Edge Lettering in U.S. Coinage

Several types of U.S. coins have been minted 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.”

Gold coins with edge lettering

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—a flawed process that let thousands of error coins (with inverted, missing, or double inscriptions) pass into circulation.

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

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. This rare coin was printed from 1907 until 1933. The 1933 coin never made it into circulation, but one sold at a public auction in 2002, fetching a whopping $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.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis