What is the Reverse of a Coin?

The Reverse Designs of the Washington Quarter: Regular and Bicentennial
Examples of the reverse design used on the Washington quarter (1932-1998). Image Courtesy of: Heritage Auction Galleries, www.ha.com


The reverse is the back, bottom, or "tails" side of a coin; the opposite of the portrait, or obverse side.

History of the Coin Term "Reverse"

Originally when coins were first made and about 300 BC, a worker had two pieces of hardened metal with the design on them known as a die. One die was mounted on a solid surface such as a rock, and the other was held in the workman's hand. The worker would then take a piece of metal and place it on the die mounted on the rock.

He would then place the other die on top of it and strike it with a large heavy hammer.

The die mounted  on the solid surface was known as the "anvil die." The die held in his hand was known as the "hammer die". This methodology for making coins continued for hundreds of years until the coining press was invented. Instead of the anvil die being mounted on a rock, it was placed in the lower chamber within the coining press. The hammer die was mounted in the upper part of the press and was moved by a mechanical lever in order to strike the planchet with great pressure.

Traditionally the image struck by the anvil die was known as the reverse. The image that was imparted by the hammer die was known as the obverse. Over time certain consistencies developed on coins. The portrait of the reigning monarch was usually placed on the hammer die and hence the obverse is usually the side of the coin that contains the portrait.

However, there are certain exceptions. For example, Great Britain places the reigning monarch on the reverse side of the coin.

Additional Hints to Differentiate the Obverse from the Reverse

There are some consistencies amongst the different coins throughout the world. Since it is impossible to tell by looking at a coin which design was produced by the anvil die in which one was produced by the hammer die, most countries follow some standard format.

For example, the date that the coin was made is usually placed on the obverse of the coin. Additionally, if there is a portrait of a monarch or some other significant person, that is also usually placed on the obverse. Therefore, the reverse side is usually the one that was produced by the anvil die.

The bottom line is that there isn't a scientific rule to differentiate the obverse from the reverse.  It is become tradition  that numismatists will generally agree upon which side of the coin is the obverse and which side of the coin is the reverse based upon commonly accepted practices.

Also Known As


Example Usage

The Jefferson Nickel has Thomas Jefferson's residence, Monticello, on its reverse.

Edited by: James Bucki