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Type.  A numismatic designation for a design of a coin or medal; a classification for all numismatic items of the same kind and design (all like items are said to be of the same type). The name of the type is derived from the strongest theme of its major image – its dominant design – and usually the feature of the design. The Bison nickel is a type of United States five-cent pieces – the bison is a strong device on the reverse of this design. (Since an Indian head appears on the obverse, it is also sometimes called an Indian Head type.) When a type changes – requiring a completely new design often by a different artist – it takes on a name indicative of the new design. The U.S. Bison nickel was replaced by the Jefferson nickel, each a distinctive type.

In numismatic literature a hierarchy or ranking exists of terms applied to numismatic items, particularly those issued in series. In addition to type, other classifications are major variety, variety and sub-variety. Here is how they differ:

Type                – a complete change of design.

Major variety – a change of lettering or some element of the design without

    altering overall design.


Variety            – a reengraving, retooling, an overdate, a hubbing error or such.

Sub-variety     – a broken die or filled letter, a minor mechanical error.

Medal type designations. In describing medals, there is a term often used for very similar medallic items – “type of.”  For example if an existing medal is ordered from a different maker at a later time and they completely remodel the exact design, it is said to be a “type of” of the first medal.

Coin type designations. Changes of major importance in coins creating a major variety are called Type I and Type II in numismatic literature. Also the term type is used with other modifiers:  An inscriptional type is a design of all lettering. In overstriking, the overtype  and undertype are terms for identifying their respective positions. Type is indicate of the design in many uses.

Type coins.  The tremendous popularity of coin collecting has led to a considerable interest in type coins. Instead of collecting every date and mintmark – in effect, one of every kind – some collectors want only one of each type. For some types, these are easy to obtain because of large quantity produced over a number of years; in other instances a type of a small mintage in a few years is considered scarce. A type collection would include one example of each type for every denomination. This is often called a type set.


Type names are not listed in this encyclopedia, as there exists tens of thousands of these since coins were first made. The type names for the current U.S. coins are all

named after the famed Americans portrayed: Lincoln [cent], Jefferson [nickel], Roosevelt [dime], Washington [quarter], Kennedy [half dollar]. Three U.S. coins do not have a type name: two-cent pieces, silver three-cent silver and $3 gold.


Caution:  In numismatics the word "type" is never used for letter styles as in

printing. The terms typeface, "typestyle" or "printer's type" are used for this meaning not to be confused with the concept of type for numismatic design.  (See lettering.)

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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