Coins: a bit of history, kinds and parts. 

Coins are part of our daily lives centuries ago. So it is that most of us don’t pay any attention anymore to its design, date of mint… nowadays only collectors and numismatic lovers take the time to do it. What is more, we usually try to get rid of the most of them when paying in a shop to lighten our wallet. Actually, cash payment is closer to disappear than ever and to some people it has become very unusual to carry any coins or notes on them. 

Hypothesis about the survival or not of banknotes and coins in a short/long term are over the table, but that is another story. Today we want to talk a bit more of those ordinary objects that tell us so much about past times and lives thousands of years ago inhabitants. 

WHAT BEFORE COINS? Barter: a method of trading where goods and services are exchanged directly from one another: farm animals, eggs, wheat, shoes… Usually, barter was organized around guilds: weavers, bakers, shoemakers, farmers, shepherds…  Today it can be seen with certain romanticism but barter was quite conflictive as traders wouldn’t always agree about the value of things and it was complex to even goods fairly. It was necessary a standard model of trading. 

Following the example of East regions, Mediterranean people started to use metal. A resistant material, transportable and with a capacity of being divided in units. 

First forms of metal money were called ‘talentos’, ingots with the shape of bull leather founded in Greek history among minoic and micenic cultures (2nd Century b.C.) . From the 7th Century on we find ‘varas’ (obols). Six obols, what a man could hold in a hand, were a ‘dracma’ (which means literally ‘what it is held with a hand’s palm’). This is the origin of old greek coin name. 

However, those metals weren’t as easily transportable as they wish and, in addition, they needed to be weighed to know their value which was quite complicated. Those problems were solved creating smaller metal pieces always with the same weight: the coin. Now they had something really transportable, long-lasting, which value was known by everybody thanks to its design. Arguments and disparity of opinions were ended. 

Mints, funding systems and production have evolved from rudimentary to nowadays coins with perfect and uniform designs. As we said before, human history can be recognize through its coins and not only from an economical point of view but also from political and social. Even though the surface of a coin could be seen as small and limited its propagandistic use of it was detected from the very beginning. An object thought to travel around the world was a perfect vehicle to spread important facts or flatter kings and leaders. Today, on 21st Century, it hasn’t change much at all.

Three COMMON CHARACTERISTICS to every coin, old or new, that all numismatic lover must analyze on its collecting: 

  1. Weight: depending as well on size, material… 
  2. Material: Specially in the old times, the idea was to create coins made out of an abundant material in the area. The objective was, of course, that material value was under coin value. Some old metals are still used today to make Euros. In one side,  the most common metals were gold, silver and copper and, in the other side, alloys like bronze (copper and tin), electron (gold and silver) and vellon (copper and silver).
  3. Mint details or design: Options here are limitless. Not only design wise but minor details like edges carved, different materials added… as we were facing a blank canvas. 


  • Obverse: heads. It is the main side. Presents the most representative emblem or design of the country. Could include a symbol, a local monument, a plant, an animal, a governor or a famous person. 
  • Reverse: tails. Secondary side of the coin. We usually find the nominal value and information such as the weight, mineral composition… Design is not as representative as in the obverse with shields or scenes of political or social events. 
  • Edge: outer surface that divide obverse from reverse. It can be plain, or have lettering, reeding… 
  • Module: Referring to the diameter in millimetres.  According with that, there are 4 different grades: big, medium, small and minimum. 
  • Big. Between 37 and 50 milimetres.
  • Medium. Between 20 and 36 milimetres.
  • Small. Between  11 and 19 milimetres.
  • Minimun. Between  5 and 10 milimetres.
  • Field: blank areas of background of a coin. 
  • Mint mark: letter or symbol of mint house. 
  • Exergue:  usually below the principal emblem, contains the mint mark, date… 

There are two ways of classifying coins: by physical condition or dependency.

Attending its physical condition we could talk about:
– Incuse: with relief in only one side of the coin.
– Those with an original mint error and have been re-mint again.
– Restitute coins: of a Roman emperor.
–  Those with a tiny golden or bronze line in the inner part
– With a shield image or a medal.
– With the mint worn away. 

And according to their dependence, we would talk about:
– Autonomous: old coins with no dependence on any king of a foreign region.
– Dependent: old coins in which we can observe the de dependence of another king or region.
– Royal: a coin that expresses the dependence of a king in particular. 

As we can see, there are many aspects to be considered and no matter how old the coin is, its value increase with time. Right now there are 120 currencies admitted by the United Nations but there are many more indeed. If you are a collector and want to protect  your pieces, our advice is that you contact a professional and certify them. That’s the way to, on one hand, avoid unpleasant accidents that could damage and devaluate your coins and, on the other hand, get an authenticity and conservation warranty in case you want to sell them, now or in the future. 

What coins do you like to collect?  


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