COIN MARKET SLANG
Musings of an Idle Numismatist
John Michael Murbach
Temple City, California
Revised January 1996
Coin Market Slang
numismatics n pl but sing in constr : The study or collection of
coins, tokens, medals, paper money, and similar objects
slang n [origin unknown] 1 : language peculiar to a particular
group: as a : ARGOT b : JARGON
America's coin market during the past quarter century has been an
exhilarating, dynamic, and, at times, accursed affair. As with any of
mankind's endeavors, whenever a homogeneous crowd like ours gathers to do
business its trade talk, its jargon, takes on a bizarre and oftentimes
humorous quality. Slang words are coined almost daily, although most get
tossed onto the dunghill of forgotten memory within months. Indeed, where fast
profits are possible a lively vocabulary evolves, coined by these scramblers
for lucre. They turn complex words, sentences, or ideas into condensed concise
slang; just as mankind's four-letter expletives have their windy counterparts
in medicalese, so, too, does our adorable coin market usage undergo identical
I mention this because rare coins came alive with such usage in the period
immediately after President Nixon loosed our dying dollar's ties to gold in
1971. Wild swings in the business cycle translated into a roller coaster ride
for coins. For example, where the profession of numismatics had been a
nostalgic interlude for a few devout collectors, now our business grew into an
industry, in the words of its growing dealer ranks. Coins became "material";
investment became the watchword of the era; new schools of thought developed;
pricing schemes were hatched out ("may all the poisons that lurk in the mud
hatch out," said Emperor Claudius)--and shrewd men took advantage of the
uncertainties by creating third-party grading services. Where will it end? For
those who comprehend the lessons of history, I think you can guess. In the
meantime, sit right back, grab a handful of popcorn and a mug of beer, and
enjoy the show.
I once heard a charming old Chinese curse that goes, "May you live in
interesting times." Well, I have lived in interesting times as far as the rare
coin market goes. Circumstances being what they are, I chose to assemble this
modest anthology of coin slang for those of you centuries hence who might
enjoy a lighthearted look into our follies in this, God's Hand-picked American
Republic, near the turn of the second millennium anno Domini. As a rule, my
writing is done for my own enjoyment, my own edification. I fear not penning
what may offend others. It is done primarily to exercise my mind in a sort of
intellectual gerbil wheel. People possessed of tender ears and closed minds
may want to take heed. Barring these defects, I do not attempt to force others
to my way of thinking. Hence, this Warning to one and all! Read my dictionary
with a buoyant heart and a chuckle, with a sly grin and a generous
temperament, for it was penned by an admittedly idle numismatist having time
on his hands, naughty-naughty on the mind, and perhaps just a little twinkle
in his eye.
- Almost New
- Also Slider. Usage by dealer Tim Torpin, first seen written on coin
envelopes of his in the late 1970s. A coin that grades not quite Uncirculated.
- Slang for ANE or American Numismatic Exchange. A computerized trading
network that rose to prominence following introduction of slabbing. Had an
unexpected demise in 1989 due to internal discord. Similar schemes were
hatched during the coin boom of 1985-9, although most either never came to
fruition or, those that did, failed after the boom ended. Annie was replaced
by CCE, a similar exchange. (Daily CCE sales range from $20,000 to $100,000.)
Both of these dealer networks were preceded by FACTS, which traces to the roll
and proof set boom of the early 1960s. Not to be confused with Little Orphan
Annie, which see. [See Slab]
- Applied Toning
- First employed by the author when describing "artificially"
toned coins for Superior Stamp and Coin (an A-Mark Company) auction. Having
grown weary with this much overused expression (artificial) I bethought a
better, more artful substitute. Thus was born "applied toning." Also once
used, but not yet abused, "art-fully applied toning" as a play on "art-
ificially." [See Toning]
- Wholesale selling price as established by market makers, and listed in the
weekly Coin Dealer Newsletter. "How much do you need to get for it?" "What's
Ask?" [See Bid]
- A Small, But Useful, Profit
- Tongue-in-cheek term used by Richard Lobel of
England in 1985. Applied when describing an outrageous--and therefore, highly
rewarding--profit. Author: "How much did you make on that 1839 Una and the Lion
five-pound, Richard?" Richard: "Ooo! Let me think." [Pauses] "I suppose I'll
wind up with a small, but useful, profit." [Grinning broadly]
- Refers to fully separated and distinct cross bands on the reverse fasces
of a Mercury dime. A coin's price can more than double in value if this
feature is full. Typical grade description: 1916-D Mercury. Mint State 63.
Full Bands. (Larry and Ira Goldberg have instructed the author to substitute
"split bands" in cataloging when a coin doesn't justify the "full"
expression.) [See McDonalds Arches]
- One who drives a hard bargain. Conversation heard 1/22/93 between
Richard Heller and his friend Ed concerning a wristwatch sale Heller had just
completed with another person: Ed. "That fellow sure tried to nickel and dime
you on the one piece." Richard. "He's a beater." Ed. "Yeah, a lot of those
wristwatch guys are beaters." [See Negotiation]
- Bellybutton Dollar
- A variety of 1884 silver dollar has a defect from the die
causing a strategically placed depression on the eagle's lower abdomen.
- Also Mr. Bid. Wholesale buying price as established by market makers, and
listed in the weekly Coin Dealer Newsletter. [See Ask; also Singles for an
example of how Bid is used in conversation]
- An Uncirculated or Proof coin having above-average luster and visual
appeal. Veteran coin collector Fred Yee used to ask to see any "braziers" I
had in stock. [Also, Dazzler, Flash, Godzilla, Hard White, Killer, Monster,
Moose, Mother, Stone White, Wonder Coin, and a host of others]
- Blue Ikes
- 1971 to 1978 Eisenhower Uncirculated 40%-silver dollars in original
blue envelopes of issue.
