Thursday, August 14, 2008

Coin Collecting Terminology - Part 1

The Appearance of Modern World Coins

When collecting world coins (or any coins for that matter), it’s important to understand the terminology used to describe the appearance (or Finish) of a particular coin. This can help you to decide whether a coin has value for money, how it will look in and of itself as well as being part of your collection.

Some people will choose a coin based on its finish, collecting only Proof coins, or Uncirculated coins, etc – while others may collect based on a theme in which they will look to own a coin regardless of its finish (although a Proof version of their chosen theme will no doubt get pride of place).

There are three main categories when it comes to the finish of modern world coins. Older coins and ancient issues may be decided on their grade, however as modern world coins are, by definition, more recent in their arrival on the marketplace, they are generally of a very high grade. This means that it often comes down to the finish of the coin to determine its worth to the collector. Below we have explained in detail what the three main varieties of coin finish are and what work goes into creating them. We use these terms to describe the appearance of a coin in the title of products offered on the Euro Collections website.

UNC
This abbreviation stands for uncirculated. When we describe a coin as UNC it means that the coin has never been issued into circulation. As such the coin has only a small number of surface imperfections.

Such imperfections are common to UNC coins because of the manner in which most of them are struck. Given that such minting activities are focused on producing coins for circulation, the coins are usually produced in high speed automated coin presses often spitting out thousands of coins a minute. To feed those presses the blanks also have to be produced in mass quantities. When the coin press finishes striking a coin, it is usually ejected into a large metal bin for later counting and packaging. Sometimes the presses will even bag and seal the coins immediately, but in either scenario there are going to be bag scratches and other surface imperfections. If the coins receive relatively little handling and later on are packaged in rolls, such coins can be very free of surface scratches.

Slovenia 2008 3€ Presidency Bi-Metal UNC

Some collectors actually prefer UNC coins because these are the coins which actually go into circulation.

BU
The next step up is "brilliant uncirculated", or BU. Here the minting process is dramatically different from that used for UNC coins. First, the blanks are prepared much more slowly and with a higher reject rate. As well, the blanks are polished. Also receiving a lot of polishing are the actual production dies used to mint the coins. With polished blanks and dies, mints then produce coins with completely mirrored finishes.


Finland 2008 5€ Science And Research BU

The number of coins made with each pair of production dies is much fewer compared with regular circulating coins. During the minting process each coin is made one at a time and the press operator during a shift will hand buff the dies frequently to make sure that they are free of any dust which might otherwise be struck onto the surface of the coin.

And after the coins are minted, a lot of effort goes into the final inspection process to weed out any sub-standard coins before they are sent on to be packaged.

Collectors who prefer BU coins consider them to be a more perfect specimen of a coin that would be made for circulation.

PROOF
Over the years this term has evolved. Today, however, it generally applies to coins which have frosted features and mirrored backgrounds, or fields. Sometimes coins can be described as "reverse proofs" meaning that the features are frosted while the field is brilliant.

The proof coin represents the height of the minter's craft. The same careful preparations are needed for proof coins as for BU coins. But over and above that, special steps are taken to produce the frosted and mirror finishes.


Switzerland 2008 Shooting Taler Silver Proof

The most important of these is the preparation of the production dies. Each die is first taped over with a special clear masking tape. Then a mint technical will use a very sharp knife and a microscope to carefully cut out and remove the tape covering those features to be frosted. Next the dies are blasted with glass beads. The protected areas are left brilliant and the areas to be frosted are, well, frosted. The dies are then ready to produce coins.

In theory, the mirror areas of a BU coin and a proof coin are equal, but in practice the proof coin is often subjected to more scrutiny and thus the overall quality can be higher.

Proof coins with large mirror fields are especially hard to produce. There can be problems with metal flow which can cause ripples in the field or other slight distortions. This is just one example of the problems mint engineers must solve in order to produce a perfect coin. Then too, there are the pitfalls in production. The smallest speck of dust or some other die imperfection can cause a problem on the finished coin and cause it to be rejected.

Proof coins represent the best a mint is capable of producing. The greatest amount of preparation, production resources and quality control go into these coins. It is therefore not surprising that among our customers, proof coins as singles and in sets are purchased most often.

Keep an eye out for these terms when searching for your next world coins. Feel free to post your own comments regarding these finishes and what your preferences are.

In recent years, the term "cameo" and "deep cameo" have been used to describe some proof coins. The definition of these terms has been taken from the PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service).

Cameo
"The term applied to coins, usually Proofs and proof-like coins that have frosted devices and lettering that contrast with the fields. When this is deep the coins are said to be "black and white" cameos. Occasionally frosty coins have "cameo" devices though they obviously do not contrast as dramatically with the fields as the cameo devices of Proofs do. Specifically applied by PCGS to those 1950 and later Proofs that meet cameo standards (CAM)."

Deep Cameo
"The term applied to coins, usually Proofs and proof-like coins that have deeply frosted devices and lettering that contrast with the fields - often called "black and white" cameos. Specifically applied to those 1950 and later Proofs that meet deep cameo standards (DCAM)."

For more information on terms relating to coin collecting you can visit the PCGS Coin Term Glossary.

1 comment:

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