Currently I’m analyzing legends, mottos, dates, symbols and devices on U.S. coinage–not only in my work for Coingrader Capsule and Coin World (which, of course, it will inform)–but also to make a contribution to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, of which I’m a member. (See this interview.)
This study will take weeks to complete, but previewing it here will help viewers understand the basics of coin design, which has a direct influence on grading.
Methodology of my study is too complex to explain here. Basically, here is what i am doing:
Phase I. Analyze each US coin, cataloging whether these components exist and, if so, where they are located–obverse or reverse: Denomination, Date, USA Legend, Liberty Motto, Eagle Symbol, Wreath Emblem, “In God We Trust” Motto, and “E Pluribus Unum” Motto. Count the number of devices on obverse and reverse. (Click and expand worksheet to see how this is done.)
Phase II. Analyze each silver commemorative, 1892-1954, to see where Denomination, Date, USA Legend, Liberty Motto, “In God We Trust” Motto, and “E Pluribus Unum” Motto appear–on obverse or reverse–in addition to the number of devices on each side of the coin.
My research questions are straight forward:
- What common components typically appear on the obverse of coins, and which on the reverse?
- What specific coins have the fewest devices on each side and which, the most?
- What design trends can be deduced by reviewing these components over the decades and centuries?
- What characteristics do our most universally acknowledged beautiful coins (Buffalo Nickel, Mercury Dime, Standing Liberty Quarter, Walking Liberty Half, Morgan Dollar, St. Gauden’s Double Eagle, etc.) share, if any?
- How do commemorative coins compare, if at all, with the above?
It’s difficult to tell which side is “heads” and which, “tails,” on some of our modern commemoratives. My theory is that we may over-design the occasion of the commemorative to such degree that we might be neglecting convention in coins with far too many devices.
But the data may show otherwise, and I am open to that, as we all have opinions about coin design with few based on empirical fact.
In the meantime you might consult my worksheet and make one of your own for your favorite coins and denominations. Ask yourself:
- What elements of design attracted you and why?
- What designs affect grading to such extent that we resort to identifers, such as FBL (full bell lines) for the Franklin half or FH (full head) for the Standing Liberty Quarter?
- How many devices on obverse and reverse do your favorite coins contain?
Close analysis such as I am doing is bound to help you discover aspects of numismatics you never thought about before, such as why the USA Legend, normally found on the reverse of coins, migrated to the obverse in certain years by a specific designer. Or why the denomination exists on some coins and not on others and usually is on the reverse.
I’m hoping that my data can inform the world-class designers, sculptors and engravers at the US Mint who not only are tasked to create beautiful coins but also to honor the dictates of legislation initiating them. We’ll keep you posted!