- Blue-white Luster
- A variant of Blazer, a few silver coins exhibit inordinately
striking luster that has a bluish tint.
- Body Bag
- First heard on the bourse floors of America circa 1994. Refers to a
coin returned (rejected for grading) by one of the two major third-party-
grading services, PCGS and NGC. The coin in its returned "flip" [See Flip] or
Body Bag has a small sticker appended to it with a usually terse, rubber-
stamped notation on it explaining why the coin could not be certified.
"Environmental Damage" or "Questionable Toning" or "PVC" [See PVC]--or one of
several other letdowns from the eagerly anticipated record-breaking grade--are
typical reasons. The grading service keeps the grading fee. Naturally.
- Booby Head
- 1839 large cent variety. Term used as early as the 1850s. Evidently
Miss Liberty exhibits an idiot's or booby's expression on her face.
- Short for Bowers and Ruddy Galleries, Inc., a large coin outfit of the
seventies and eighties. Dealer Kevin Lipton apparently coined this term.
"John, what's new with Bow-Wow?"
- (1) A block of 4,000 Federal Reserve Notes bound together with metal
straps, as shipped from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to the various
Federal Reserve district banks. Rarely seen outside the "system." (2) A group
of 500 American silver one-ounce Eagles sealed in a brick as received from the
mint. [See Rounds]
- Broken 3
- Variety of 1823 half dollar. Common.
- Brown Ikes
- 1971 to 1978 Eisenhower Proof 40%-silver dollars in brown box of
- With the advent of third-party grade-certification or "slabbing" in
1986, a new technique developed of breaking a coin out of its plastic slab and
resubmitting it to the same service or another grading service for a hoped-for
upgrade. If the coin came back with a higher grade, its value was enhanced
accordingly, often to the tune of two or three hundred percent! A coin that
was a good candidate for this transformation was said to be a "Breakout" or
- Bullet Sale
- A new kid on the block, Bullet Sales are sales by auction of
slabbed material. The auction house conducting the sale prepares a no-frills
catalog and the sale takes place at breakneck speed. Consignors pay low
commission rates. Those desirous of dumping their treasures find this a quick
method for generating cash. Bullet Sales emerged shortly after the 1985-9 bull
market in slabbed coins began to crash. This may have been a coincidence. They
are now an integral part of the market, with Heritage (Steve Ivy) conducting
the biggest events. [See Slab, Material]
- California Special
- An artificially enhanced coin, most commonly a Morgan
silver dollar. California Specials first surfaced in the early 1970s. Coin
doctors would take a slightly prooflike specimen, give it a high mirror gloss
in the fields by polishing it heavily, then apply some sort of acid etch to
the raised devices. This simulated a "cameo" contrast while improving the
coin's desirability and, hence, its asking price. A few California Specials
still turn up on occasion and will fool the majority of collectors and many
inexperienced dealers. Any bagmarks on the face are frosted instead of shiny--a
dead giveaway. They appear identical, regardless of the date and mintmark of
the underlying coin. This is never the case in the real world since different
mints produced different qualities of prooflike surface.
- What caffeine-free is to coffee, carbon-free is to the surface of
coins. Often, carbon spots will form on the surface of silver, nickel, or
copper coins, damaging them to a certain extent and lowering the value. Caused
by impurities in the air and/or metallic alloy of the coin.
- (1) Another name for any silver dollar, (2) a term used to describe
the coruscating luster often seen on a Blazer Uncirculated coin, (3) England's
hefty 1797 copper twopenny coin.
- Chop Marks
- Found primarily on American Trade Dollars dated 1873-8 and Japanese
Yen (1870-1914) that circulated in China. Chinese businessmen, ever watchful
for fakes, placed their sign or "chop" on any of these trade coins that passed
muster. Numerous pieces are found with multiple, sometimes scores, of chop
marks on both sides.
- 1936 Cincinnati commemorative half dollars.
- A coin in a clear plastic PCGS holder. [See Pigs, White, Slab, Sideways]
- Circle It
- When a dealer buys a coin from a fellow dealer the seller usually
writes the price on the envelope or holder and circles it. Circle It is a
short-hand way of saying "Okay, I'll buy it." For example: "What's your best
shot on the Schoolgirl?" "How's about twenty-six five?" "Has it been flogged
around yet?" "No, I just put it out; you're the first one who's seen it [lie];
it's fresh." "Okay, circle it!"
- As in not-far. [See Slider]
- Copper Coins
- Code name for Marijuana. [See Silver Coins]
- Cowboy Dollars
- European nickname for American silver dollars. At one Swedish
coin show a British dealer (who must remain anonymous to protect his wife and
children) brought along 1,000 circulated silver dollars, billing them as
"Cowboy Dollars." Wholesale value at the time was $6 apiece; his asking price,
$30. Net result: complete sellout! He phoned his assistant to hop the next
plane out of London with the other two bags in stock!
- CW Coin World.
- Chief numismatic publication of the day, started in 1960.
Subscribers as of January 1993: 68,000. [See Politically Correct]
- Short for Coin Demon Newsletter. A 1990s lampoon of the Coin Dealer
Newsletter. Pokes fun at the absurdities of dealers and the coin trade in
general. Published by Bigbootie of Wastelands, California.
- (1) A coin in a miserable state of preservation, (2) Black Dog Name given
to the Cayenne Sous when introduced in the English islands in the West Indies.
Pieces of base silver coin.
- As in cleaned, doctored, repaired. "This coin's been done. It isn't for
me." (Also, "do" as in "Can I do this Barber Quarter before I buy it?"--said by
one Bruce Lorich to the author, February 2, 1994.)
