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Sometimes non-monetized bullion coins such as the Canadian Maple Leaf and the American Gold Eagle are minted with nominal face values less than the value of the metal in them, but as such coins are never intended for circulation, these face values have no relevance. Coins can be used as creative medium of expression — from fine art sculpture to the penny machines that can be found in most amusement parks.

In the Code of Federal Regulations CFR in the United States there are some regulations specific to nickels and pennies that are informative on this topic. This has been a particular problem with nickels and dimes and with some comparable coins in other currencies because of their relatively low face value and unstable commodity prices.

Introduction to Numismatic Terms and Methods

For a while, [ when? It cost more than face value to manufacture pennies or nickels, so any widespread loss of the coins in circulation could be expensive for the US Treasury. This was more of a problem when coins were still made of precious metals like silver and gold, so strict laws against alteration make more sense historically. Throughout history, monarchs and governments have often created more coinage than their supply of precious metals would allow if the coins were pure metal. By replacing some fraction of a coin's precious metal content with a base metal often copper or nickel , the intrinsic value of each individual coin was reduced thereby "debasing" the money , allowing the coining authority to produce more coins than would otherwise be possible.

Debasement occasionally occurs in order to make the coin physically harder and therefore less likely to be worn down as quickly, but the more usual reason is to profit from the difference between face value and metal value. Debasement of money almost always leads to price inflation. Sometimes price controls are at the same time also instituted by the governing authority, but historically these have generally proved unworkable. The United States is unusual in that it has only slightly modified its coinage system except for the images and symbols on the coins, which have changed a number of times to accommodate two centuries of inflation.

The one-cent coin has changed little since though its composition was changed in to remove virtually all copper from the coin and still remains in circulation, despite a greatly reduced purchasing power. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest coin in common circulation is valued at 25 cents , a very low value for the largest denomination coin compared to many other countries. Increases in the prices of copper, nickel, and zinc meant that both the US one- and five-cent coins became worth more for their raw metal content than their face fiat value.

In particular, copper one-cent pieces those dated prior to and some dated coins contained about two cents' worth of copper. Some denominations of circulating coins that were formerly minted in the United States are no longer made. These include coins with a face value of a half cent, two cents, three cents, and twenty cents.

The half dollar and dollar coins are still produced, but mostly for vending machines and collectors. In the past, the US also coined the following denominations for circulation in gold: In addition, cents were originally slightly larger than the modern quarter and weighed nearly half an ounce, while five-cent coins known then as "half dimes" were smaller than a dime and made of a silver alloy.

Dollar coins were also much larger, and weighed approximately an ounce. One-dollar gold coins are no longer produced and rarely used. The US also issues bullion and commemorative coins with the following denominations: Circulating coins commonly suffered from "shaving" or "clipping": This form of debasement in Tudor England was commented on by Sir Thomas Gresham , whose name was later attached to Gresham's law.

The monarch would have to periodically recall circulating coins, paying only the bullion value of the silver, and reminting them. This, also known as recoinage, is a long and difficult process that was done only occasionally. Some convicted criminals from the British Isles who were sentenced to transportation to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries used coins to leave messages of remembrance to loved ones left behind in Britain. The coins were defaced, smoothed and inscribed, either by stippling or engraving, with sometimes touching words of loss.

These coins were called "convict love tokens" or "leaden hearts".

Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Greek Coins Belonging to John Ward, F.S.A. by G. F. Hill

The side of a coin carrying an image of a monarch, other authority see List of people on coins , or a national emblem is called the obverse colloquially, heads ; the other side, carrying various types of information, is called the reverse colloquially, tails. The year of minting is usually shown on the obverse, although some Chinese coins, most Canadian coins, the pre British 20p coin, the post American quarter , and all Japanese coins are exceptions.

The relation of the images on the obverse and reverse of a coin is the coin's orientation. Suppose the image on the obverse of the coin is right side up; if you turn the coin left or right on its horizontal axis, and the reverse of the coin is also right side up, then the coin is said to have medallic orientation —typical of the Euro and pound sterling ; if, however, turning the coin left or right shows that the reverse image is upside down, then the coin is said to have coin orientation , characteristic of the United States dollar coin.

