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The Beginner's Guide: The 'Anatomy' of a Coin

Updated: May 1, 2021

This post explains the various characteristics of a coin. In my diagram below, I have used the example of a 1989 Proof Coin minted at the Bombay Mint to commemorate the Centenary birth celebration of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

As you can see, the picture above literally reflects the two sides of the same coin-the Obverse or the “heads” side and the Reverse or the “tails” side of a coin.

The Obverse side is usually engraved with the portrait of the bust/figure of a prominent person or an emblem of national importance. It also generally reflects details such as the year of the mint and the mint mark of the coin.

The Reverse side is the flip side of a coin. This side typically depicts the denomination of the coin along with a design chosen by the issuing government or mint.

Apart from the Obverse and Reverse sides, here are some other important terms with regard to coins:

  • Edge: The outer boundary of the width of a coin. This is the side on which you can roll the coin. The edge may be smooth or with grooves.

  • Engraving: The design which the issuing government/government mint authorises for sculpting or adapting onto the surface/ relief of the coin.

  • Field: The smooth, flat background portion of the coin.

  • Legend: The text or written inscription across the top portion of the coin which indicates commemoration details of the coin, highlights which country the coin is from, etc.

  • Lustre:The brilliance of a coin. Or in other words, the visual effect of the reflection of light off the surface of a coin which gives the coin an inherent shiny look.

  • Motto: Any inspirational or special phrase which is engraved onto the coin because it has significant meaning in the country issuing the coin. Indian coins generally have the motto “Satyameva Jayate” inscribed in Hindi which means that the “truth alone triumphs.”

  • Planchet: The blank rounded disk of blended alloys which forms the bulk of the coin into which the design is struck.

  • Portrait: The bust or figure of an influential person, monarch, or leader which is engraved on the field of the coin.

  • Relief: Any raised, three-dimensional image which is struck onto the field of the coin.

  • Rim: The raised boundary that runs around the inner circumference of a coin. The rim enables coins to be stacked one on top of the other.

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