- Used by the author when cataloging coins, as in "minor dulling (or
dullness) on the high points, otherwise vibrant, 'alive' and lustrous." Many
of today's slab jobs involve atrociously overgraded coins in spite of loud
trumpeting by the grading services to the contrary. Whenever wear is evident
on the high points (typically hidden under the toning) I use this euphemism
for "worn"--not wishing to offend the consignor, who is, let us not forget, our
prime benefactor. [See Toning, Luster Breaks, Slider, Splendiferous]
- With the advent of slabbing in 1986, there were those who felt
the word slab demeaning to the self-avowed professionalism of the trade. So
was coined the handy euphemism Encapsulation to describe the plastic
entombment device. (In the unsold second half of the Ed Trompeter set of
United States gold proofs, the author was told to delete all references to
slabs or slabbing, and instead to substitute the word encapsulated.) [See
Slab, Clear, White]
- Environmental Damage
- In 1986, fellow dealer Bruce Lorich submitted his
Uncirculated 3¢ silver to the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) for
their grade evaluation. They returned it as ungradeable due to having
environmental damage. It's problem? Original toning. (Naturally PCGS kept
Bruce's $22 grading fee.) [See Slab, Toning]
- See Blazer. "Naw, I'll pass. It hasn't got enough flash to five."
- Clear plastic one-pocket or two-pocket coin holders in popular use since
the 1960s. Typical flips come in 2" x 2" size, but larger ones can be had for
bigger coins. "I cannot sell it to you just yet. Wait until after I've flipped
it." Flips made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC)--the most common type--will, in
time, leave a cloudy haze on a coin due to breakdown in the polymer, and may
decrease its value.
- Dulling a coin's shiny high points by dabbing one's thumb on it in
order to make it receive a higher grade from a grading service is known as
fingering it. Fingering is done with the idea of disguising marks or a
polished look in order to make the piece appear fresher, more "original," and
thus fool the graders. First heard from Bill Conroy at Superior Stamp and
Coin, 1992; probably traces back several years earlier, though not before the
advent of slabbing in 1986. The author showed Mr. Conroy a PCGS Mint State 64
1907 High Relief $20 gold piece for his opinion as to whether it might get a
higher grade if resubmitted. Conroy replied No, that it had been fingered
(which, plainly, it hadn't, since the collector who owned it had had
possession of it for more than a decade and was completely unschooled in the
finer points of rare coin enhancement). [See Dulling, Environmental Damage,
Fresh, Mint State, Toning]
- A numismatic item that is right out of an old-time collection, not
having made the rounds of dealer inventories yet. Fresh coins are worth more
because they haven't been picked over. First usage seems to be in 1987. "Got
anything fresh this week?"
- Full Bell Lines
- Refers to the lower design lines on the Liberty Bell of the
Franklin half dollar. Worth a premium if complete. "I'm not interested unless
it's got four full bell lines."
- Full Head
- Refers to the head detail on 1916-30 U.S. standing Liberty quarter
dollars, especially in Uncirculated grade. Certain dates are rarely found
having a full head. [See Particularization]
- See Blazer. Bruce Lorich mentions he first heard this term in 1980.
- As in any collecting field, Grade is of prime importance when evaluating
a coin. Coins can either be circulated, uncirculated (or Mint State), or Proof
(specially prepared for sale to collectors). Mint State coins are dealt with
under a separate heading below. Circulated coins, at the time of this writing
in 1993, consisted of the following grades: Poor, Fair, About Good, Good, Very
Good, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine (sometimes Extra Fine), and About
Uncirculated. Abbreviated they are: Poor, Fr, AG, G, VG, F, VF, EF or XF, AU.
Grade is very important when determining price. Take for example an 1893 San
Francisco Mint Silver Dollar. Here are the current Bids: VG $475, F $680, VF
$875, EF $2200, AU $9800. It is plain to see that small advances in quality
translate into sometimes very large price jumps. It is also plain to see why
grading tends to have all the vagaries and cupidity of "humanity" imprinted
upon it! [See Bid, Mint State, Particularization, Slider]
- Gray Sheet
- Also Sheet and CDN. "The Coin Dealer Newsletter," a popular
wholesale pricing guide, was founded in 1963. In the late-1970s the Sheet was
owned by a coin promoter and became a tool for insider speculation. In time it
lost its respectability as an accurate pricing guide. After the advent of
slabbing in 1986 a Blue Sheet for slabbed coins appeared. The same publisher
offers a Green Sheet to paper money dealers, an Ask-based Brown Sheet, a
monthly Summary, and three Quarterly Summaries. [See Slab]
- 1883 Hawaiian pattern 12½¢ coin. In Hawaiian, Hapa = half; Walu =
eight. Half of eight, or the fraction one-eighth. Only 20 of these were
coined. An 1883 hapawalu in PCGS graded Proof 65 fetched $36,000 in May 1991
at a Superior Galleries sale I cataloged.
- Hard White
- Deep white luster or Blazer. Also Stone White; Stone White
- Noticeable marks or nicks on a coin, particularly on the central effigy.
(First heard in June 1985). "Forget it! It's got too many hits for sixty-five
- Hot Lips
- Variety of 1888-O silver dollar struck from doubled obverse die (a
manufacturing boo-boo) that leaves Liberty with two sets of lips. Listed as
VAM-4 in the Van Allen-Mallis die variety guide. 4/93 retail in Very Fine $79.
[See Bellybutton Dollar]
- Jackass Note
- $10 United States Note issued from 1869-1928. A small eagle at
center bottom appears, when held inverted, to be the head of a floppy eared
- In an auction, the Juice is the buyer's commission rate--normally 10%.
"What did you have to pay?" "Eleven grand plus the juice."
- As in key date. Usually the most important date or dates in a coin series.
Collectors aspire to own them and prices are therefore kept high in relation
to numbers known. Important key dates include 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln cent, 1796
half dollar, and 1895 Morgan silver dollar. (The 1881-S Morgan dollar is not
considered a key date by numismatists regardless of what promoters may claim.)