Bimetallic coins are sometimes used for higher values and for commemorative purposes. In the s, France used a tri-metallic coin.

The exergue is the space on a coin beneath the main design, often used to show the coin's date, although it is sometimes left blank or containing a mint mark , privy mark , or some other decorative or informative design feature. Many coins do not have an exergue at all, especially those with few or no legends, such as the Victorian bun penny.

Not all coins are round; they come in a variety of shapes. The Australian cent coin , for example, has twelve flat sides. Some coins have wavy edges, e.

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Some are square-shaped, such as the cent coin of the Bahamas and the cent coin from Aruba. During the s, Swazi coins were minted in several shapes, including squares, polygons, and wavy edged circles with 8 and 12 waves. Some other coins, like the British 20 and 50 pence coins and the Canadian Loonie , have an odd number of sides, with the edges rounded off. This way the coin has a constant diameter , recognisable by vending machines whichever direction it is inserted.

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Some mediaeval coins, called bracteates , were so thin they were struck on only one side. Many coins over the years have been manufactured with integrated holes such as Chinese "cash" coins, Japanese coins, Colonial French coins, etc. This may have been done to permit their being strung on cords, to facilitate storage and being carried.

The Royal Canadian Mint is now able to produce holographic-effect gold and silver coinage. However, this procedure is not limited to only bullion or commemorative coinage. The yen coin from Japan was subject to a massive amount of counterfeiting. The Japanese government in response produced a circulatory coin with a holographic image.

The Royal Canadian Mint has also released several coins that are coloured, the first of which was in commemoration of Remembrance Day.


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The subject was a coloured poppy on the reverse of a cent piece minted through a patented process. An example of non-metallic composite coins sometimes incorrectly called plastic coins was introduced into circulation in Transnistria on 22 August Most of these coins are also non-circular, with different shapes corresponding to different coin values.

For a list of many pure metallic elements and their alloys which have been used in actual circulation coins and for trial experiments, see coinage metals. To flip a coin to see whether it lands heads or tails is to use it as a two-sided dice in what is known in mathematics as a Bernoulli trial: In mediaeval and later times, metal was sometimes hammered or rolled into sheets and cut to weight before being struck.

With few exceptions, dies bear images which are incised into their surfaces intaglio prior to use; thus the effect produced is in relief, and the image is a mirror of that which appears on the die. In modern times dies have usually been made of steel. Such ancient dies as we possess and their authenticity is seldom beyond dispute are made of iron or work-hardened copper. A die does not have to be a great deal harder than the surface it is intended to strike in order to produce an image.

Often, especially in hand-struck coinage, it is clear which face of the coin has been struck by which die; the distinction is important. Unfortunately the terms which have been devised to make it— obverse and reverse —have different sets of meanings, both of which are in common use and both of which have some validity. Properly, obversus means that which faces you, and reversus what is turned away from you.

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Obviously in the simplest sense this distinction is dependent on the eye of the beholder. Hauptseite or Vorderseite]; since coinage is a prerogative of state, and most states have been monarchies, the more important face is most frequently that which we would today call "heads", after the head of the ruler that gave the coin its validity.

In many branches of numismatics, however, including the classical, the term obverse denotes the lower die and reverse the upper or hand-held die. The fact that the obverse usually bears the more important image, or "head", is the result of technical considerations.

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Dies absorbed stress at differential rates: Since the execution of a portrait, be it of a god, hero, or human, usually required more care and more talented artisans to produce—in short, was more expensive to produce—minters favored this face of the coin by making it the protected die; this face was usually the obverse.

This is not invariably the case. There are many coins which bear no head at all, and others—the fifth century coins of Syracuse and the staters of Corinth are but two examples—on which the "heads" side is clearly the reverse. The Romans struck some two-headed coins on which it is practically impossible to tell which die was fixed and which movable, and there are some issues—for instance Byzantine solidi struck after A. Not everyone concedes the necessity of using the terms obverse and reverse in preference to "front" and "back" or "heads" and "tails".

