Provident Metals Glossary

Commonly used coin and bullion investment terms.

Learn the terminology used to describe gold, silver, platinum, palladium and copper bullion, as well as terms for numismatic/collectors' coins. These easy-to-understand descriptions can help you become better acquainted with the important terms of the precious metals business as you become an expert investor. Continue your investment education by visiting our Knowledge Center.

  • Actual Metal Weight - A coin’s fineness multiplied by its total weight in Troy ounces. Actual Gold Weight (AGW) or Actual Silver Weight (ASW) are terms used for those specific metals. For example, if a silver coin weighs 1.2 Troy Ounces but has a fineness of .720, or 72%, take 1.2 x .72 for an Actual Silver Weight of .864 Troy Ounces. This number is how many Troy Ounces of pure metal are in this coin.

  • Alloy - A combination of two or more metals (i.e. copper, nickel). Other than coins with a 99.9% fineness or better, most would be considered alloys. One example would be the American Eagle gold bullion coin, which contains .9167 troy ounces of gold, .03 troy ounces of silver, and .0533 troy ounces of copper, forming an alloy. Alloys are used to strengthen a coin, as the combination of metals is often many times stronger than the primary element.

  • Altered Date - A date that has been changed after the minting process to make the coin appear it’s from an earlier date and therefore more valuable. This is very common on 1944-D Wheat Pennies which are easily altered to look like a 1914-D, a key date in the series. A careless or novice collector may not notice that the first 4 has been altered to look like a 1.

  • Bag Mark - A blemish that occurs when coins strike one another in a mint bag. Silver Dollars are usually associated with this term. After the minting process of the Morgan and Peace dollars, they were individually dropped in bags for distribution. This resulted in not only nicks from the initial contact of the coins being dropped, but also imperfections from the repeated rubbing inside the bags while the coins were in transit and being handled.

  • Billon - (not to be confused with Bullion) A lower grade of silver (most often less than 50%) that also contains other metals. Copper and bronze are the most common metals in billon.

  • Bullion - Rounds, bars and ingots primarily valued for their precious metal content and held in bulk quantity are considered bullion. Silver and gold bullion, as well as platinum, palladium, and copper bullion, can be bought, sold, and traded for potential profit on commodities markets. Coins nominally issued as legal tender are also considered bullion, although their precious metals content is worth far more than their face value.

  • American Eagle gold bullion coins and American Eagle silver bullion coins are two of the most widely accepted and sought after forms of bullion in the world. First released in 1986 following the passing of the Gold Bullion Act of 1985, bullion coins have been mass produced by the United States Mint annually in 1 ozt, ½ ozt ¼ ozt, and 1/10 ozt varieties. Canada mints similar gold and silver bullion coins know as the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf and the Canadian Silver Maple Leaf.

  • Engelhard and Johnson Matthey are two well known brands in the silver and gold bullion industry that demand higher premiums. SilverTowne, A-Mark, and the Golden State Mint are also well known private mints who issue both silver bars and rounds primarily valued for their silver bullion content. The defining characteristic of silver and gold bullion and its primary basis of value is its fineness, purity, and weight, rather than the monetary value assigned by a national government.

  • Cast Coins - Coins made from pouring molten metal into a mold or cast. This method is no longer in use but was used for many ancient, numismatic coins.

  • Cent - One percent of a dollar, or centavo, centime or centesimo in other countries around the world.

  • Certified Coin - An authenticated coin that has been encased by an independent third party professional service (i.e. PCGS and NGC). Certified coins typically carry much higher premiums as the general investor or collector can be confident a coin is authentic based on the unbiased designation given by these third party grading services.

    One of the more popular certified coins is the American Eagle silver bullion coin which in Mint State 70 condition, can demand a premium of up to 4 times the actual silver bullion value.

  • Cherrypicker - A collector who searches through unattributed items or lots for variations, errors and other oddities that may make coins more valuable. Some of these oddities include doubled dies, re-punched mint marks, and die varieties.