- See Blazer.
- Last Five Inches
- Conversation overhead between two dealers at Long Beach,
California coin show, February 1993: Dealer 1. Can I see that 1924 Peace
Dollar in your case? Dealer 2. Here it is. Dealer 1. [examining coin up
close]. Nah! Not as sharp as I expected. From a distance it looks better. See
what that last five inches does?
- Liberty head $10 or $20 gold pieces.
- Lincoln in a Porthole
- $10 United States Note issued between 1923 and 1928.
Lincoln's portrait is in a circular frame.
- Hairlines. Fine scratches, most often seen on Proof coins as these have
deeply reflective mirror fields which get minute scratches easily. Lines are
detrimental to a coin's value, moreso when they are noticeable to the naked
eye. By the late-1970s, and on into the no-nonsense-grading 1980s, dealers
became pathologically picky about any detracting hairlines on a coin. The
grading services PCGS and NGC are extremely harsh on Mint State coins
displaying any lines.
- Little Princess
- 1841 $2.50 gold piece. It is believed that only 20 of these
were minted, all Proofs. Whenever one appears for sale it is an important
event. The nickname Little Princess has been used for this coin at least since
the 1930s. Origin unknown.
- Looks Unc.
- Looks Uncirculated. [See Slider]
- Luster Breaks
- Small nicks or light rubbing on the high points of an otherwise
mint coin. [See Slider]
- McDonalds Arches
- Fully rounded cross bands on the reverse fasces of a Mercury
dime. Popular in Hawaii, but not on the mainland. First heard from Troy Ozama
in 1982. McDonalds is a famous fast-food hamburger eatery. [See Bands]
- To old-time (fuddy-duddy) hobbyists like the author, coins were
coins. To today's hot-shot purveyors it's "Brought any new material with you?"
- Mercury dimes.
- Mint State
- Also Uncirculated. A coin in the condition in which it left the
mint. Never circulated. IN THE BEGINNING there was the word Uncirculated, and
it was good. Then, over time, God created adjectives to modify His word. At
first he proposed but two: Choice and Gem. Apostles, like Q. David Bowers,
hoped to affix a third: Select. However, Select failed to adhere. Then, when
God's adjectives proved inadequate, a numbering system was devised. This
numbering system the Apostles borrowed from the Order of Large Cent monks. Up
to 1976, Mint State numbers for Large Cents included 60, 65, and 70, with 70
meaning full mint red. These numbers were pressed into service on other coin
types, then modified and augmented over time. Mint State was called 60;
Choice, 65; and Gem became 70. Later, 70 transmuted into Superb Gem (a
glorious new adjective). Finally, the ultimate grade of 70 evolved to mean
God's Own Perfection. Intermediate numbers therein followed: 63 arose
earliest, in the later-1970s; a few years on followed 64 (when 65 proved too
weak to distinguish the fine quality shifts in a Mint State coin). Eventually,
all eleven integers found their way into the numismatic liturgy: Mint State
60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, and (now rarely seen) 70. IT CAME TO
PASS that other disciples hit upon the idea of adding a small 'PQ' to the
number to signify Premium Quality. Still others bethought they could see thine
selves reflected in the field of certain Morgan silver dollars. With this,
prooflike was born. Eventually, those wanting separation from the rabble of
everyday prooflike collectors enlarged the term to include 'deep mirror'
prooflike as well. And so, from its lowly beginnings as a single usage, the
grade Mint State--in the case of silver dollars at any rate--has come to include
one of sixty-six possible permutations. Is that, or is that not, progress?
[See Prooflike, Rarity, Slider]
- See Blazer.
- (c.1976-1980) A phenomenal quality coin. Evidently penned by "Boy
Wonder" Kevin Lipton.
- Nearly There
- First heard from Tim Torpin in the early 1980s. Also Nearly New
and New Enough. [See Slider]
- Conversation between Doug Bird and the author on October 1, 1986
at the Long Beach coin show, with the coin at the center of the negotiation
being an EF 1794 large cent. I was asking $1350 and Doug wanted to pay $1250.
The final price, for obvious reasons, was $1300. Doug, at the close of the
deal: "It's a stretch for me, it's a shrink for you, so we come out even."
- Short for New Purchase. At a typical coin show, dealers often ask to see
one's recently purchased, but un-flipped, material. "What have you got in
newps?" [See Flip, Material]
- See Slider. First used by Don Medcalf in the early-1970s when he wished
to sell a coin as Uncirculated but knew full well that it wasn't, yet didn't
want to call it About Uncirculated which would have forced a lesser price. He
simply wrote Nice on the coin's holder!
- Nixon Dollars
- Starting in 1972 the U.S. government sold over three million
silver dollars that had been held in Treasury vaults. The majority of these
were mint state Carson City coins, offered at $15 each for "tarnished"
specimens and $30 each for the remainder. Later on, better date pieces were
sold at higher prices. All came housed in a hard plastic container in hinged
black-and-blue cardboard box. Inside the cover, an inscription and facsimile
autograph by then-president Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon. Nixon Dollars refers
exclusively to the Carson City, Nevada Mint pieces that are still in their
- Own-a-pa-pa or, less often, One-pa-pa) $5 Silver Certificate issued
from 1899-1923. Portrait of an Indian chief, purportedly of the Oncpapa tribe;
- Orphan Annie
- 1844 Liberty seated dime. Origin unknown, but the term has been
in use since the 1930s.
