Obverse and reverse

Obverse and its opposite, reverse, refer to the two flat faces of coins and some other two-sided objects, including paper money, flags, seals, medals, drawings, old master prints and other works of art, and printed fabrics. In this usage, obverse means the front face of the object and reverse means the back face. The obverse of a coin is commonly called heads, because it often depicts the head of a prominent person, and the reverse tails.

In fields of scholarship outside numismatics, the term front is more commonly used than obverse, while usage of reverse is widespread.

The equivalent terms used in codicology, manuscript studies, print studies and publishing are "recto" and "verso".

Antoninianus-Tranquillina-Gordian III-s2539
Roman imperial coin, struck c. 241, with the head of Tranquillina on the obverse, or front of the coin, and her marriage to Gordian III depicted on the reverse, or back side of the coin, in smaller scale; the coin exhibits the obverse – "head", or front – and reverse – "tail", or back – convention that still dominates much coinage today.
Antoninianus Tacitus-s3315-light
A Roman imperial coin of Marcus Claudius Tacitus, who ruled briefly from 275 to 276, follows the convention of obverse and reverse coin traditions.


Tetradrachma från Aten (omkr 490 fKr, ur Nordisk familjebok)
On a Tetradrachma of Athens, struck c. 490 BC, the head of Athena, (left), is regarded as the obverse because of its larger scale and because it is a portrait head; the entire owl is depicted in a smaller scale on the reverse.

Generally, the side of a coin with the larger-scale image will be called the obverse (especially if the image is a single head) and, if that does not serve to distinguish them, the side that is more typical of a wide range of coins from that location will be called the obverse. Following this principle, in the most famous of ancient Greek coins, the tetradrachm of Athens, the obverse is the head of Athena and the reverse is her owl. Similar versions of these two images, both symbols of the state, were used on the Athenian coins for more than two centuries.

In the many republics of ancient Greece,[1] such as Athens or Corinth, one side of their coins would have a symbol of the state, usually their patron goddess or her symbol, which remained constant through all of the coins minted by that state, which is regarded as the obverse of those coins. The opposite side may have varied from time to time. In ancient Greek monarchical coinage, the situation continued whereby a larger image of a deity, is called the obverse, but a smaller image of a monarch appears on the other side which is called the reverse.

Obverse of the tetradrachm of Alexander the Great, intended to be seen as a deity, wearing the attributes of the hero, Heracles/Hercules. 325 BC.

In a Western monarchy, it has been customary, following the tradition of the Hellenistic monarchs and then the Roman emperors, for the currency to bear the head of the monarch on one side, which is almost always regarded as the obverse. This change happened in the coinage of Alexander the Great, which continued to be minted long after his death. After his conquest of ancient Egypt, he allowed himself to be depicted on the obverse of coins as a god-king, at least partly because he thought this would help secure the allegiance of the Egyptians, who had regarded their previous monarchs, the pharaohs, as divine. The various Hellenistic rulers who were his successors followed his tradition and kept their images on the obverse of coins.

Solidus-Justinian II-Christ b-sb1413
Solidus of Justinian II after 705. Christ is on the obverse (left), the emperor on the reverse.

A movement back to the earlier tradition of a deity being placed on the obverse occurred in Byzantine coinage, where a head of Christ became the obverse and a head or portrait (half or full-length) of the emperor became considered the reverse. The introduction of this style in the gold coins of Justinian II from the year 695 provoked the Islamic Caliph, Abd al-Malik, who previously had copied Byzantine designs, replacing Christian symbols with Islamic equivalents, finally to develop a distinctive Islamic style, with just lettering on both sides of their coins. This script alone style then was used on nearly all Islamic coinage until the modern period. The type of Justinian II was revived after the end of Iconoclasm, and with variations remained the norm until the end of the Empire. Without images, therefore, it is not always easy to tell which side will be regarded as the obverse without some knowledge.