Neither of these pairs of alternatives, however, bears any relation to the technique of coin production, and for statistical purposes it is important to know which face of the coin was produced by the obverse die and which by the reverse die. There are three terms which describe the physical attributes of a coin after it has been struck. One of these is die axis , and it is the easiest to render concretely. This term describes the relationship of the types to one another when one is viewed in the vertical position and the coin is rotated on its polar axis.

The die axis of virtually all United States coins, for example, is inverted--that is, when either face is viewed upright and the coin is rotated, the other emerges upside down. These relationships are most often expressed in print by an arrow or arrows: When two are present, one is always at Just as the die axis may be rendered in hours, it may be rendered in degrees in the arc of a circle, so that occasionally you will see o or o, etc.

Numeric notation is preferable to other systems when recording coins, since numbers are less liable to scribal error than arrows. In hand-struck coinages, when dies are simply mated as they come to hand, a fairly random distribution can be expected. Sometimes the shape of the dies themselves leads to a preference for striking at specific die axes with a square die, e. If dies are fixed, however, they can be important clues to attribution, since preferences change within mints and sometimes extend over space in a single time frame.

A good example is provided by the coins of Hadrian, where for reasons unknown to us there is a shift from 12 to 6 over time. Likewise the early coinage of Massachusetts changes from 6 to Two other terms are module and fabric ; the first of these is a component of the other and has a perfectly good synonym. Module means simply diameter. This measurement is carefully recorded in older catalogues, since in many coinages the compilers did not know the proper names for the denominations and size was a clue; moreover there was no easy way to reproduce a coin to scale.

Since the advent of cheaper commercial photography it has become more common simply to illustrate the coin, though this puts the reader to the inconvenience of measuring for himself. Diameters are usually given in the metric system, though older British catalogues sometimes use inches and tenths. What to do with a coin that is not round? There seem to be two alternatives: For square coins, use 17x Fabric, like "type", is not to be taken in its everyday sense: It refers to the general appearance of a coin as a piece of metal, and incorporates shape, weight, diameter, and thickness, all of which reflect the mint's method of fabrication.

Weight and diameter are of course measurable with some precision; in hand-struck coinage it is less easy to make meaningful distinctions in thickness since this varies not only from coin to coin but on the same coin, and an average or maximum value is not readily calculable.

Words like "thick", "dumpy", "flat", and "broad" are often used to characterize the fabric of a coin or of a series, and the best way to establish their relative meanings is to have contact with large numbers of coins of different mints or periods. An extreme illustration is offered by the solidi of Constans II, which are of identical description except for their fabric, which reflects their place of minting.

Finally it is worth mentioning some terms which describe the alteration of a coin's appearance after striking, or simply mint errors. A brockage is an early form of mint error which results from the use of a previously-struck coin as a die. We suppose that this normally resulted from a freshly-struck piece adhering to the punch die as a result of surface tension, or simply the adhesiveness of heated metal; a virgin flan was then inserted on the anvil die and struck with the punch, so that the obverse previously produced by that anvil die appears in incuse as the reverse of the new coin.

Eventually the first coin drops from the die and coining proceeds as usual; the flawed pieces escape detection and find their way into circulation. A double-strike is just what it sounds like. The same die is brought down twice or more on the same coin, whether intentionally to raise the relief or accidentally from the recoil of the hammer.

The traces left on the coin will often be visible as a "ghost" or shadow of the type as it was supposed to appear. This sort of mistake is to be distinguished from overstriking , which represents the re-use of an earlier coin as a flan. Overstriking is seldom employed in modern times, but has often been used to validate or revalidate coins for currency, to freshen their appearance and thus render them more acceptable, or to redefine an area of approved circulation.

