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Ian Fenn's Blog

25 Feb 2017

Obverse or reverse: how would you call it?

| Ian Fenn

Some years ago I recall an on line discussion   over how to identify a coin obverse and reverse. I was a very new collector  and was stunned at how  heated the discussion became. I always assumed the head side was the obverse and tails side was the reverse. That appears to work for the majority of coins but in some cases its not so clear.   IN the end that internet discussion wound its way to an untidy end but from my lurking I learned from it that the side bearing the the details of the issuing authority is the obverse. I have stuck with that approach since then. However I now have an interesting puzzle ( For background to the coin refer to my 25 November 2016 blog). This Zwolle mint Luigino clearly has a head and tails but I  believe that in this case the heads side of the coin is actually the reverse.   The coin was produced for trade by the Zwolle mint( Netherlands) and was a privately commissioned issue. In this case the  the heads side bears the the likeness of the French King Louis XIV ( to make it similar to the French coin it was imitating) while the tails side bears the arms and legend of the Zwolle mint.     In the two catalogs that include the coin ( one French/Italian, the other Dutch) the heads side is designated as obverse.  

I believe to be technically correct  the tails side should be referred to as the obverse.  I would note That in casual discussion of the coin I would have no issue with any one referring to the heads side as obverse, but I believe to be numismatically accurate the tails side is the one that should be called the obverse.   What do you think? 

Edit: in the dutch catalog Zwolle mint duits of 1636-1639 & 1663 are listed  with the side that is similar to the tails side of this coin as "Obverse" 


Comments

TheNumisMaster

Level 5

Ima have to stay old school on this. The heads side is the obverse. No one can change my mind on that haha. Cheers, NM

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Thanks for teaching me something new! I'll read more about this topic

Peace Dollar

Level 3

Interesting I didn't Kow that. I'll look into it

Many

Level 4

Very interesting blog, I miss your contributions.

user_88687

Level 3

I don't know anything about it because I just started collecting coins recently, but I think that that is a very interesting blog. Thanks for the interesting information.

Kepi

Level 6

The head is usually the obverse...but I guess that could vary. Interesting blog!

user_7579

Level 4

I believe you are correct as this a private minted in essence token, the obverse would be side with the arms and legend of the Zwolle mint.

user_7180

Level 5

Interesting discussion. I like the observations provided. It sounds like it could go either way.

Longstrider

Level 6

I thought the side with the rulers head the obverse???

Ian Fenn

Level 5

Not always in this case the heads side bears the image of a french king. Someone at that time who had no authority in the Netherlands

In ancients we generally consider the anvil die (stationary) as the obverse and the hand-held die as the reverse. With the Roman Empire, the anvil die was usually the portrait of the Emperor, hence HEADS. You use the phrase "details of the issuing authority' but that begs the questions, what are the details. If we say the name, then most of the US coins have been mistitled, as United States of America is most frequently found on what we call the obverse. With older English coins, the King's or Queen's titles are so long the slop over from portrait side to shield side, but there we can say that the obverse is where the legend begins. O vote with Conan that some things in coins will never be settled. But doesn't that just make it all more interesting.

Ian Fenn

Level 5

llok down the replies and you will find this: After posting I went at looked at Freys "Dictionary of numismatic names" published by Barnes and Noble in1947: this is what Frey says: " Obverse of a coin is the side which bears the more important device or inscription;the other side is called the reverse. In the United States the side bearing the date is called the obverse,irrespective of device. On ancient coins the side bearing the portrait of the ruler or the picture of a deity is always the obverse. Some writers claim that in classifying ancient coins the obverse must always be regarded as the side which received its impression from the lower die.i.e., the die supported by the anvil." I think in the light of Frys definition the heads side of this Luigino is the reverse the reason being the King portrayed was no the ruler of the Netherlands and had no authority over minting ion the Netherlands. I think my argument is supported by the fact that all other coins from the Zwolle mint struck in the same era have the side that bears the arms of Zwolle (the archangel Michael attacking Satan) as obverse. What Fry also tells use is the argument about obverse/reverse has been going on for a long time

A lot of U.S. commemoratives have "which is the obverse' questions too. As with the Oregon Trail half dollar, the side showing the wagon is technically the obverse, while collectors prefer the side showing the indian. NGC and PCGS side with the collectors, and always show the indian with the label.

Mike

Level 7

The book that you mentioned is from 1947. Some of the new quarters have the date on the reverse. So not all of our coinage has the date on the obverse.

Ian Fenn

Level 5

I am focusing on the coin I pictured not on American coins in general

Ian Fenn

Level 5

Thanks for all the comments I was asking specifically about this coin (as low grade as the coin is it is one of the most important in my collection at the moment as it is the only example known to exist, although I am sure there are other examples waiting to be rediscovered) After posting I went at looked at Freys "Dictionary of numismatic names" published by Barnes and Noble in1947: this is what Frey says: " Obverse of a coin is the side which bears the more important device or inscription;the other side is called the reverse. In the United States the side bearing the date is called the obverse,irrespective of device. On ancient coins the side bearing the portrait of the ruler or the picture of a deity is always the obverse. Some writers claim that in classifying ancient coins the obverse must always be regarded as the side which received its impression from the lower die.i.e., the die supported by the anvil." I think in the light of Frys definition the heads side of this Luigino is the reverse the reason being the King portrayed was no the ruler of the Netherlands and had no authority over minting ion the Netherlands. I think my argument is supported by the fact that all other coins from the Zwolle mint struck in the same era have the side that bears the arms of Zwolle (the archangel Michael attacking Satan) as obverse. What Fry also tells use is the argument about obverse/reverse has been going on for a long time

Conan Barbarian

Level 5

well some things will just never settle

World_Coin_Nut

Level 5

I agree with Mike. At least on Modern issues whichever face the issuer lists as the obverse should hold. I know that the 3rd party graders typically put Canadian and British coins in there holders with the reverse showing which is opposite of what they state will happen.

CoinLady

Level 6

Good question. I'd assume that the obverse, heads, features the head of the president, queen, but this may not be the case. What of the 3c pattern, with "III" on one side and "3" on the other?

"SUN"

Level 6

Usually the head side is the obverse. The debate goes on.

user_9073

Level 5

This is a debate that for some coins never ends. On most coins "Heads is the Obverse" is agreed by almost everyone. In a discussion I was having with Ken Bressett, Senior Editor of the "Redbook," he told me that he says the side with the date is the obverse. I have also read that the Obverse is the side with the moving die when the coin is struck and the Reverse is the stationary die side. I heard about this from studying the Philippines under U.S. administration. On those coins the reference material does not agree from source to source. I enjoy the listening to the debate as long as it is still part of the fun of numismatics.

Mike

Level 7

I would guess the government that produced the coin would decide what is what. The designer of the coin would also know. So many collectors believe today that the Queen is the reverse of the coin when in fact she is the obverse. A reference book would also be of help. Thanks for the blog. And the picture.

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