Before You Get Started

Before You Get Started

Before we go into any detail on collecting coins and sundry other details, I feel that I should introduce you to one, or rather two, simple facts which will help you in your coin dealings.

It’s nothing earth shattering or mind boggling, but I can state that knowledge of this will take you a long way towards understanding your coins and its terms. Very simply and without any further fanfare, I would like to introduce to you, Obverse and Reverse.

These two simple terms are used constantly in anything to do with coins and its best if you get to grips with it in the beginning before you really sink your teeth into the whole thing.

Not that you won’t understand it if you hear it later, but at least in the beginning you’ll get a good idea of what’s being said if you hear the words obverse and reverse mentioned.

To begin at the very beginning, in earlier days before the advent of the machine press, coins were minted by hand. Not that a person sat down and physically drew or carved on the coin, but a process was created in which it was possible to mint a coin using a few basic methods.

Firstly, two dies were made, one for each side of the coin. One die was kept on an anvil, the coin blank (or the coin planchet as it’s also known) was placed in the die, and then the second die halve was placed on top and hammered down onto the coin blank.

This might seem pretty primitive but it worked, and successfully, for hundreds of years until the machine press was invented and the rest became history.

The whole point of that was to acquaint you with the fact that one die sat upon an anvil, and the other die was struck upon by a hammer.

This in turn led to these two dies being referred to as the “anvil die” – the one sitting on the anvil, and the “hammer die”, the die which was struck by the hammer. And this I have to say, leads me to the point I was trying to get to from the beginning: Obverse and Reverse.

Obverse is the front of the coin and is also known as the hammer die. It’s also better known as the “Heads” side, when you’re flipping a coin.

This is the half of the die set that will be facing you if you ever see a die set. This convention also holds true for the modern machine press dies as well.

Reverse, as you might have guessed by now, is the reverse side, or the flip side, of a coin. Better known as the “Tails” side, or the anvil die.

Right, so you’ve got that one down pat, obverse is the front and reverse is the back. But how can you tell which is which? The easiest way of course is if there’s an identifying portrait on one side of the coin. This will tell you without a doubt that that’s the obverse side.

What happens though if there are two “heads”? Or what if there aren’t any portraits? What do you do then?

If it isn’t an error coin, and all the coins of that denomination are the same, then you’re going to have to do a bit of intuitive reasoning before you can tell which is which. You then move on to identifying method number two.

And confusingly enough, if the coin you have shares a common device (identifying mark) on one side of all the coins, then this becomes the reverse side.

Without any portrait as an identifier for the obverse, the side of your coin which has the common denominator is the side designated as the reverse side. The changeable side is the obverse.

And if that still doesn’t help you any, the side of the coin which bears the name of the country, if there is one, will be the obverse side.

If all else fails, you could either look it up and see if you can get anywhere with reference books, or alternately you could flip a coin and decide arbitrarily for yourself. I’d use a coin where you know which is the obverse and which is the reverse though!

Over and above all of this though, there are also a few common things which you will find on most coins. These are,

A portrait, a common theme or motif, or a shield or device of some sort
The denomination or the value of the coin A legend or a logo Sometimes the
name of the country.

A mintmark as an identifier of which Mint it came from.

Date of minting

Sometimes the initials of the designer (generally in very small print)

These are the main variations which you will find on most coins be they old or new. However, since the world is a vast place, and there have been more risings and fallings of civilizations than even we know of, there could be any number of different designs or themes which you can find on a coin.

To begin with though these are just fine and as long as you know what Obverse and Reverse mean (front and back of the coin), you’ll get along swimmingly.

Then even if you can’t correctly tell which is which on the coin at least you know what it means when a dealer or a collector tells you that the obverse of the coin is slightly scratched and that the reverse has only a few hairline scratches on it!

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This content was written by Gary Eggleston. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.