Coin Anatomy


Here is the quick Dummy guide to understanding the proper terms related to coin anatomy.

Obverse and Reverse - Understanding the difference between "heads" and "tails".

The Obverse and Reverse of a coin.

Obverse The side of the coin that generally shows the Coat of Arms, President’s or Monarch’s bust. The obverse side is referred to as heads and is the front of the coin. Generally, the obverse is where the date appears.

The opposite side to obverse or tails side, of a coin. Generally the side that does not have the date.


The location of the Motto, Field, Rim and Portrait.

Motto An inscription or phrase on a coin. An example is the word "EENDRAG MAAK MAG" or "UNITY IS STRENGTH" on some South African coins. The Motto has a special meaning and can be emotional or inspiring.
Field The flat area of a coin between the legend and the design. There is no design on this portion of the coin. In some cases, these can have a slight curve.
Rim The upraised area around the edges of both sides(obverse and reverse) of a coin. The purpose of the rim is to make coins easy stackable, protect the coin's design from damage and help bring up the devices during the strike process.

The most important part of the coin is the portrait or bust of an important person(King, Queen, President). The portrait in this example is of Jan van Riebeeck. He was a Dutch colonial administrator and the founder of Cape Town in South Africa.

The Location of the Edge, Date, Legend and Designer Initials

Edge The third side of a coin. It may be plain, reeded, or ornamented – with lettering or other elements raised or incused. The edge is the actual side of the coin and should never be confused with the rim.
Date The numerals on a coin representing the year in which it was minted, for example, 1961
Legend A phrase that appears on a coin – for instance, SOUTH AFRICA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, etc. The legend is also referred to as the Inscription. The legend tells us important things, such as who made the coin or how much it is worth


The individual is responsible for a particular motif used for a numismatic series. The initials of the designer are normally found on the coin just below the portrait.

The initials, CLS, on the example, stands for Coert Steynberg.  Do you see the initials on the coin?

Look up Mintmarks and who it belongs to here.

Don't fully understand coin terminology,

visit our Coin Glossary for more information.