Using proper terminology in collecting is incredibly important. Nobody is going to take you seriously if you start talking about a coin and say things like “The words on the front of it are great!” Or “It looks like the mint stamped the coin really well.” If you don’t know the proper terminology, you are not a serious collector, no matter how much other stuff you know about a specific coin.
The front side of the coin, the side with the face for most US coins is called the obverse. The other side is called the reverse. I have heard several people describe the sides of coins as head and tails, which doesn’t even make sense. Sure, the obverse has a head. But, where’s the tail on the reverse? If we start on the front of the coin, the relief is the part of the coin that is sticking up. Some coins have high relief varieties, where those parts of the coin stick up even farther. The part that does not stick up is known as the field. The field is anything behind the main content of the coin. You could describe it as a background. On the front, you often have the motto, which is “In God We Trust.” You also have the date, the series of four numbers that designates the year in which the coin was minted, and you also may have a mint mark, the small letter somewhere on the coin that designates which mint the coin came out of. If the coin was minted in Philadelphia, it probably won’t have a mint mark. There are several different marks a coin may have, such a P for Philadelphia, D for Denver, S for San Francisco, W for West Point, O for New Orleans, CC for Carson City, C for Charlotte, D for Dahlonega, and M for Manila. You will rarely see any mintmark other than the first six listed. The Manila Mint struck coins for the Philippines. The portrait is also contained on the obverse of the coin. The portrait is the face or head on the coin. Many coins will also have the Designer’s Initials on the coin, even if incredibly small. Most Lincoln Cents have V.D.B on the obverse of the coin, which stands for Victor David Brenner. You will also see the rim, the raised part around the coin. The rim is not the side the coin, but the raised part around the coin on either the obverse or the reverse. If you flip the coin to its side, you will see the edge. You should hold coins by the edge. The edge may be plain, it may also be , meaning it has little notches around it. Some coins, like the Presidential and Native American Dollars, have a lettered edge, which has information about the coin, like the mint mark and “E Pluribus Unum.”
If you flip the coin over, you will see the legend, which has information about the coin, such as the denomination and country, in this case, “United States of America.” Some other important terminology for coins is strike, which is the part that was stamped into the coin. The strike of a coin helps its grade. There is also the planchet, which is a slab of metal, which includes the rim and edge, but no detail because it has not yet been struck. An incredibly worn coin is not a planchet. It is only a planchet if it is supposed to be struck, but either wasn’t or is going to be. There is also uncirculated, which is a coin that has not travelled around, been used, been touched, or been rattling around in people’s pockets. Circulated, as expected, means a coin that has travelled around, been used, been touched, and been rattling around in people’s pockets. A proof coin is one that is struck and cared for in a special way at the mint. These coins have greater care put into them and are meant for collectors. Proof coins can also have cameo, which is the contrast between the fields and the relief. On coins with a deep cameo, the relief can look even white, while the field is shiny and lustrous.
Now you know how to properly talk about coins.