Silver Rupee Madras Presidency
Silver rupee using Mughal conventions, but minted by the British East India Company Madras Presidency between 1817 and 1835. On rupees, the side that carries the name of the ruler is considered the obverse.

After 695 Islamic coins avoided all images of persons and usually contained script alone. The side expressing the Six Kalimas (the Islamic profession of faith) is usually defined as the obverse.

A convention exists typically to display the obverse to the left (or above) and the reverse to the right (or below) in photographs and museum displays, but this is not invariably observed.

Modern coins

The form of currency follows its function, which is to serve as a readily accepted medium of exchange of value. Normally, this function rests on a state as guarantor of the value: either as trustworthy guarantor of the kind and amount of metal in a coin, or as powerful guarantor of the continuing acceptance of token coins.

Traditionally, most states have been monarchies where the person of the monarch and the state were equivalent for most purposes. For this reason, the obverse side of a modern piece of currency is the one that evokes that reaction by invoking the strength of the state, and that side almost always depicts a symbol of the state, whether it be the monarch or otherwise.

If not provided for on the obverse, the reverse side usually contains information relating to a coin's role as medium of exchange (such as the value of the coin). Additional space typically reflects the issuing country's culture or government, or evokes some aspect of the state's territory.

Specific currencies

Coins of the European Union

N22978 2 eur aversas
National side (obverse) of a Lithuanian €2 coin

Regarding the euro, some confusion regarding the obverse and reverse of the euro coins exists. Officially, as agreed by the informal Economic and Finance Ministers Council of Verona in April 1996, and despite the fact that a number of countries have a different design for each coin, the distinctive national side for the circulation coins is the obverse and the common European side (which includes the coin value) is the reverse.[2] This rule does not apply to the collector coins as they do not have a common side.

A number of the designs used for obverse national sides of euro coins were taken from the reverse of the nations' former pre-euro coins. Several countries (such as Spain and Belgium) continue to use portraits of the reigning monarch; while the Republic of Ireland continues to use the State Arms, as on its earlier issues.

Coins of Japan

¥500 coin, the obverse showing a Paulownia plant, the reverse showing the value "500", and the year 2006 (平成十八年, heisei juu-hachi nen)

In Japan, from 1897 to the end of World War II, the following informal conventions existed:

  • the Chrysanthemum Throne (or Chrysanthemum Crest), representing the imperial family, appeared on all coins, and this side was regarded as the obverse;
  • the other side, on which the date appeared, was regarded as the reverse.

The Chrysanthemum Crest was no longer used after the war, and so (equally informally):

  • the side on which the date appears continues to be regarded as the reverse;
  • the side without the date is regarded as the obverse.

Coins of the United Kingdom

A left-facing portrait of Edward VIII would have broken tradition.

Following ancient tradition, the obverse of coins of the United Kingdom (and predecessor kingdoms going back to the middle ages) almost always feature the head of the monarch.

By tradition, each British monarch faces in the opposite direction of his or her predecessor; this is said to date from 1661, with Charles II turning his back on Oliver Cromwell. Hence, George VI faced left and the present Queen faces right. The only break in this tradition almost occurred in 1936 when Edward VIII, believing his left side to be superior to his right, insisted on his image facing left, as his father's image had. No official legislation prevented his wishes being granted, so left-facing obverses were prepared for minting. Very few examples were struck before he abdicated later that year, but none bearing this portrait ever were issued officially. When George VI acceded to the throne, his image was placed to face left, implying that, had any coins been minted with Edward's portrait the obverses would have depicted Edward facing right and maintained the tradition.

Current UK coinage features the following abbreviated Latin inscription: D(ei) G(ratia) REG(ina) F(idei) D(efensor) (By the Grace of God, Queen Defender of the Faith). Earlier issues, before 1954, included BRITT(anniarum) OMN(ium) (of all the Britains – that is, Britain and its dominions) and before 1949 IND(iae) IMP(erator) (Emperor of India).

