How to Identify What Coin You Have

Identifying what coin you have is a critical first step in understanding the value of your coin.

Before we dive into specifics on what you will be looking for on your coin, it is best to know and understand a little bit of coin terminology. The front of the coin is referred to as the obverse, the back is called the reverse. The flat surfaces are called fields, the images are called devices, and grade refers to the condition of the coin.

Uploading a picture to the Numiis coin checker app is the fastest and easiest way to identify what coin you have. However, if that doesn’t work and you don't want to sift through every coin in the Numiis database, identifying the following pieces of information from your coin will help you figure out what coin you have.

  1. Determine the year your coin was minted. The mint date is most commonly found on the obverse of the coin, however there are a few exceptions to this rule. Old and well circulated coins may have a date that is worn away, if that is the case see if any numbers are legible.

  2. Next identify the denomination, the majority of all coins have a face value printed on them, which will help you determine if your coin is legal tender as opposed to a medallion. In most US coinage this will normally be found on the reverse of the coin.

  3. Locate the Mint mark. The mint mark is a letter that indicates the city or country the coin was produced. Mint marks traditionally were used to locate coin production problems like if a coin was underweight or overweight, which was a major problem in early coin production. The mark can be found on either side of the coin.

    For US coins this will be either a P for Philadelphia, a S for San Francisco, a D for Denver, a W for West Point, a C for Charlotte, an O for New Orleans, a CC for Carson City, and a M for Manila. If there is no mark visible for a US coin, it was probably minted in Philadelphia.

    For Spanish colonial coins a Mo is for Mexico, a G is for Guatemala, and CUZ is for Cuzco. However, early coins like Spanish colonials can share mint marks for different locations P could be Lima, La Plata, or Popayan for example. That being said the letter, the date and the denomination should still be enough information to ultimately identify the exact mint.

    Other coins used symbols, groups of letters, dots under letters, or any combination of these elements.

Typing in these three pieces of information into a search engine or into the Numiis search bar will likely yield a narrow enough result to identify your coin. Typically coins are described as:

Date, Mint Mark, Denomination, Grade (in that order).

Example: 1878 CC $1 VG8 = 1878 Carson City minted Morgan Dollar in Very Good 8 grade

The first three items in any coins standard description are Date, Mint mark, and Denomination. Hence knowing these three items can often yield the exact coin you are looking for. However, if searching for the three parts of the coin described above does not yield a narrow enough result to get the common name for the coin, or if that information is too worn away to determine, then identifying the following components can help.

  1. Note the printed text on the coin. The language used or alphabet used can help determine the country of origin.

    If the coin text is in Cyrillic, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, or another alphabet, then that combined with other aspects of the coin can help narrow down your search.

    Coins using the Roman Alphabet can be from a variety of countries. US coins usually have the text United States of America on their coins as well as the words E Pluribus Unum, In God We Trust, and Liberty. If English is the language used on the coin but the just mentioned texts do not appear anywhere on the coin it could be either Canadian, Australian, or other former British Colonies. Additionally British Colonies could have the Latin form of their colonial name displayed on their coin. An example would be Hibernia for Ireland. British coins will usually have the latin word Britannia or similar located on their coin.

    If the text is in Latin it could be a British Colony as described above, or could signify a European coin even if Latin is not the root language for that country. French descriptions are found on French, Belgian, French Guiana, Canada, and other French colonial regions.

    Spanish text will signify Spanish Coins as well as coins from regions that were former Spanish colonies. These include the majority of South American coins as well as Mexico and Central American coins. Similarly Portugese is found on coins from Portugal, Brazil, and other regions that were once Portugese colonies.

    Lastly the location of the text can be a key tool for determining the date or range of dates for a coin if the date is worn off.

  2. Next try to identify the device of the coin. As mentioned above devices are the main images located on the obverse and reverse of the coin. This description of the device combined with the language of the text of the coin can often lead to identification of the coin through a google image search. US coins can have statesmen on them, or various forms of lady liberty. Other countries often use the ruler at the time. If you can identify the region of the coin from the language on the coin then referencing the history of the region can help show who the ruler was at the time and help you identify who is on the coin. This information combined with the date and any of the above information you can get should get you very close in determining what coin you have.

  3. Last is color, size, and shape. The color of the coin will help identify the material of the coin, which will be a useful term to include in any search engineer query. Silver, steel, and nickel based coins are generally silver or gray in color. Gold and brass coins are yellow in color. Copper are orangy brown. Some coins are made of multiple metals, with a copper piece in the center surrounded by a nickel material.

    The size of the coin can help validate you have found the right coin. The weight, diameter and thickness are the three specifications that you can compare to similar coins found in an online search.

    The shape of the coin can be important especially in very old coins. Old coins often were not perfectly circular or may be a completely different shape.

Any combination of the above information combined with the vast database of coin information on Numiis or other sources online should yield a result you can feel confident in. Identifying the coin is the first step in determining a coin’s value. The first two items of this list will still play a critical part in how much you coin is worth, but for determining grade, the condition of the coin will also play a major role.

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