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Looking for a new hobby this new year? Why not explore the exciting world of coins? Here is a blog to get you started!

Anatomy of the coin.

Although exchange had been documented in Ancient Egypt in the form of bartering, the first coins that were used in Britain were a copy of Phillip II’s gold stater and came from a Celtic tribe in northern France named the Belgica. The first Celtic coins were based on the coins of Marseilles, cast in bronze and were minted in Britain around 80 B.C. By 55 B.C. various tribes of Britons were manufacturing gold and silver staters which featured stunning abstract art. After the invasion of the Romans in 43 A.D. coinage took a new turn and Celtic coins were replaced with Roman denominations.

The Romans vacated around 450 A.D. and until the Anglo-Saxons re-introduced coinage in the forms of silver pennies, Britons fell back into the ancient bartering system.

Æthelred the Unready Cross Penny, Canute Trefoil Penny and an Edward the Confessor Trefoil Penny.

Coins across the world differ in their shape and sizes but all share similar intricate features that are easily distinguishable but also easily ignored. These features are highlighted in the image below.

By using the well-known George III 1817 Gold Sovereign we are able to pin-point some of the features that will be discussed below.

Obverse: Reverse:


This is the side which generally features the largest scale image. The obverse of a coin is modernly known as the ‘heads’ side. This name is derived from the likely image that features on the obverse of coins these days, the bust portraits of reigning kings and queens. The example above shows the obverse face where George III wears a ‘crown’ of laurel leaves, this is why it is described as a laureate head. The laureate is tied at the back with a ribbon and formed into a bow.


The reverse of a coin refers to the back side or the ‘tails’ side. The reverse usually contains all the information about the coin, such as its face value and the issuing authority which will be discussed below. The image featured on the reverse of a coin is usually a chosen motif such as the now familiar image of Saint George slaying the dragon by Benedetto Pistrucci which graces the reverse of the coin above.


An inscription is words and other forms of lettering that is engraved, carved or stamped on a coin and there are many variations of inscriptions on coins; some are spelled differently and some are abbreviated to save space. Inscriptions on coins are called Legends. The example above bears the legend GEORGIUS III D G BRITANNIAR REX F D (George III by the Grace of God, King of the British territories, Defender of the Faith) on the obverse and HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE (shame to him who thinks evil of it) on the reverse.

Mint Mark:

Under the reign of Edward III, mint marks started appearing on coinage. A mint mark is a feature of a coin that can come presented as a small raised or embossed number, image or letter and are symbols that identify where and when the coin was struck. This may seem a little strange but the same coin could have been minted across a range of mints and across a number of years. If we take the example above, the gold sovereign was minted all across the world, as far as Australia so as not to exhaust the gold reserves. Coins in Britain nowadays are only dated as The Royal Mint strike all British circulated coins.

Issuing Authority

All coins in the present day feature an issuing authority which determines who the coin was struck by and where the coin can legally circulate, this is written on the coin.

Face Value

The value of a coin is printed on the reverse by the issuing authority nowadays. The face value determines the buying power of the coin and not its market value. The size and shape of a coin can also determine the value. For example, the copper-plated steel 1p and the 2p have a large size difference and the nickel-plated steel 5p and 10p are considerably different in size. Similarly, the 20p and the 50p differ in shape, and the two differ in size, also the hexagonal shapes assist the blind in differentiating between the two denominations.


Since the early years B.C. up to present day, coins have featured dates on either the obverse or the reverse. The dates mark the year that the coin was minted, for example the coins above all feature a date from 1998-2000. Some issuing authorities have dated coins differently, for example some roman coins dated the years in which their emperor had ruled.


The rim of a coin is the raised portion, also known as the relief that encircles the outer edge of both sides of a coin. The new British one pound coin takes full advantage of the rim and uses it to tackle counterfeiting; The obverse rim is embossed with ‘One Pound’ and the rim of the reverse is embossed with the date of minting.


The edge of the coin is sometimes known as the ‘third side’, it runs along the entire circumference of the coin and it can be presented in various ways. The edge can be decorated, smooth or ribbed. For example, the edge of the new pound coin alternates along the edges, between ribbed and smooth, this is an anti-counterfeiting technique.

Designer Initials

It is not uncommon for coins to feature the initials of those who designed the motifs that are struck on the coins. For example, the gold sovereign below bears the initials B.P. in the flat area that is not being used for designs or inscriptions, also known as the ‘field’ or ‘table’. 1817 saw the introduction of St George and the dragon by the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci on the reverse of the coin. Pistrucci, originally from Rome, was commissioned by William Wellesley Pole, the Master Engraver at the Royal Mint, to produce designs for the new Gold and Silver coinage of George III. This portrait of exceptional classical artistry is still used on the reverse today and more recently has been used on all five coins in the Sovereign series.