Modern Numismatic Lingo

Coin Terminology Explained

In case you wondered, what we now call “drawers,” as in desk drawers and bureau drawers, were a century or so ago usually called “draws.” Somehow the word evolved. And, somewhere we read that “butterfly” evolved from “flutterby,” and “an apple” descended from “a napple,” but we haven’t checked the Oxford English Dictionary to be sure.

An evening social event, such as among the politicians in Washington, was called a “levee,” not to be confused with a dirt dike in New Orleans built to protect the Mint and other things (that use of the term was also in effect). Recently, your editor received an invitation to a banquet to be staged by Harvard, and, in the old fashioned tradition, said he was looking forward to attending the levee. (No response yet as to whether they thought this was curious or funny.)

In numismatics, what we call “hairlines” a few generations ago were called “haymarks.” Beginning about 1960, Proof gold coins with dull surfaces, minted 1908-1915, became “Matte Proofs” in dealer catalogues. Before then the universal term was “Sand Blast Proof” for those issues of 1908 and 1911-1915, which were made by sandblasting carefully struck non-Proof coins, and, sometimes, “bright” or “yellow” Proofs for the different style of 1909-1910. In his new book on double eagles, a 288-page production now being finessed for Whitman Publishing Co., Dave plans to use Sand Blast Proof for the 1908 and 1911-1915 dates and Roman Finish Proof for 1909-1910.

Elsewhere in modern auction catalogues we now see such adjectives as “atomic,” “screamer,” “blast white,” etc., used to describe coins—terms not quite yet in our quiver of numismatic nomenclature, but who knows about the future?

Modern terms in more or less standard use, but unheard of decades ago, include the following, perhaps a start on a Modern Numismatic Dictionary, arranged alphabetically:

Modern Numismatic Dictionary

  • Blue Sheet: Popular name for the Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter, listing “bid” prices for certified coins (except that in real life, sometimes coins cannot be sold for “bid” or even close, and other times coins bring way over “bid”). Used by dealers and non dealers. Also see Gray Sheet.
  • Bourse: Popular name—we will have to check to see when it was first used—apparently picked up from the French bourse, or stock exchange, referring to a display of dealer tables at a coin convention. In other fields, book dealers set up at book fairs, and, we think, stamp dealers simply set up at conventions or shows.
  • Cameo Proof: Proof coin with a frosted portrait set against mirror fields.
  • Cherrypick: Term popularized by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton, one of our favorite words (really and truly), describing the technique of examining a coin carefully to try to spot extra value, such as a sharply struck coin that is normally found weakly struck, or a rare die variety. Dealers sometimes like to cherrypick, but some do not want their customers to do so.
  • Coin conservation: Careful restoration of a coin’s original surface, different from cleaning. We even have NCS now, this standing for Numismatic Conservation Services.
  • Crack-out: Breaking a coin out of a slab.
  • Crossover: Sending a coin certified by Service X and in a Service X slab, to Service Y to see if Service Y will grade it the same grade or higher.
  • FUN Convention: The Florida United Numismatists (“FUN”—get it?) show held annually in Orlando, but next year moved to Fort Lauderdale (makes it harder to eat at Christini’s, our favorite restaurant in Orlando). The FUN Convention is usually fun to attend, and this year all of the ANR staffers had a great time.
  • Gray Sheet: Popular name for the Coin Dealer Newsletter, launched in 1963, and still a very useful guide with its “bid” prices—which, unlike stock market figures, are not really rock-solid prices dealers will pay, but are best used only as a general indication.
  • High end and low end: Dealer talk as to whether a certified coin is conservatively graded and might even grade higher if resubmitted, or whether it has been “graded to death” and is a rather unprepossessing example of the number marked on the slab. Such things are usually discussed privately, rarely in print.
  • Keeper: A coin of sufficient appeal that if a dealer were collecting this series, he/she would want it in his/her own collection.
  • Numie News: Popular expression around ANR to refer to the weekly publication, Numismatic News.
  • Pop report: Listing by the Professional Coin Grading Service or the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as to how many of a given coin they have certified in a given grade.
  • Redbook: Popular name for A Guide Book of United States Coins, issued annually since 1946 (with cover date a year ahead, as 1947), but often incorrectly spelled as one word, as Guidebook. Edited by Kenneth E. Bressett, who we saw the other day at a certain convention (see FUN).
  • Resubmission: Sending back a coin to a grading service to see if the second time around it will be assigned a higher number.
  • Saints: $20 coins of the 1907-1933 design.
  • Slab: Plastic holder containing a certified coin.
  • Thread: As in e-mail discussions by a whole new group of experts (often self-proclaimed) who know everything there is to know about the coin market, the habits of dealers, toning on coins, etc., etc.
  • Top pop: Top position in a pop report, no finer coin graded.
  • Trends: Useful price guide published by Coin World, compiled by Mark Ferguson, and widely used to determine retail coin values of average specimens within a grade.
  • VAM: Actually, this has been around for a while. Refers to a variety listed in the Van Allen – Mallis book on Morgan and Peace silver dollars.
  • Walkers: Half dollars of the 1916-1947 style.
  • Weenie: An inveterate, life-long collector who never tires of examining coins, buying coins, swapping coins, displaying coins, talking about coins, and looking at pocket change. “Weenies” are typically found in a cluster of other “weenies” at coin shows or club meetings, all of which know each other, and all of which share exactly the same habits and the same enthusiasm for coins. Be it a 25¢ junk-box find or a major acquisition, a “weenie” knows he will always have a built-in audience of other “weenies” to relate to; all “weenies” know they can count on their own kind for support and for a generous dose of appreciative “oooohs” and “aaaahs” where applicable.