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Edge Lettering in U.S. Coinage

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Edge Lettering in U.S. Coinage

Coin producers mint several types of U.S. coins with lettering on the edges since the 1700s. Edge lettering first appeared on silver dollars and half-dollars in 1794. Silver dollars had edge lettering until 1804, and half-dollars retained their edge lettering through 1836, though the design on the obverse and reverse of both coins changed multiple times in those periods. The edge lettering on the half dollar read “FIFTY CENTS OR A HALF DOLLAR,” while the silver dollar’s edge displayed “HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT.”

Challenges With Edge Lettering

Edge lettering isn’t common in coin production today; most new coins are produced with plain or reeded edges. Modern coins with this faced a few challenges. In 2007 and 2009, the Mint produced Presidential and Native American dollar coins, respectively, each with edge lettering. With the Presidential dollar coins, the edge inscriptions were applied on totally separate equipment after the circulation strikes. This is a flawed process that let thousands of error coins (with inverted, missing, or double inscriptions) pass into circulation.

The following year, Mint technicians corrrected this issue by applying edge lettering with a three-piece segmented collar during striking. This tool is very similar to what producers would use several years later for the Proof 2016-W American Eagle 30th Anniversary silver dollar. Interestingly, the producers can use each collar tool to inscribe lettering on about 19,000 coins before replacing it.

Saint-Gaudens Coin Edges

One of rare coin dealers’ favorite coins to come across is the Augustus Saint-Gaudens double-eagle $20 coin, which features “E PLURIBUS UNUM” inscribed on the edge. Producers printed this rare coin from 1907 until 1933. The 1933 coin never made it into circulation. However, one sold at a public auction in 2002 for $7 million!

In 2009, the Mint revamped the original design with an ultra-high relief Saint-Gaudens gold coin with edge lettering. The reissued coin contained an ounce of .9999 fine gold. This high gold content, combined with a greater striking pressure, created a deeper coin than most. Just like the original, the ultra-high relief coin edge contains the same “E PLURIBUS UNUM” inscription. The Mint hoped to make the coin accessible to average Americans and modern rare coin collectors. Though, it initially had a “one coin per person” restriction due to its low mintage rate of 115,178.

Sell Your Rare Coins

At Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, we thoroughly enjoy coming across old and modern coins with edge lettering, and we’d love to see yours! Whether you’re a collector looking to sell rare coins or want to browse our inventory to add to your collection, we can help. Call Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers today at 404-236-9744 to schedule an appointment or appraisal.

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Tony Davis
Tony Davis is the owner of Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, a full service Atlanta based coin and bullion dealer specializing in buying, selling and appraising coins and coin collections of all types and sizes. Tony frequently writes on various economic and numismatic related topics affecting the coin and bullion markets and has been published on some of the industry’s leading websites, including Coin Week, the American Numismatic Association, Coin Collector, Coinflation, and Coin Auctions Help, just to name a few. Visit Atlanta Gold & Coin’s website at atlantagoldandcoin.com to obtain additional information on the products, services and educational resources offered by his company. Tony can be reached at sales@atlantagoldandcoin.com or at 404-236-9744

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