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How to Describe Your Coins to Other Collectors

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Anatomy of a Coin 4 - The Portrait, Date, and Designer's Initials
The location of the Portrait, Date, and Designer's Initials on a coin.

The location of the Portrait, Date, and Designer's Initials on a coin.

Adapted from a United States Mint image

One of the most important parts of a coin's design is its portrait. Most coins have one, including all currently circulating U.S. coins. Portraits on U.S. coins meant for circulation have featured Miss Liberty and former Presidents, but have never featured a living person. This is a major difference between U.S. coinage and that of many other countries, such as England, that have a hereditary monarchy (e.g. a King or Queen as symbolic or literal Head of State.) On their coins the living, reigning Monarch is depicted in the portrait.

The date on the coin tells us when the coin was minted. As we saw on the page before this, the letter right below the date is the mint mark.

The designer's initials have appeared on most U.S. coins, although they can sometimes be hard to find. Even if you know where they are, you might need a magnifying glass to read them. On the U.S. Lincoln Cent here, the initials are hidden at the base of the portrait in tiny letters; I enlarged them a bit so you can read them. They are "VDB" for Victor David Brenner, the designer of the obverse side of the Lincoln penny which has been in use since 1909.

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