It was also a quick and dirty way to remonetize earlier coins. Countermarks have much the same effect, although they consist only of small punches applied to the face of the coin. They can be round or rectilinear and have their own legends and types, just as do coins. They are different in appearance and function from bankers' marks or test marks, normally thin incision-like marks on the surface of the coin intended to determine whether it was of pure metal throughout.

Both overstrikes and countermarks have obvious applications as methodological tools. The coin created by overstriking must obviously have been manufactured later than the coin on which it is struck, and a relative chronology for two coins can thus be established by a single piece. Often when a mint employed the technique it was indifferent to the nature of the undertype, and several different coinages might be employed for flan material: Countermarks establish a chronological relationship between the coin and the countermark itself, and may sometimes be used to date each other, when they overlap on the same coin.

In addition the use of identical countermarks on different series helps to establish the contemporary circulation of those series. This summary shows how much of numismatic vocabulary has to do with to coin manufacture and the resulting product, and it reaches back to the beginnings of numismatic study. In the beginning that study was purely descriptive, and consisted of little more than catalogues of private collections, intended as much to celebrate the acumen of their owners as to broaden the base of numismatic knowledge.

The turn of the nineteenth century, however, represents a watershed, and the beginning of the development of modern numismatic method. One of the most important elements of the work of Eckhel was his realization that serious study could not be based on a single collection. One of Eckhel's contributions was his creation of a geographical system moving from west to east, based on Strabo's geography, that is still in use today for the arrangement of Greek coins.

Eckhel's synthetic approach invited more detailed studies, and by the s and 60s specialized monographs were being written on individual coin series. Some of the major periodicals that are still with us today had begun to flourish, aided by the advent of photography. Numismatics could now advance beyond simple cataloguing and develop as a proper discipline with its own methodology for determining who struck coins, where, and when; today we can even ask "why?

Each numismatic problem has a set of tools that are appropriate to its solution, and the following attempt to categorize them is not intended to be prescriptive but rather to indicate the range of methodologies available, their potential, and their pitfalls. This element is placed first because, despite its elusiveness, it belongs first in the development of numismatic methodology, and because it gives the first means of classifying or dating a coin.

Thus every coin has a style, which consists of the sum of its images and epigraphy and their usage as translated by the engraver to the surface of the dies and thence to the coin itself. Fabric itself can be a part of style. One distinguishes good or bad style, fine or gross style, crude or skillful style, and on that basis attributes an issue to the place or period that one expects would produce such a style: The difficulty of the approach is its apparent subjectivity, both in labelling the style and identifying its producer.

For one author, fine-style coins might be the earliest, then degenerating into crude copies; another would see the crude coins as early efforts that gradually evolved toward sophistication. To be useful, style must avoid both aesthetic judgments and prconceptions. Used rigorously and objectively, style is a useful tool for the numismatist, but the approach must be descriptive rather than judgmental. Rather than label a figure's hair as well or poorly rendered, one should describe precisely how it is rendered: How are the eyes drawn?

How is the neck or bust truncated? When we speak of the style of a coin, it is not enough to look at the images only. Do the coins have borders? If so are they of dots or lines, or foliate or bead-and-reel? Here we may be speaking of the style of a mint as well as the style and skill of an engraver. Distinctions between open and closed P and R, barred or unbarred A, and the atriculation of curved letters such as C and S as well as the distinction, if any, between C and G are examples of features that my provide clues to attribution, and analogous differences exist for every language and script.

The presence or absence of interpuncts should also be noted, though the standardization even abbreviation of coin legends in reference works sometimes makes this difficult. A novice may not notice such distinctions, or make much of them; but once they have been pointed out, valid stylistic distinctions should be clear to any viewer regardless of aesthetic taste. But style by itself does not provide an attribution, except in comparison. Style can be characterized as "early" or "late" only when independent criteria apply: It is in fact possible, with care, to distinguish style that gradually evolves toward sophistication.