- Non-circulating bullion coin of the People's Republic of China (mainland
China). Pandas were first issued in 1982. They feature various poses of
China's familiar, and loveable, pandas on one side; usually the Hall of Prayer
for Good Harvest in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing (Peiking). Sizes vary from
one-tenth ounce to multiple kilo weights and come in silver, gold, platinum. A
marketing bonanza. [See Rounds]
- Any of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition commemorative coins--half
dollar, gold dollar, $2.50 and $50 gold octagonal and round. The $50 gold
round, the rarest of the group with 483 mintage trades wholesale for $38,000
in Mint State 64 condition as of 4/93.
- As in Authenticating Papers, or Grading Certificates. By the early
1980s a craze for third party opinions and certified grading swept the coin
business. Uneducated speculators (oxymoron), rather than take the effort to
find out just what it was they were spending their money on, demanded a crutch
in the form of grading and authenticating papers. As usual, uncouth liberties
were taken by the issuers of such papers. Over one dozen firms offered the
service, so undoubtedly a monumental scandal is brewing. [See Slab]
- Paquet Twenty
- 1861-S Liberty head $20 gold piece minted using Anthony Paquet's
distinctive reverse die. A scarce coin.
- Paramount Dollars
- Paramount Coin Company sold thousands of so-called Mint
State 65 silver dollars during the 1970s in 3" x 4" plastic holders having
their logo and the coin's grade printed in silver on a red cardboard insert.
Their loose grading caused snickers in later years.
- To put a coin away in storage in anticipation of a price rise. "I'm gonna
Park this 1902 English proof set until I can get $4000 for it."
- A great term (and a real mouthful) borrowed from The Rare
Art Traditions by Joseph Alsop. In any advanced collecting field the market
participants (collectors, investors, speculators, dealers) tend to break down
their field into finer and finer categories or compartments. As prices
advance, as money flows into the market, the players develop ingenious ways to
make ever finer distinctions in rarity, grade, or desirability, and,
therefore, in value; in short, they particularize their objects. With coins
this is done through a number of contrivances. For instance: (1) separating
coins by dates and mints of issue; (2) going after low mintage pieces; (3)
multiplying the number of grade categories; (4) isolating toning from
brilliance; (5) prooflike surface from luster; (6) determining provenance or
pedigree; (7) population or census numbers, as in low pop versus high pop; (8)
Condition Census; (9) die varieties; (10) die states within die varieties;
(11) Finest Known and tied for Finest Known; (12) rarity ratings [1 through
8]. Then we have: (13) so-called Premium Quality versus average quality; (14)
split grades; (15) minor variances such as, open 3 versus closed 3, or micro-
mintmark versus regular mintmark, or tall date versus medium date versus small
date, or large letters versus medium letters versus small letters--and to put
an end to it: (16) full strike versus average strike, with examples including
full head, hair, nose, lips, horn, tail, bands, diamonds, claw(s), wreath,
date, mintmark, skirt lines, bell lines, steps, toes, shield, rivets, rims,
stars, clasp, denticles, centers, breast feathers, LIBERTY. And any
combination of the above--the list is almost endless!
- Misuse of the term "provenance" to describe previous ownership of a
rare or significant coin. Horses and bloodhounds have pedigrees; coins have
provenance. In days gone by, a pedigree carried some weight; coins bearing
such possessed manna. However, beginning in the 1980s, everyone and his
uncle--large cent collectors in particular--began appending lengthy so-called
pedigrees to otherwise meaningless coins. Examples like the following, culled
from Superior Galleries' 1991 G. Lee Kuntz auction of large cents: Lot 601.
1852. Newcomb-4. Rarity-1. Mint State 60. Ex. Abner Kreisberg M.B.S.
9/67:500--R. E. Naftzger, Jr.--Del Bland 11/76. (It's a blasted 1852 large cent,
for Christ's sake!) Or how about this ditty entitled "Double Struck Sheldon-
120B Tied for Fourth Finest Known"? Tied for fourth finest? We find, after
sludging through an awful, boring description that it was, more properly,
"tied for fourth finest known with two or three others." The cataloger's
definitive statement is followed by the usual worthless string of past owners.
- Phone Book
- Annual Krause publisher's World Coins catalog. The 1985 edition
weighs in at 2048 pages.
- Politically Correct
- The catch-phrase of the nineties, political correctness or
PC is exemplified by Coin World. The current editorial staff has taken
perfectly good coin market slang and turned it into a mouthful of marbles. For
instance: our beautiful Mercury Dime has become "winged Liberty head" dime in
their reckoning, since the Roman god of traders and merchants appears nowhere
on the coin. Worse than this, they have adroitly transmogrified our beloved
Buffalo Nickel into an "Indian head five-cent coin" (there being no such
animal as a "nickel" in America's pantheon of coinage). However, Coin World
has itself made a major faux pas (them's French for "slip of the tongue"). The
word Indian is no longer allowed. Second, the artist created his portrait from
the likenesses of three men. Lastly, the ruminant on the reverse of the coin
is, more accurately, an American bison. If the powers of political correctness
gain control over our speechification, we might come across this happy scene
sometime in the new century: A pink-cheeked nine-year-old lad enters his local
coin-and-baseball-card establishment. After gaining the attention of the owner
by farting upwind from him he asks in a sweet, soprano voice, "Hey mister! You
got a 15-D Composite Native American head American bison reverse five-cent
coin in Very Good you can lemme have for three bucks?"
- Poly Polyethylene.
- Small plastic envelopes one puts coins into to protect the
surface from abrasion and grubby-fingered cretins.
- Pop Population.