Coins of the United States

The United States specifies what appears on the obverse and reverse of its currency. The specifications mentioned here imply the use of all upper-case letters, although they appear here in upper and lower case letters for the legibility of the article.

1 us dollar 1979
US dollar coin, with the obverse side showing Susan B. Anthony, the words "Liberty" and "In God We Trust", and the year 1979; the reverse side shows the words "One Dollar", "United States of America", and "E Pluribus Unum", and an eagle carrying a laurel branch.

The United States government long adhered to including all of the following:

  • Obverse:
  • Reverse:
    • "United States of America"
    • "E Pluribus Unum"
    • Words (not digits) expressing the name or assigned value of the item, e.g., "Quarter Dollar", "One Dime", "Five Cents"

The ten-year series of Statehood Quarters, whose issue began in 1999, was seen as calling for more space and more flexibility in the design of the reverse. A law specific to this series and the corresponding time period permits the following:

  • Obverse:
    • as before:
    • instead of on the reverse:
      • "United States of America"
      • The words expressing assigned value of the coin, "Quarter Dollar"
  • Reverse:
    • as before:
    • instead of on the obverse:
      • The four digits of the year of issue

See also


  1. ^ Sakoulas, Thomas. "Ancient Greece". www.ancient-greece.org.
  2. ^ Commission Recommendation of 29 September 2003 on a common practice for changes to the design of national obverse sides of euro circulation coins (PDF), OJ L 264, 2003-10-15, pp. 38–39; EU doc. nr. C(2003) 3388.
Birds of Canada (banknotes)

Birds of Canada are banknotes of the Canadian dollar first circulated by the Bank of Canada in 1986 to replace the Scenes of Canada series. Each note features a bird indigenous to Canada in its design. The banknotes weigh 1 gram with dimensions of 152.40 by 69.85 millimetres (6.00 by 2.75 in). It was succeeded by the Canadian Journey Series introduced in 2001.

This was the first series to omit the $1 banknote, which was replaced by the $1 coin known as the loonie in 1987. It was the last series to include the $2 and $1,000 banknotes. The $2 note was withdrawn in 1996 and replaced by the $2 coin known as the toonie. The $1,000 note was withdrawn by the Bank of Canada in 2000 as part of a program to mitigate money laundering and organized crime.

The portraits on the front of the note were made larger than those of previous series. The $20, $50, $100, and $1000 banknotes had a colour-shifting metallic foil security patch on the upper left corner, an optical security device that was difficult to reproduce with the commercial reproduction equipment of the time. This was the last Canadian banknote series to include planchettes as a security feature.

This series was the first to include a bar code with the serial number. This allows the visually impaired to determine the denomination of a banknote using a hand-held device distributed by the bank of Canada for free via the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Canadian Silver Maple Leaf

The Canadian Silver Maple Leaf is a silver bullion coin that is issued annually by the Government of Canada. It is produced by the Royal Canadian Mint.

The Silver Maple Leaf is legal tender. The face value is 5 Canadian dollars. The market value of the metal varies, depending on the spot price of silver. The 99.99% silver content makes the coin among the finest official bullion coins worldwide. The standard version has a weight of 1 troy ounce (31.10 grammes).The Silver Maple Leaf's obverse and reverse display, respectively, the profile of Elizabeth II and the Canadian Maple Leaf. In 2014, new security features were introduced: radial lines and a micro-engraved laser mark.

Cliché forgery

A cliché forgery is a type of counterfeit coin (a subtype of fourrée) produced using a genuine coin to impress a design into silver foil. The resulting obverse and reverse impressions are then soldered together around a copper or other metal core. This type of forgery is particularly suitable to the manufacture of small, thin coins. Counterfeits of this type have been found both from Classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. Unlike most fourrée coins, the technique does not require a press and counterfeit dies in order to manufacture the forgeries.

