Every now and again I like to revisit numismatic nomenclature.
The English language is forever changing, and in everyday life we
now have “blog” (not related to anything past that I know of, unless
Lewis Carroll used it in some story I haven’t read), “spam” (wonder if
Hormel appreciates this adaptation of its luncheon meat name?), crash
(of a computer — not of the stock market or two automobiles at an
intersection), “lol” (not lollygagging, an old term, but code for
“laugh out loud”), “hard drive” (not a trip through the Rocky
Mountains or northern Maine, but a computer component), “mouse” (mine
doesn’t look like Mickey at all), “web” (Charlotte would not recognize
it), “tweet” (nothing to do with a chickadee) and more in the Internet world.
Elsewhere we have “wardrobe malfunction,” “race card” (not to be
confused with, for example, a Ferrari), “politically correct” (a
Wall Street Journal article some time ago said the media
cannot have African Americans, Latinos or just about anyone else as
the only criminal in a story, but that businessmen are fair game), and more.
In numismatics, Ken Bressett swept through the early American
coinage a few decades ago, and for use in the Guide Book
coined (pun) such words as Matron Head, Petite Head, and the like —
most of which are now widely used. In my own small way, I think I was
the first to use “senior numismatist” to describe a head staffer, and
PQ or “premium quality” to describe an exceptional coin.
However, PQ has lost some of its meaning. A leading retailer
instructed its telemarketing staff to say, if asked, that all of its
coins are PQ. Some years ago, while contemplating a beautiful Swiss
music box in my collection of the grand format (impressively musical)
I came up with the idea of calling our large coin auction catalogs
“grand format.” Now I see that Heritage uses the term, but,
interestingly, Stack’s Bowers Galleries presently does not.
Some terms are not standard. Back in 1916, the Mint described the
new half dollar design as having Liberty striding. Today, we have
either Walking Liberty or, per the Guide Book, Liberty
Walking. Similarly, to some a 1916 quarter is Liberty Standing and to
others it is Standing Liberty. Did you know that no one had ever heard
of a Morgan dollar in the early years of the design? Instead,
including in numismatic circles, it was nearly always called a Bland
dollar, for Richard Bland, co-sponsor of the 1878 Bland-Allison Act
that authorized such coins.
I am running out of space in my column, or otherwise I would
mention numismatic terms and nicknames such as “slab,” “crack out,”
“Saint,” “Walker” and “Susie,” and tell you that “top pop” has nothing
to do with Coca-Cola.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.