- Once third-party grading appeared, the services rendered an
additional service by releasing population (census) reports of the coins they
had graded. Naturally, coin dealers soon found a new arena for enrichment: low
population coins. Never mind that the total supply of a piece might be
enormous. If the population in a particular grade was extremely low (say,
below 5 graded), and concurrently, if the grade were acceptably high
(generally, '65' and better), a delectable premium could be asked and
received. As of January 1993, "low pop" coins are all the rage with
telemarketers. For example: an inconsequential 1876 California fractional gold
quarter dollar (octagonal format), catalog number BG-797 in the official
guide, sold in raw Gem Uncirculated condition in October 1989 at the height of
the 1985-9 coin boom. It fetched $176. In 1992, long after prices had crashed,
one savvy telemarketer placed a nearly identical specimen--now PCGS
encapsulated Mint State 65 and having a low population of 2--with a giddy
investor for . . . get this . . . $12,000. Superior Coin Company was awarded
the honor and privilege of auctioning said BG-797 for the now-sober consignor.
It realized: $XXX in February 1993. Seen in 1/4/93 CW ad: "Pop-1 for date Pop-
4 for series." [See PCGS, Raw, Slab, Encapsulation, Clear]
- Premium Quality
- Often abbr. 'PQ'. Another splendiferous euphemism, Premium
Quality translates into "I want a higher price for mine because I think it
deserves it." Always, the emphasis is on more, never less. Everyone else's is
invariably inferior. Thus, one sees an auction lot description "1899-O Morgan.
PCGS graded Mint State 66. Deep Mirror Prooflike. Premium Quality" for what is
under different conditions a very plain coin. [See Particularization]
- U.S. $3 gold piece so-called for designer James Longacre's idealized
Indian Princess portrait. (Not to be confused with Little Princess, which
- Also 'PL'. Simulating the appearance of a proof coin with its mirror
field and frosted devices. Not to be confused with proof-like (hyphenated), a
descriptive term used by the Canadian mint for its near-proof quality coinage
sold to collectors at a premium over face value. Several versions of prooflike
exist nowadays: plain-vanilla 'PL', "deep," and "deep mirror," depending upon
which grading service you are using and how much imagination you incorporate.
Prices rise the deeper you get. [See Particularization]
- Put it on a wall
- Refers to a coin shop bid board. Most bid boards are arranged
along one wall of the shop, generally a pegboard-and-pin affair. "What are you
going to ask for your X?" "Oh, I don't know. Think I'll put it on a wall and
see if there's any action."
- One who employs a putty-like substance to hide slide marks or
scratches on a (usually) Mint State or Proof gold coin. When Tonguing or
Thumbing doesn't work, the coin is sent in to a professional Puttier to
enhance its appearance. He applies either automobile bondo or (a later
discovery) window glazing compound such as "33 Glazing" lightly to the
affected area. This softens the luster; it prevents the light from reflecting
back brilliantly off of any marks or hairlines into the observer's eye and so
enables the owner to get a higher grade from the eagle-eyed grading services
than the coin warrants. [See Tonguing, Slide Marks]
- Racketeer Nickel
- In 1883 our government issued new five-cent pieces lacking a
CENTS denomination. The coin's reverse displayed a large V. One rascal gold
plated a number of these and cleverly passed them off to unsuspecting
merchants as $5 gold pieces. He would purchase a 4¢ item, hand the merchant
the gold plated coin, and await his change, either 1¢ or $4.96. When exposed,
he held that he never claimed the coins to be five dollar gold pieces! The
government quickly added the word CENTS to the design. A similar gold plating
trick cropped up in regards to England's 1887 one-shilling coin.
- Part of the particularization process in United States numismatics,
there are currently two rarity schemes in use. The senior and foremost was
popularized by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd (may he rest in peace) in his book United
States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces, more commonly referred to by
its popular name, the Judd book. Judd separated rarity into eight classes:
Rarity-8 (2 or 3 known); Rarity-7 (4 to 12 known); Rarity-6 (13 to 30 known);
and so on. Market participants have since particularized the most highly
prized rarities into High and Low, such as in High Rarity-7; some take another
tack and add a plus or minus sign, as in Rarity-2+. (Thus, in a sub variety of
1793 large cent we might find this enlightening description: "1793 Wreath.
Vine and bars edge. Sheldon-9b. Rarity-4+." It should be understood that
rarity numbers using Judd's system derive from educated guesses, i.e.,
participant experience. Following the debut of slabbing came so-called grade-
rarity, the second method of determining a coin's rank, and much more amenable
to price manipulation. Grading services compile large pools of data. Their
published census figures for each grade give a helpful, though oftentimes
skewed look at the rarity of various coins in various conditions. Naturally,
this latter system leaves something to be desired. It fails to include coins
from competing services, or coins that have been submitted for grading more
than once; worse, it ignores raw coins. And it fails to take into account the
observed fact that many people dispute a coin's assigned grade. But, what the
heck! [See Particularization, Pop, Raw, Slab]
- A Raw coin is one that has not been graded by one of the recognized
grading services, ANACS, PCGS, or NGC. First heard in January 1987 on the coin
circuit, six months after the arrival of slabbing. [See Slab]
- Rays Nickel
- The first five-cent pieces, issued in 1866 and 1867, carried rays
interspersed between the 13 stars on the reverse. Die wear led the mint to
delete these rays on the remaining coins of 1867-1883.
- Red Book
- The Guide Book of United States Coins, issued each year since 1947,
has a bright red cover and an ever-increasing cover price.
- Any of a number of (usually) one-ounce silver ingots issued by numerous
private mints on round planchets. Rounds gained popularity in the late-1970s.
By the eighties and nineties jillions were being sold annually. Every sort of
event and personage gets commemorated on these. Forerunners to Rounds were
rectangular one-ounce bars that hit collectors' fancies beginning in 1972.
