Medal orientation vs. coin orientation, or how the sides of a coin are aligned
The concept of coin alignment can make a big impression on you. Especially if you are entering the world of coin collecting, because for collectors it is a very well known term.
In this article we will see what coin alignment is, what types of alignments exist with examples and errors. I assure you that, after today, every time you hold a coin in your hands you will have an irresistible urge to flip it over to check how they are aligned.
What is coin alignment?
Coin orientation, or coin alignment, is the relationship between the position of the obverse and reverse of the coin. To define the orientation, the numismatic vertical axis defined by one of the faces, generally the obverse, is taken as a reference.
NOTE: To better understand this concept we must imagine that the coin is a clock face. The top of the coin would be the part that coincides with 12 o’clock, and the bottom with 6 o’clock.
The most commonly used orientations for minting coins are as follows:
Coin with Medal Alignment
A coin has medal alignment when the top and bottom of the obverse and reverse coin match at 12 o’clock. That is, when you can rotate the coin on the vertical axis, and both sides have the same direction.
In the medal alignment both sides have their uppers and lowers at 12 o’clock. In coin catalogs the medal orientation is indicated by two arrows pointing upwards (Alignment ↑↑) or by pointing to the angle between the axes of both sides (orientation 3600).
Coin with coin alignment
Coin orientation is when the reverse deviates 180 degrees from the axis defined on the obverse. That is to say, when you turn the coin on the vertical axis, the back (reverse) side has its top at 6 o’clock. It is inverted.
Coin orientation is expressed in coin catalogs with two arrows pointing in opposite directions (↑↓ Alignment) or with the angle between the reverse and obverse axes (1800 orientation).
Coin with rotated alignment
It is known as rotated alignment or orientation when the axis of one face is offset 90 degrees from the other. This occurs when you rotate the piece on the vertical axis and the back face is oriented horizontally with respect to the front.
This type of orientation is unusual. Perhaps for this reason many articles on the Internet say that only the two previous ones exist, although it is enough to do a little research to discover the third option. The way to express this type of orientation is (Alignment ↑←) .
Are there only two coin orientations?
The answer is Yes and NO. I explain. I just showed three different types of alignments:
- Medal alignment,
- Coin alignment and
- Rotated alignment.
In theory there could be other alignments. As many as we would like to rotate one side with respect to the other by a certain number of degrees. But one thing is theory and another is practice.
In practice, the first two alignments (coin and medal) are considered the standard, the third is a rarity and all the rest are numismatic errors. Therefore, we can state that, in fact, only the first two alignments are valid and correct for modern coins.
How is the alignment of a coin determined?
Normally the alignment or orientation of a coin can be defined in the law that enables the minting of a denomination and the quantities of these. However, many laws are not as precise, and the alignment used is at the discretion of the mint.
As far as the technical issue is concerned, the alignment is determined at the time the dies are placed in the press. Currently, both sides of the coin are struck at the same time, and this allows the type of alignment to be precisely configured.
This is not the case with older coins.
The manual and precarious minting processes used to produce Roman and Greek coins, or even the macuquinas in Latin America, made it almost impossible to achieve a perfect numismatic orientation. For this reason, coin and medal alignments are characteristic of modern coins, not so much of ancient coins.
Why is numismatic alignment important?
Knowing about numismatic alignment is very important, as it is another of the aspects that we must check before considering a coin as good. Although minting errors can occur at mints, details such as alignment are usually taken care of during the minting process.
Therefore, if we know what type of alignment or orientation a coin should have we can check our pieces to see if the requirement is met or not. In case we find a coin with a standard alignment, we could have a priceless numismatic error on our hands.
I say we could, because ultimately, a numismatic error is something that we must validate with the technical card of the coin, and the opinion of an expert in these matters.
Examples of coins with different orientations
There is not much left to comment on coin alignments. Before ending this week’s article, let’s review some examples of coins and their alignments.
Medal alignment example
The first example is the Japanese 500 yen coin, which has a medal alignment.
This beautiful coin is one of the highest denomination pieces circulating in the Japanese country. The design you just observed is an earlier design, which was minted since 1982. The coin has undergone several redesigns to include security measures against counterfeiting.
Example of coin alignment
An iconic coin in American numismatics is the ONE CENT piece, which was minted in coin alignment.
This copper minted piece has a coin orientation. That is to say, when we flip the coin on the horizontal axis, we observe the reverse design in its correct position. If it had another orientation, we would see the reverse side inverted.
Example of rotated alignment
Finally, here is an example of a coin with rotated alignment. The Fiji $20 coin is an example of this type of orientation. The piece is part of a commemorative series, minted for the 500th anniversary of the Sistine Madonna, one of the last pictures painted by Raphael.
As I told you before, this type of alignment is rare. In fact, it is as rare as finding rectangular coins, however, here I shared with you the example that illustrates both cases.
What about coin alignment errors?
Most of the time errors of this type are detected in the quality control process that all mints have. When coins that deviate from the technical requirements are found, they are set aside to be melted down and the metal reused in future issues.
From time to time the quality control process fails. Then coins with deviations in their original alignment escape, and arrive on the numismatic market to become valuable trophies.
Alignment errors are classified according to the number of degrees that the vertical axis of one side deviates from the other, according to the standard mintage. The latter is important, as there are also reverse errors rotated by 90 degrees and 180 degrees.
For example, these 5 pesetas from 1980, with the reverse rotated at 90 degrees .
Or this other example of a 1 peseta coin from 1944, with the reverse turned 180 degrees .
Although other cases are less drastic. For example, this 5 peseta coin from 1891, with the reverse rotated by approximately 25 degrees .
All these errors are value bombs. That is, they automatically explode the value of these pieces, and turn them into pieces desired by collectors. Of course, the coarser and rarer the error in the alignment of the coin, the higher the value it will reach in auctions or collectible coin stores.
Alignment is just one of many details you can analyze on any coin to separate the common pieces from the valuable rarities. However, do not underestimate the issue of numismatic alignment. There are collectors who would pay fortunes for coins with rare and valuable alignment errors.
Now, after reading this far, you have what you need to go out and evaluate the coins at your fingertips. Who knows, you may have a unique piece in your pocket without even noticing it.
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