Heads or tails? Obverse or reverse? When studying a coin, remember – the edge is the third side of the coin. Interesting things can be found on the edges of coins, and a dedicated type collector can even assemble a type set of edges.
Collectors, new and experienced, are familiar with the plain and reeded edges of coins. Current cents and nickels have plain edges. Dimes, quarters and half dollars are reeded. Dollars have lettered edges. Perhaps non-collectors have noticed the different edges too. But different devices have been used on the edges of coins, dating back to Colonial times.
Some Washington pieces of 1783 have plain edges, while others show different devices on the edges. The coin bearing a large military portrait on the obverse comes in two edge varieties, plain and engrailed, showing a slanted reeding. The engrailed edge appears again on the draped bust pieces with the motto, “Washington & Independence.”
A lettered edge appears on the 1791 cent showing a military bust of George Washington on the obverse and the legend, “Washington/President.” The reverse bears an eagle, the date 1791 and the denomination, “one cent.” The edge is lettered, “United States of America.” The 1791 Liverpool halfpenny also has a lettered edge, along with several other 1792 Washington pieces. Certain Liberty and Security tokens of 1795 bear the words “London,” “Birmingham,” or “Asylum” on their edges.
The famous Getz patterns of 1792 have an ornamented edge on some of the pieces. The ornaments consist of circles and squares.
An English tradesman’s token known as the Franklin Press token, struck in 1794, is collected as part of the Colonial series due to its association with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. One of these pieces is known to have a lettered edge, “An asylum for the oppress’d of all nations.”
The copper Kentucky tokens shows a triangle made up of 15 stars, each representing a state, with “K” at the top, for Kentucky. The most common variety of this token has a plain edge, while others have edges lettered “Payable in Lancaster London or Bristol.” Scarcer varieties show edge lettering reading “Payable at Bedworth Nuneaton or Hinkley” or “Payable at I. Fielding.” The latter two varieties are not priced in the current Red Book.
Edge lettering appears on the Birch cent, a quaint piece issued in 1792. The motto “To be esteemed be useful” is seen on the edges of some of these rare cents.
Early copper half cents and large cents have lettered edges. Half cents, besides having the fraction 1/200 on the reverse, have the legend “two hundred for a dollar” on the edge. Large cents also have a fraction 1/100 on the reverse, with “one hundred for a dollar” followed by one or two leaves, on the edge.
Half dollars and silver dollars of this era also have lettered edges. “Fifty cents or half a dollar” appear on the edges of half dollars, and “hundred cents/one dollar/or unit” on dollars, with decorations between the phrases.
Bust half dollar nuts who collect Bust halves by Overton variety pay attention to the subtle differences on the edges of their favorite coins. From 1814-1831, a star appears between the words “dollar” and “fifty.” From 1832-1836, lines appear between the words.
The year 1809 shows two new varieties of experimental edges. Some edges show “xxxx” between the words, while others show “IIIII” between the words. Some 1830 half dollars show raised segment lines to the right, and some half dollars of 1830-1831 show the raised lines to the left.
Early copper coins show other devices on their edges. Certain 1797 half cents and large cents show a gripped edge, with widely spaced bars. 1793 Chain and Wreath cents have a vine and bars edge.
The beautiful Indian head gold eagles of 1907-1933 show stars on the edge, one for each state. The eagles of 1907-1911 have 46 stars; those from 1912 and later, 48 stars. The Saint-Gaudens double eagles of the same years have edges lettered “E Pluribus Unum” with stars between the words.
Even a pattern dollar shows a lettered edge. An experimental Morgan dollar of 1885 was struck from regular dies, but instead of the usual reeded edge, the edge shows the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” This piece was struck in silver, copper and aluminum.
Lettered edges are not just a part of older coins. Some 1993 Bill of Rights commemorative half dollars (9,656 out of an uncirculated mintage of 193,346) have edges marked with a serial number, the initials of the Madison Foundation and the American Numismatic Association.
Native American dollars, 2009 to date, show the motto “E Pluribus Unum” on the edge, along with the date and mintmark. The Presidential dollars in their first two years of issue, 2007 and 2008, show the date, mintmark, and mottoes on the edge. “In God We Trust” was moved to the obverse of the coin in 2009, after much controversy that the motto was not prominent; non-collectors, who did not think of examining the edge, thought the motto had been completely removed.
Numismatists are familiar with many of the devices used on edges, but many new collectors may not be aware of the many varieties used on United States coins, Colonials and patterns. A good-sized type set can be made up of coins showing these different edges. Even error collectors may find doubling and garbled lettering, especially on Bust half dollars and some older Bust dollars. The edge is, indeed, the third side of the coin, with differences and surprises to be found.