Coin orientation

Coin orientation (or coin alignment or variations of these) is the relation of the vertical orientation of the images on the obverse and reverse sides of coins to one another. The two basic relations are called medallic orientation and coin orientation.

Common Security and Defence Policy Service Medal

The Common Security and Defence Policy Service Medal (named the European Security and Defence Policy Service Medal prior to 2009), is an international military decoration awarded to individuals, both military and civilian, who have served with CSDP missions. Since the 1990s the European Union has taken a greater role in military missions both in Europe and abroad. These actions were taken under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), which is implemented by the European Union Military Staff, a department of the EU. To recognize service in these missions the EU authorized the creation of a medal with a common obverse and reverse, to which clasps featuring the missions' name are attached to the ribbon bar.

Europa (currency)

The europa was a token coinage created in 1928 by Joseph Archer, a politician and industrialist from the Nièvre region of France. The currency was promoted by Philibert Besson, the elected deputy for the Haute-Loire who, along with Archer, was an important figure in the early European federalist movement. The coins were minted in the name of a hypothetical "Federated States of Europe" (États Fédérés d'Europe). Unlike contemporary currencies that were based on the gold standard, the europa was intended to derive its notional value from labour.

The currency never circulated except unofficially between federalists of the Nièvre region. Two denominations were produced, both depicting Louis Pasteur and a map of Europe on the obverse and reverse respectively: one valued at 1 europa and another at 1/10 of a europa.

Five guineas (British coin)

The British Five Guinea coin was a machine-struck currency produced from 1668–1753. It was a gold coin 37 millimetres in diameter and weighing between 41 and 42 grams. Although the coin is now known as the "five guinea" piece, during the 17th and 18th centuries it was also known as a five-pound piece, as during the reign of Charles II a guinea was worth twenty shillings — until its value was fixed at twenty-one shillings by a Royal Proclamation in 1717 the value fluctuated rather in the way that bullion coins do today.

This denomination shows the year of striking on the reverse; but also the edge inscription DECUS ET TUTAMEN ANNO REGNI — An ornament and a safeguard, in the year of the reign... — is followed by the regnal year of the monarch, in Latin words. In the case of Charles II, the regnal year is calculated from the execution of Charles I, so 1668 is ANNO REGNI VICESIMO, the twentieth year of the reign. The edge inscription was put on the coin before the other two sides were struck — in the early years the blanks were cut out from a strip of gold which had been produced by horse power, then the blanks were sent to have the edge inscriptions impressed by a secret process devised by one Pierre Blondeau, a former engineer from the Paris mint who jealously guarded his methods. The blanks were then returned to the mint to have the obverse and reverse struck in a hand-operated press. Samuel Pepys gives a long and detailed description of the rolling, cutting, and striking of the blanks in his diary entry for 19 May 1663.

Many of the coins produced up to 1699 have an elephant and castle beneath the monarch's head, indicating that the gold was provided by the Africa Company. Coins of 1703 (Queen Anne ANNO REGNI SECVNDO) have the word VIGO under the Queen's head, indicating that the gold was captured from Spanish galleons in the Battle of Vigo Bay in October 1702, but very few of these coins now remain in existence and they are extremely valuable (up to £50,000).

Flag of Oregon

The flag of the state of Oregon is a two-sided flag in navy blue and gold with an optional gold fringe. On the front is the escutcheon from the state seal and on the reverse is a gold figure of a beaver, the state animal. Oregon is the only state to feature a double-sided flag (the flag of Massachusetts was changed in 1971 to be single-sided).

Flag of Paraguay

The flag of Paraguay (Spanish: bandera de Paraguay) was first adopted in 1842. Its design, a red–white–blue triband, was inspired by the colours of the Dutch flag, believed to signify independence and liberty. The flag is unusual because it differs on its obverse and reverse sides: the obverse of the flag shows the national coat of arms, and the reverse shows the seal of the treasury. It was revised in 2013 to bring the flag towards its original design. It has a ratio of 11:20.

