Glossary of Numismatics: Guide for Beginners

Knowing what the obverse and reverse of a coin is is good, but not enough to call yourself a proper numismatist! In fact, it takes a lot of research to learn all the characteristics of a coin: the different parts, circulation, handling, trading and many other details. Your headache has probably just started but no worries – we’ve set up a short guide to help you go through the key vocabulary of numismatics.

Anatomy (numismatics)

You can find this beautiful Italian coin (and many more) on our numismatic online auctions platform Millenium State

Before going through the bones of numismatics, the first thing you should know about a coin is its anatomy. A great collector knows the slightest details of his coins. Differences in some parts of a coin might have an influence on its value and rarity.  Let’s see how many of the following terms you know:


Front side of a coin (“heads”). Usually contains portraits of historical figures and the date. However, there are many exceptions, for example animals, flowers, national symbols or even paintings in miniature can be depicted.


Back side of a coin (“tails”). The value (or denomination), is usually displayed, as well as the date of issue for euros.  


Outer border of a coin. This part is usually ignored but not only it has a name, but it also can be specified by a type: plain, reeded, lettered or decorated.

Coin edges can be an important detail to notice counterfeit


Raised edge on both sides of a coin. It’s used to protect the coin’s design. Use and circulation make this part invisible as time passes.


Main inscriptions or lettering on a coin. For example the name of the place or the person depicted on a coin.


An additional lettering popular on American coins: “In God We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum”.


Flat and empty portion of a coin’s surface, not containing any design or inscription.

Mint mark

Small letter(s) or symbol to identify where a coin was produced. Some coins do not have a mint mark. These coins are not common and might have a higher value on numismatic markets.

Designer’s initials

More letters, but this time they are barely visible. If you find them, the manufacturer’s effort will not have been in vain. It’s usually not common and can therefore increase the value of a coin.


Year of issue of a coin.


Raised portion of a coin’s design. Commonly used for portraits or other important parts of a coin’s design.

After learning the anatomy of a coin, you are now able to understand all the characteristics that make a coin completely unique and you can share your collection with friends, other collectors or even merchants.

Follow our updates, if you want to learn more about, numismatics, coins or about types of circulation, rarity and many other elements!

Related: Numismatist’s vocabulary part 2

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