  • Circulation Strike - Strikes used in coins meant for circulation. Some of these coins are pulled directly after the minting process to be included in U.S. Mint issued sets, including the mint set.

  • Clad Coinage - Post-1965 U.S. coins with a pure copper center and layers of other metals, usually copper-nickel or silver. Dimes, quarters, halves, and dollars are the only denominations with these possible attributes. 40% Kennedy half dollars are the most well known of this consistency. Each coin contains .1479 troy ounces of silver and .2214 troy ounces of copper.

  • Contact Marks - Small scratches or abrasions caused by contact with other coins. This term refers to an uncirculated coin since contact marks are minor in severity. The American Gold and Silver Eagle bullion coins for example arrive from the U.S. Mint in tubes and can sometimes be found to have small contact marks from slight movements inside their tubes.

  • Countermark - A mark that’s been pressed onto a coin to signify legitimacy by a government or indicate a revaluation. This occurrence was extremely common in the 18th and 19th centuries with the Spanish 8 Reales. Referred to as the first "American Silver Dollar" because of its use in colonial Mexico and the colonial United States, this coin found its way into circulation in many Asian countries who would countermark the coins upon arrival in their ports.

  • Crack-out - A previously graded coin that has been removed from its holder. This will sometimes occur if one feels a better grade could be achieved, a different grading service may be more beneficial or for dipping to remove unwanted toning or residue. The Morgan Silver Dollar is often the victim of this practice as the most commonly graded non-modern coin in the industry.

  • Crown - A dollar sized coin usually from the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth of Nations (i.e Bahamas) struck in silver. Originally struck in gold, the Silver Crown became one of the most heavily circulated coins of its time.

  • Die - The piece of metal engraved with a coin’s design that’s used for minting the actual coins.

  • Die crack - A line on a coin caused by a broken or cracked die.

  • Die Defect - An abnormality on a coin usually caused by a damaged die

  • Die variety - A minor variation in the original design of a coin.

  • Dipping - The use of chemicals to clean coins. This is done to prevent scractches or unwanted blemishes and typically doesn’t involve any actual contact with the coin (…other than the chemicals in use).

  • Double Eagle - Prior to 1933, the Double Eagle gold coin was standard currency in the United States with a face value of $20. The two types of Double Eagles are the Liberty Head and the Saint Gaudens, which were minted from 1849-1907 and 1907-1933 respectively.

  • Doubled Die - A coin that has been struck twice and subsequently been given two misaligned impressions.

  • Eagle - Either a pre-1933 $10 gold piece, or 1986-present, silver, gold and platinum bullion pieces (silver eagles, gold eagles and platinum eagles)

  • Electrum - A metal consisting of a natural mixture of gold and silver.

  • Field - The part of a coin with no design or lettering, often referred to as the background.

  • Filler - A heavily circulated coin used to complete a collection because of its numismatic value.

  • Fineness - The purity of the precious metals used to mint a coin (i.e. 90% or .900 fine, 99.9% or .999 fine)

  • Gem - A high quality, uncirculated coin. When certified, these coins will generally receive a designation of Mint State 65 or better.

  • Gold Bullion - Rounds, bars and ingots primarily valued for their precious metal content. Coins nominally issued as legal tender are also considered bullion, although their precious metals content is worth far more than their face value. The American Gold Eagle for example has a face value of $50 and contains 1-troy ounce of fine gold. The precious metals value of this coin in January 2011 was approximately $1400.

  • Graded Coin - (Same as "Certified Coin") A certified coin that has been encased by an independent third party (i.e. PCGS and NGC)

  • Half Eagle - The pre-1933 United States $5 gold piece.

  • Hub - A part of the minting process that impresses the coin's design into a die.

  • Incuse - The impression of a design into the coin, below the surface. This is the opposite of "relief", which is the most common design for coinage.

  • Investment Grade - A promotional term usually referring to a coin that’s a MS-65 grade or better.