It is more difficult to quantify than almost any other aspect of a coin. It may be good or bad, fine or gross, the work of a third-rate hack, a skilled or unskilled copyist, or the inspired creation of a Kimon. Even if the skill of the artist were known and measurable, it could fall short of contemporary standards, epitomize them, or surpass them. To be useful, analysis of style must avoid aesthetic judgments, or at least not employ them as chronological attributives. Part of the difficulty lies in the artists themselves, and here it is instructive to read what Henry Adams has to say of Augustus St.

Gaudens, arguably the greatest of modern sculptors and medallists, the designer of the twenty-dollar gold piece which is often called the best coin design of the last two centuries:. Gaudens himself was in Paris, putting on the work his usual interminable last touches, and listening to the usual contradictory suggestions of brother sculptors. Of all the American artists who gave to American art whatever life it breathed in the seventies, St. Gaudens was perhaps the most sympathetic, but certainly the most inarticulate.

General Grant or Don Cameron had scarcely less instinct of rhetoric than he. Gaudens could never discuss or dilate on an emotion, or suggest artistic arguments for giving to his work the forms that he felt. Education of Henry Adams, p. What does seem granted is the following, as put by Harold Mattingly: They are there, even if some scholars fail to see them. They can be seen, when the eye is sufficiently trained. As a general rule, where there is some more concrete criterion that can be used to resolve a question, it should be exploited; where there is not, stylistic analysis must rest on as full as possible a gathering of numismatic evidence, a solid foundation in contemporary monuments and artefacts, and be tempered by the awareness that the criterion is an easy target for skeptics.

Some further cautions are in order. The term also embraces elements extraneous to the portrait or the principal type, and their treatment. For example, do the coins have borders? If so, are they of dots or lines, or decorative e. Here we are speaking of the style of a mint. Even such seemingly technical aspects as the die axis may be considered aspects of style.

Again, although transcription of the legend is a standard feature of coin descriptions, they are often noted more for their content than their form. Nonetheless, distinctions between open and closed P and R, barred and unbarred A, and the articulation of curved letters such as C and S as well as the distinction, if any, between C and G may provide clues to attribution. The presence or absence of interpuncts should always be noted as a possible clue, though the standardization even abbreviation of coin legends in reference works sometimes makes this difficult.

Each surviving coin preserves an impression of the dies used to produce it, however that impression has been modified by wear or damage over time. Thus it is, theoretically, possible to reconstruct all the matrices from which a given coinage was produced, to observe their deterioration, and to organize the whole body of a coinage in the relative order of its striking based on die replacement.

Formulated in the abstract, die study sounds amazingly simple; but there is no disguising the fact that comparison of dies can be difficult and tedious. The raw material—the coins, reproduced photographically or in casts, must be gathered not only from collections worldwide, but from auction and sale catalogues, exhibition catalogues and the like; and often it is impossible to identify dies even after lengthy examination.

The main obstacle in many coinages is the fact that most issues is that they are too large for die study; in others the surviving sample is so small that the number of dies approaches the number of specimens known. Still other coinages are not suitable candidates, for the technique would not resolve the questions being asked.

But the rewards are great: What makes die study workable is that dies are not mated with one another forever, nor do they have identical lifespans. When one die breaks or otherwise falls out of use, it is replaced by another. The history of dies and their combination may be represented graphically. For any single coin, the relationship might be described as A-a where capital letters represent the obverse and lower-case the reverse. If the reverse wore out and was replaced, then we would have a relationship among the three dies one obverse and two reverses that might be rendered A-a, A-b.

Now let us say A breaks, and a new obverse B is substituted: If this last pair of dies is discarded simultaneously or almost simultaneously, C and c will come into use, and we may arbitrarily extend the series C-c, D-d, D-e, D-f, E-f, E-g, and so on. By itself, this gives us no more than a diagrammatic representation of the combinations headed by A-B and D-E, and it does nothing to place C-c anywhere in relation to them. Details Collect From NL NL pbk Main Reading Room. Order a copy Copyright or permission restrictions may apply. We will contact you if necessary. To learn more about Copies Direct watch this short online video.

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