sheldon numbers, as, for example, S-48, as delineated in Early American Cents, Dr. William H. Sheldon, 1949.

AU

An abbreviation for "About Uncirculated."

Auction

An offering of numismatic items for sale to the highest bidder, rather than ordering from a catalog, price list, or advertisement at a fixed price.

Auctioneer

The person who recognizes and accepts bids during an auction.

Authentic

A numismatic item that is genuine and was produced at the time and place to which it has been attributed.

Authentication

The process by which a determination is made as to whether a coin or other numismatic item is genuine.

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