Ghaznavid bilingual coinage

The coins of Mahmud Ghazni struck in India with Arabic and Sanskrit legends on obverse and reverse respectively, show a number of varieties in so far as the legends, the dates and the lettering and its arrangements are concerned.

Ghaznavid control largely continued in the existing administrative system. Thus Ghaznavid coins issued in North western India have bilingual legends written in Arabic and Sharda scripts . Some carry Islamic titles together with the portrayal of the Shaiva Bull, Nandi and the legend Shri samta deva. The reference in the latter remains ambiguous . A dirham struck at Lahore carries a legend in the Sharda script and a rendering in colloquial Sanskrit of the Islamic Kalima.

Glossary of numismatics

This article is a collection of Numismatic and coin collecting terms with concise explanation for the beginner or professional.

Numismatics (ancient Greek: νομισματική) is the scientific study of money and its history in all its varied forms. While numismatists are often characterized as studying coins, the discipline also includes the study of banknotes, stock certificates, medals, medallions, and tokens (also referred to as Exonumia).

Sub-fields or related fields of numismatics are:

Exonumia: is the study of coin-like objects such as token coins and medals, and other items used in place of legal currency or for commemoration.

Notaphily: is the study of paper money or banknotes.

Scripophily: is the study and collection of stocks and bonds.

Guido Bruck

Guido Bruck (11 November 1920, Vienna – 13 March 1966, Melk) was an Austrian Numismatist

In 1948, he obtained his Doctorate in Philosophy. In the same year, he was appointed to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna where he worked as a curator until his early death.

He is noted for his groundbreaking work "Die spätrömische Kupferprägung", Late Roman Copper Coinage, which provides a key to coins of the late Roman period through its analysis of the iconography present on the Obverse and reverse, allowing an identification even in the case of worn mintmarks. This work has served as a basis for other studies and is frequently cited as a resource for the identification of worn late Roman coins. It was re-edited and translated into English in 2014, under the title "Late Roman Bronze Coinage – An attribution guide for poorly preserved coins".

Italian lira

The lira (Italian: [ˈliːra]; plural lire [ˈliːre]) was the currency of Italy between 1861 and 2002 and of the Albanian Kingdom between 1941 and 1943. Between 1999 and 2002, the Italian lira was officially a national subunit of the euro. However, cash payments could be made in lira only, as euro coins or notes were not yet available. The lira was also the currency of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy between 1807 and 1814.

The term originates from the value of a pound weight (Latin: libra) of high purity silver and as such is a direct cognate of the British pound sterling; in some countries, such as Cyprus and Malta, the words lira and pound were used as equivalents, before the euro was adopted in 2008 in the two countries. "L", sometimes in a double-crossed script form ("₤"), was the symbol most often used. Until the Second World War, it was subdivided into 100 centesimi (singular: centesimo), which translates to "hundredths" or "cents".

The lira was established at 4.5 grams of silver or 290.322 milligrams of gold. This was a direct continuation of the Sardinian lira. Other currencies replaced by the Italian lira included the Lombardy-Venetia pound, the Two Sicilies piastra, the Tuscan fiorino, the Papal States scudo and the Parman lira. In 1865, Italy formed part of the Latin Monetary Union in which the lira was set as equal to, among others, the French, Belgian and Swiss francs: in fact, in various Gallo-Italic languages in north-western Italy, the lira was outright called "franc". This practice has obviously ended with the introduction of the euro in 2002.

World War I broke the Latin Monetary Union and resulted in prices rising severalfold in Italy. Inflation was curbed somewhat by Mussolini, who, on August 18, 1926, declared that the exchange rate between lira and pound would be £1 = 90 lire—the so-called Quota 90, although the free exchange rate had been closer to 140–150 lire per pound, causing a temporary deflation and widespread problems in the real economy. In 1927, the lira was pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of 1 dollar = 19 lire. This rate lasted until 1934, with a separate "tourist" rate of US$1 = 24.89 lire being established in 1936. In 1939, the "official" rate was 19.8 lire.

