Parts of a Coin

Coin designs take into account all the parts of a coin. We use special terms to describe these parts.

Parts of a Coin: obverse - field, relief, date, mint mark, edge, bust; reverse - artist, inscription, rim

  • Obverse (heads) is the front of the coin and the reverse (tails) is the back.
  • Edge is the outer surface, which can have lettering, reeding, or be plain.
  • Near the edge is the raised area called the rim.
  • A bust is an image of a person from the neck up, like Abraham Lincoln on the penny.
  • The field is the blank area of background on a coin.
  • Relief means the markings on the coin that are raised above the surface.
  • The mint mark is the small letter that shows which Mint location made the coin. The two most common mint marks are the “P” for Philadelphia and “D” for Denver.
  • The initials of the artist(s) who designed and sculpted the coin are also included in small letters.
  • Other writing on a coin includes the date and the inscription.

fun fact coin character icon

Fun Fact! Pennies made at the Philadelphia Mint are the only modern circulating coins that don’t have mint marks. In 2017, the Philadelphia Mint made special pennies with the “P” mint mark for the U.S. Mint’s 225th birthday.

Grab a coin and follow along…

Use your coin to follow with the explanations below.

Denomination

The denomination is the name of the coin, like penny, nickel, dime, and quarter. The face value is how much money it’s worth. The penny is worth one cent.

The government decides each coin’s value and everyone agrees to honor it. That’s why a store can’t refuse if you try to pay for a sandwich in pennies!

Edge vs. Rim

The edge of the coin goes around the outside. The rim is the border around each side of the coin. It is raised, which protects the design and allows coins to stack on top of each other.

coin with edge in yellow and rim in red
The edge is the yellow area and the rim is the red area.

The edge can be plain, reeded, or lettered. Run your finger around the outside of your coin. Does the edge feel smooth or rough? Pennies and nickels have plain edges, which are smooth. Dimes and quarters are reeded with little lines all around the edge. Some collectible coins even have words around the edge, called a lettered edge.

Examples of plain, reeded, lettered, and decorated edges on coins