This earlier craze got out of hand when untold thousands of types were stamped
out and sold to unwitting guppies at delightfully obscene markups. As with all
such fads, this one imploded and left investors counting their losses. For a
time in the mid-1980s, five-ounce rounds were all the rage. Then, in the
1990s, came government mints issuing twelve-ouncers as well as kilo rounds in
such metals as gold, platinum, palladium, and, it is rumored but not verified,
protactinium. In the January 18, 1993 issue of CW is reported the sale of a 5-
kilogram (11-pound) gold round or Panda of China. "The coin was reported sold
for $147,000" to an American buyer. (Are hundredweight rounds next? And how
about plutonium?) [See Panda]
- Light friction, usually noticeable on an otherwise fully Uncirculated
coin. A Blazer that might fetch $10,000 drops to perhaps $1000 with Rub. This
encourages profit-hungry dealers and collectors to hide the rub, to
artificially enhance the coin's appearance, by either cleaning it or toning
it. Others just claim the rub is a minting characteristic! Rub is also known
as friction, handling, or "cabinet friction." In the true and proper sense of
the word, cabinet friction describes a coin which was stored in a coin cabinet
before the mass marketing of various specialty holders first became available
in the 1930s. Coins housed in such cabinets tended to slide to and fro as the
drawers were opened, putting wear on the highest points. In the early 1970s
Bowers and Ruddy Galleries used the silly term "Brilliant Uncirculated, light
rub" in their advertisements to describe such "super sliders." [See Nice,
- Saint-Gaudens' $20 gold coin issued 1907-1933.
- 1926 Sesquicentennial commemorative half dollar or $2.50 gold piece.
- A fluke which arose from an arbitrage game dealers played beginning
late in 1988. White Slabs were trading on teletype at 10% to 20% higher prices
than their Clear sisters in allegedly identical grade. A savvy trader could go
to NGC's (White's) office and, for a small but useful fee of $12, get an
opinion from their graders whether his Clear coin would go Sideways and
receive the same numerical grade. If he got a hoped-for "Yes" answer, he then
paid NGC's regular $75 walk-through fee and received his newly graded--and now
more valuable--White coin back in three hours. Inspired by others' success at
this, Bruce Lorich tried it with a PCGS Matte Proof-65 Indian $5 gold piece.
By making the coin go Sideways from Clear to White my good friend netted
$2,000 more when he sold the coin! Insane, but true. Naturally, the process
went only the one direction due to the price differential. As time went on the
price difference narrowed to the point where this activity declined. [See
Clear, White, Slab and Pigs]
- Silver Coins
- Code name for cocaine, a popular adjunct to the coin business
during the boom years of the 1970s and 1980s. "Do you have any silver coins
for sale?" Devotees often took to carrying about on their persons small nasal
spray bottles filled with a mixture of cocaine and water. Occasionally one
could spot someone spraying a toot! (For a number of years there, there was a
whole lot of sniffin' going on.)
- Used early in the spring of 1986 to describe the plastic holders then
being issued by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) members, and later by
other Slab services such as Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC) and
American Numismatic Association Certification Service (ANACS), NCI (Steve
Ivy), ACCUGRADE (Alan Hager), Hallmark (Bowers) and PCI. Tout sheets by PCGS
claimed its holders could only be opened with a hammer blow. Slabbed, as in
"Do you have any slabbed Saints?" Heard at the October 1986 Long Beach,
California coin show: "Do you think this will Slab-5? Slab-4 maybe." (Slab-5
being slang for Mint State 65 grade, etc.) [See Clear, Pigs, Raw, Sideways and
White] Slabbing became one of the most ingenious innovations ever dreamt up in
the annals of American numismatics. (Also, Grade-certified, Certified)
- Shorthand way of referring to one of the two primary grading
services, PCGS or NGC. "That's a great piece you've bought. Why not send it in
to Slabland to see if it'll five." (Not to be confused with Disney
corporation's theme parks, in which the seductiveness of wishing upon a star
is also the chief focus.) [See Slab]
- Slide Marks
- In years gone by, collectors used to store their coins in nicely
done-up cardboard albums. Two clear plastic slides kept the item in place and
allowed one to view both sides of the coin without hindrance. However, to
remove a slide when one wants to insert a new addition to the set, it is
necessary to press one's thumb it in order to "push" or slide it out. This
often results in the underlying coin(s) receiving one or two parallel
hairlines, known in the trade as Slide Marks. Once imparted to a coin, Slide
Marks are there for good, reducing the value and, in some cases, halving it.
With the introduction of grading services in 1986, grading got tighter and
Slide Marks took on added importance in evaluating the price. Toning helps
hide the damage. [See Slab, Tonguing, Toning]
- A coin having light friction on the high points. Unscrupulous dealers
(oxymoron) like to purchase at About Uncirculated prices and bump up the grade
when selling. By bumping up the grade to full Uncirculated, a heady profit can
be reaped. Coins that are close to Uncirculated grade are sometimes referred
to as Super Sliders, or Choice About Uncirculated. I have also heard the
following rubbery terms used: Looks Unc., Nearly New, New Enough, Nearly
There, Almost There, Virtually Uncirculated, and Nice. What a battery of
winsome sounds for "slightly used!"
- Any of the round or octagonal California private issue $50 gold pieces
from the 1851-55 gold rush period. Term said to have been invented by miners
who kept several of these heavy coins in a pouch and who, when accosted by a
bully, slugged him over the head with this handy weapon!
- A double-barreled word. Most people view it as a snobbish,
erudite proxy for "splendid." However, its more unfortunate connotation (and
the one in which I always use it when cataloging) is "deceptively splendid."
That is, not splendid at all but, on the contrary, ugly! The more times I
employ splendiferous in a sale, the more hideous the coins are. I use it
sparingly, however, reserving it for the truly awful. Quentin David Bowers,
President of Bowers and Ruddy (now Bowers and Merena Galleries)--May Allah
smile upon his bones!--employs the word in its positive sense, never realizing
it has an ulterior meaning.