After the Allied invasion of Italy, an exchange rate was set at US$1 = 120 lire (1 British pound = 480 lire) in June 1943, reduced to 100 lire the following month. In German occupied areas, the exchange rate was set at 1 Reichsmark = 10 lire. After the war, the value of the lira fluctuated, before Italy set a peg of US$1 = 575 lire within the Bretton Woods System in November 1947. Following the devaluation of the pound, Italy devalued to US$1 = 625 lire on 21 September 1949. This rate was maintained until the end of the Bretton Woods System in the early 1970s. Several episodes of high inflation followed until the lira was replaced by the euro.

The lira was the official unit of currency in Italy until January 1, 1999, when it was replaced by the euro (euro coins and notes were not introduced until 2002). Old lira denominated currency ceased to be legal tender on February 28, 2002. The conversion rate is 1,936.27 lire to the euro.All lira banknotes in use immediately before the introduction of the euro, and all post-World War II coins, were exchanged by the Bank of Italy up to 6 December 2011. Originally, Italy's central bank pledged to redeem Italian coins and banknotes until 29 February 2012, but this was brought forward to 6 December 2011.

Kraków grosz

The Kraków grosz (Latin: grossus cracoviensis (sing.), grossi cracovienses (pl.), Polish: grosz krakowski, German: Krakauer Groschen) were medieval silver coins minted in 14th century Kraków.

Following the Bohemian Prague groschen in use since 1300, and other large silver Groschen-type coins issued in the Holy Roman Empire, the coin was introduced in 1367 during the reign of king Casimir III of Poland.

Its obverse and reverse sides had the following text:



Mule (coin)

In numismatics, a mule is a coin or medal minted with obverse and reverse designs not normally seen on the same piece. These can be intentional or produced by error. This type of error is highly sought after, and examples can fetch high prices from collectors.

The earliest mules are found among ancient Greek and Roman coins. Opinion is divided between those who think that they are accidental, the result of an incorrect combination of a new die with one that had officially been withdrawn from use, or the work of coiners working with dies stolen from an official mint, perhaps at a time when one of them should have been destroyed.

The name derives from the mule, the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey, due to such a coin having two sides intended for different coins, much as a mule has parents of two different species.

One hundred lei

The one hundred lei banknote is one of the circulating denomination of the Romanian leu. It is the same size as the 100 Euro banknote.

The main color of the banknote is blue. It pictures, on the obverse the playwright, short story writer, poet, theater manager, political commentator and journalist Ion Luca Caragiale, and on the reverse the old building of the Bucharest National Theatre, and the statue of Ion Luca Caragiale. The one hundred lei banknote is the only banknote that pictures both on the obverse and reverse a personality.

Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal

The Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (French: Médaille du jubilé de la Reine Elizabeth II) or the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal was a commemorative medal created in 2002 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Elizabeth II's accession. The Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal was awarded in Canada to nominees who contributed to public life. The Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal was awarded to active personnel in the British Armed Forces and Emergency Personnel who had completed 5 years of qualifying service.

Rim (coin)

The rim of a coin is the up-raised part of the coin that completely encircles the diameter on both obverse and reverse sides. Not to be confused with the edge of the coin, which is also known as its "third side".This is the part which exceeds the area of the die which strikes the coin during production, and as a result is pushed upward and sharpened to form a sort of border around the coin's design. The raised rim reduces wear on the face of the coin.For accessibility purposes, the rim of the coin is sometimes milled with certain patterns in order for the blind to more easily distinguish between coins. In Australia, the two dollar coin has periodically distributed around its edge a short set of grooves, which alternate between the smooth rim, whilst the one dollar coin has a larger set of grooves, and the similar sized ten cent coin has grooves continuously about its edge.

Zambian kwacha

The kwacha (ISO 4217 code: ZMW) is the currency of Zambia. It is subdivided into 100 ngwee.

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