Talkin Beginners - Some Definitions
Between 1997 and 2004, Steve Carr published several excellent articles in Penny-Wise aimed directly at newcomers to early copper collecting. Steve and Penny-Wise editor Harry Salyards have generously granted permission to reprint those articles here. This first article lays the ground work for understanding the vocabulary of copper, originally appearing in the March, 1998 edition of Penny-Wise:
The collecting of large cents has a vocabulary all its own. Experienced
collectors talk easily of "crumbling," "die states," "uneven fields,"
"Sheldon numbers," and so forth. But beginners are sometimes left clueless when
these terms are used without an explanation. The following terms, with
definitions, have been suggested for a column of this type by several EACer's.
ATTRIBUTE - To identify the variety of a coin. These varieties were described
by numismatists in the past. Currently, half cents are attributed by Cohen
( C ) or Breen ( B ) numbers. Large cents are attributed by Sheldon ( S ) numbers
for the years 1793 - 1814 and by Newcomb ( N ) numbers for 1816 - 1857.
BEADED CORDS - The hair cords on large cents (1837 - 1857) that are made of a
series of small beads. Some 1837's have this type of hair cord and all other
large cents, 1838 - 1857 have them, with the exception of 1839 N1, which has
plain hair cords.
BOOBY HEAD - A style of Head that appears on some 1839 large cents. The Booby
Head has a sharp projecting shoulder point behind the head.
CENTER DOT - A raised dot in the center of the coin. It was placed on the die to
serve as a compass anchor point for laying out letters and stars. Sometimes
there are multiple center dots. Sometimes there is none. Center dots are seen
more frequently on the reverse than on the obverse.
CUD - A raised area on a coin that is caused by a missing part of the die. This
area is usually along the perimeter of the coin, but can be away from the edge
also. Since I know you were interested in 1816's, cuds appear on 1816 N1, N2,
N3, and N8 obverses, above the hair bun and between stars 11 and 12. An internal
cud occurs on 1817 N12 between the top of the 8 and the top of the 7 in the date.
CRUMBLING - While a cud results from missing metal, crumbling results when small
portions of the die "crumble" away around the stars, wreath, bust, and letters/
numbers. This results in a coin that has less detail along the edges of things.
Sometimes, areas between things can crumble completely and you get a rough raised
area where the field should be smooth. 1849's have some reverses that show very
prolonged crumbling along the wreath. Some 1829's have crumbling in the cavity of
the "A's" that eventually fills them in. 1814 S295 has crumbling under Liberty's
chin, which eventually looks like a beard.
DENTIL - The "teeth" that form the ring around the border of the coin. Also
called a denticle. The ring of dentils is called dentilation. Dentils were used
on all large and half cents from 1794 until 1857.
DIE CHAIN - When two varieties share a common die. This die can be either the
obverse or the reverse. The varieties can be "chain linked" (their order of
mintage determined ) by die wear.
DIE STATE - As a die strikes more coins, it begins to wear. Metal moves outward
on the die, creating flow lines. Cracks and cuds also develop. A coin struck from
the dies when they were new and sharp is called an early die state coin (EDS).
When some die wear is noticeable on the coin, it is considered middle die state
(MDS). In the latest stages of its life, the die produces late die state coins
EMISSION SEQUENCE - The order in which different varieties were struck. An
emission sequence is a person's best guess of this order, based on similarities
between dies, die chaining, similarities with prior or later year styles, etc.
FLOW LINES - Raised lines that radiate out from the center of the coin. These
lines are caused by metal moving on the die. Fine flow lines impart luster to
INNER CIRCLE -A line on the coin just under or just inside the dentil ends. This
line was made by the die engraver to align the dentils when they were punched
into the die. On some coins, there is a complete inner circle, on others a
partial inner circle, and on others no inner circle at all. Inner circles show
up most frequently on middle date large cents.
K - NUMBERS - Stands for Kolit numbers. Kolit numbers are a system that
references positions on the coin to hour positions on a clock. They are used to
identify the location of die features (for example "weak inner circle K4-K6"
would say there was a weak inner circle from the 4 o'clock position to the
6 o'clock position), striking features (for example "die swelling K1 0-K1 1.5"
indicates there is swelling from the 10 o'clock position to the 11:30 position),
or flaws (for example "rim bruise K8" would say there was a rim bruise at the 8
LAPPED DIE - A die that has been ground or polished to remove imperfections.
This lapping lowers the relief of the design, making the letters, stars, and
date appear weaker.
MOUSE - The mouse is a cud that develops on top of Liberty's head on four
different 1817 varieties. These are N3, N7, N8, and N9. The break sort of
looks like a mouse and is located right on top of the hair under star 8. All four
varieties also come without the mouse.
MULE - A mule is a rare coin that has a known obverse and reverse that were used
on two separate coins. It is called a mule because it resulted from a "marriage"
of dies from two different varieties to create a third variety (kind of like how
mules are created). The best middle date example is 1822 N14, which uses a
regular 1822 obverse with the reverse of 1821 N1. Mules probably resulted when
a die was changed or replaced and a temporary die was used for a short period of
time. There are many mules on early date large cents. The late dates even have
more mules than the middle dates. I do not know why.
PEDIGREE - A listing of all prior owners of the coin and any auction or fixed
price lists the coin may have been in. The pedigree starts with the first person
known who identified the coin by variety and lists all subsequent owners.
Sometimes owners wish anonymity so are listed as "a (state name) collector" or by
a pseudonym. Often, the current owner is not listed.
UNEVEN FIELDS - A weakness on one edge of a coin, complimented by a corresponding
strong edge opposite it. Caused by the dies not being parallel to each other. My
favorite example is the 1830 N9, where detail on the upper obverse can be as
strong as VG+ but the lower obverse is so weak that the date is not evident.