- Steel cents issued in 1943 because copper was a critical wartime
- Pattern 1879 and 1880 $4 gold pieces featuring a large star as their
reverse motif. America's most famous researcher and pederast, Walter Breen,
reports in his monumental Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins,
p.511, a curious incident surrounding these rare patterns: "Though extremely
popular today, and much exaggerated in rarity, Stellas in their own day
provided a juicy scandal resulting in amusing newspaper copy for several
years--and many laughs at the expense of the congressmen who had ordered the
restrikes. The story broke that while no coin collector could obtain a Stella
from the Mint Bureau at any price, looped specimens commonly adorned the
bosoms of Washington's most famous madams, who owned the bordellos favored by
those same congressmen. Today there are several dozen 1879 Flowing Hair
Stellas with telltale traces of removal of those same loops, whose owners
probably sometimes wish the coins could talk." A record of sorts was made in
August 1991 when dealer Andy Lustig sold his PCGS slabbed Proof-66 1880 Coiled
Hair variety Stella at a Superior Galleries auction I cataloged. Andy had paid
$900,000 for it in the heat of the market eighteen months before. Superior
sold it for $400,000 plus the juice. Someone, somewhere, spent the half-
million-dollar difference, more than likely on high living. Win some; lose
some--such are the joys of the market. "May you live in interesting times."
[See Juice, Slabbed]
- Referring to the steps of Monticello on the reverse of the Jefferson
nickel. A mania developed in the 1970s of demanding full-step nickels; six
steps are visible when the coin is immaculately struck up. Willing dealers
complied by charging extortionate premiums for these. (Does the reader sense a
bit of chicanery in all this: Steps, Full Head, Full Bell Lines, Full Bands,
etc.?) The Full Steps mania had run its course by the mid-eighties, to
replaced by other, equally clever ruses.
- Susie B's or SUSAN B's
- Susan B. Anthony dollar coins minted from 1979 to 1981.
The public rejected these small, ugly coins and minting ceased.
- A variety of 1890-CC silver dollar has a raised die line or bar from
the eagle's tail to the wreath.
- Talk to Me
- Tell me about this coin, or shoot me your best price.
- Three-dollar gold pieces.
- Variety of 1937-D Buffalo Nickel. After one set of dies clashed
together damaging themselves, the mint technician accidentally ground off the
buffalo's foreleg when he tried to fix it. While easy to counterfeit, the
three-legged Buffalo when genuine displays a moth-eaten appearance on
hindquarters of the beast, and a thin dappled line resembling pee descending
in an arc from the little thing hanging there under the belly . . .
- Three-cent piece, employed as early as the late-1800s. Possibly first
used to describe our silver three-cent pieces, for when the nickel three-cent
pieces arrived in 1865, these latter were called "nickels."
- Tombstone Note
- $10 Silver Certificates issued from 1886-1908, the portrait has
a tombstone-shaped frame.
- Sometimes, when a coin is too shiny to get the grade desired from one
of the grading services, its owner will dab a bit of saliva on it to dull the
shiny high points. This is known as Tonguing it. A similar procedure to impart
a bit of dullness is thumbing. [See Slab]
- On your wife's fine silver dinnerware this is known as tarnish. Judged
from a numismatic standpoint the same form of oxidation takes on a more
refined image, often enhancing a coin's value. After about 1980 the craze for
attractively toned coins spurred some prehensile dealers into artificially
toning their wares. These were then peddled to a naïve public (oxymoron) at
grades higher than their underlying surfaces called for. Beautifully toned
coins in uncommon states of keeping can command upwards of many times the
price of a bright specimen if they are original. Toning also hides injuries
such as Rub or Slide Marks. A variant is so-called Tab Toning, applied
exclusively to commemorative silver. Most commemoratives were shipped to their
original buyers in either little paper envelopes or cardboard holders in which
the coin was kept in place by a paper or cardboard band or tab. After decades
in this second style of holder a commemorative will achieve distinctive
toning, deeper in the exposed places but nearly fully brilliant where it was
protected from the air by the tab and surrounding cardboard. Such original
color is referred to as Tab Toning. First heard by the author in 1992 from
David Vagi at Superior Coin and Stamp, although probably predating this by
many years. [See Rub, Slide Marks]
- Who was it who first brought to light the fact that the Indian's nose
on a Buffalo Nickel is placed conveniently opposite the animal's butt on the
reverse when the coin is flipped over?
- Virtually Uncirculated
- See Slider. This term was first noted in a New England
Rare Coin Galleries catalog in the mid-1970s.
- To attempt to sell a coin on the bourse floor. Also Flog or Whore. "Will
you Walk this around for me at $2000."
- Walking Liberty half dollar, issued 1916-1947. One of America's
- War Nickels. Between 1942 and 1945 a special silver/manganese alloy
was used in our five-cent pieces, copper and nickel being needed for wartime
- Wastelands, Cal
- More a state of mind than a physical location, Bigbootie does
most of his writing while visiting the Wastelands.
- An 1880 series $100 Treasury Note had as its reverse vignette a
large 100. The zeroes look invitingly like chubby watermelons. Collectors
quickly noted this and coined the term Watermelon Note. (Also, Grand
Watermelon for the $1000 denomination with similar zeroes.)
- Coins graded by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC) are enclosed in a
plastic case having an opaque white insert. [See Pigs, Clear, Sideways and
- In the early 1970s, a technique was developed among dishonest dealers
of burnishing their coins on a wire brush wheel. This simulated mint luster to
the ignorant. Scores of such coins were foisted off on the boobs before a hue
and cry ended the practice. Whizzed coins soon became impossible to sell, and
the whizzers moved on to greener pastures. Perhaps they switched to artificial
toning or other more lucrative games. [See Toning]
- Wonder Coin
- See Blazer. Kevin Lipton bandied this one and it was heard
throughout the 1970s, the term being one of his favorites. Seldom heard in the
1980s or 1990s.