  • Junk Silver - Pre-1965 silver coins removed from circulation and valued for their silver content alone. Franklin and Walking Liberty halves and Mercury dimes are also considered junk silver, but usually sell for a higher premium.

  • Key Date - A scarce or more valuable coin in a series. The 1996 American Silver Eagle is the key date of the series often selling for two or three times more than common date Silver Eagles.

  • Legal Tender - A method of payment allowed by law or recognized by a legal system to be valid for meeting a financial obligation.

  • Lettered Edge - Lettering or inscriptions on the edge of a coin.

  • Luster - The brilliance of the surface of an uncirculated coin.

  • Mint Error - A mistake or defect that occurs during the minting process.

  • Mintmark - A small letter on a coin used to indicate the specific mint where the coin was struck.

  • Mint Set - A U.S. Mint issued set that includes a coin of each denomination produced by each mint in that specific year.

  • MS - Mint State; this will always be followed by a number between 60 and 70.

  • Mule - An error that occurs when a coin is struck from two dies not intended to be used together (i.e. a Washington Quarter design on a dollar coin planchet)

  • NGC - A third party grading service, NGC stands for the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.

  • Obverse - The front of a coin, colloquially known as “heads.”.

  • Overdate - When a new date is superimposed on a previously dated die.

  • Overstrike - When A coin that’s been struck twice, with the second time being with a different die.

  • Patina - A tarnish that forms on the surface of bronze and copper.

  • Pattern - A trial coin never issued for circulation.

  • Planchet - The metal upon which a coin is struck.

  • PCGS - A third party grading service, PCGS stands for Professional Coin Grading Service.

  • Perth Mint - A mint located in Perth Australia that produces the Kookaburra, Koala, and lunar series coins amongst other bullion items.

  • Pre-33 Gold - A gold coin dated 1933 or earlier. After this date, the US did not produce any gold coins until 1986 with the release of the American Eagle gold bullion coin.

  • Proofs - Coins not intended for circulation struck using specially polished dies and planchets.

  • Proof Set - A U.S. Mint issued set that includes each proof struck by each mint in a given year.

  • Quarter Eagle - The pre-1933 United States $2.50 gold piece.

  • Raw - An uncertified coin that has not received a designation from an independent grading service.

  • Reeded Edge - The vertical grooves that run along the edge of a coin.

  • Relief - The most common design for coins with the actual design being raised slightly from the surface of the coin.

  • Restrike - A coin struck from a genuine die at a later date than the original issue (i.e. Maria Theresa)

  • Reverse - The back of a coin, also known as “tails.”

  • Rim - The raised portion of the edge of a coin that protects the coin from wear.

  • Round - A non-government issued medal or bullion piece usually containing 1 ounce of silver.

    Silver Bullion Rounds, bars and ingots primarily valued for their precious metal content. Coins nominally issued as legal tender are also considered bullion, although their precious metals content is worth far more than their face value.

    The American Eagle silver bullion coin has a face value of $1 and contains 1 troy ounce of fine silver. The precious metals value of this coin in January 2011 was approximately $32.

  • Slab - A hard plastic case used by independent third party professional grading services to preserve coins and present their certifications.

  • Spot Price - The market value of precious metals at a given point in time.

  • Token - A non-government issued coin with an exchange value for some good or service.

  • Trade Dollar - A silver dollar or crown sized coin issued specifically for trade with another country.

  • Type - A series of coins sharing the same design and denomination.

  • Type Coins - A general term used to describe older U.S. coins ending with the Seated Liberty design.

  • Uncirculated - A coin meant for normal circulation that has never been used in commerce and still maintains its original luster and appeal. Also referred to as Mint State (MS).

  • Variety - A coin with unique characteristics that set it apart from coins of the same type.

If there are any other terms you don’t see here or if you have any questions, please check out our main knowledge center page or contact gold bullion dealers at Provident Metals today.

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