Obverse and reverse

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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-Tranquillina-Gordian III-s2539.jpg
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.
A Roman imperial coin of Marcus Claudius Tacitus, who ruled briefly from 275 to 276, follows the convention of obverse and reverse coin traditions. Antoninianus Tacitus-s3315-light.jpg
A Roman imperial coin of Marcus Claudius Tacitus, who ruled briefly from 275 to 276, follows the convention of obverse and reverse coin traditions.

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 lexical semantics, opposites are words lying in an inherently incompatible binary relationship, like the opposite pairs big : small, long : short, and precede : follow. The notion of incompatibility here refers to the fact that one word in an opposite pair entails that it is not the other pair member. For example, something that is long entails that it is not short. It is referred to as a 'binary' relationship because there are two members in a set of opposites. The relationship between opposites is known as opposition. A member of a pair of opposites can generally be determined by the question What is the opposite of  X ?

A coin is a small, flat, round piece of metal or plastic used primarily as a medium of exchange or legal tender. They are standardized in weight, and produced in large quantities at a mint in order to facilitate trade. They are most often issued by a government.

Seal (emblem) device or emblem

A seal is a device for making an impression in wax, clay, paper, or some other medium, including an embossment on paper, and is also the impression thus made. The original purpose was to authenticate a document, a wrapper for one such as a modern envelope, or the cover of a container or package holding valuables or other objects.


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

Scholarly method

The scholarly method or scholarship is the body of principles and practices used by scholars to make their claims about the subject as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public. It is the methods that systemically advance the teaching, research, and practice of a given scholarly or academic field of study through rigorous inquiry. Scholarship is noted by its significance to its particular profession, and is creative, can be documented, can be replicated or elaborated, and can be and is peer-reviewed through various methods.

Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money and related objects. While numismatists are often characterised as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other payment media used to resolve debts and the exchange of goods. Early money used by people is referred to as "Odd and Curious", but the use of other goods in barter exchange is excluded, even where used as a circulating currency. The Kyrgyz people used horses as the principal currency unit and gave small change in lambskins; the lambskins may be suitable for numismatic study, but the horses are not. Many objects have been used for centuries, such as cowry shells, precious metals, cocoa beans, large stones and gems.

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


Codicology is the study of codices or manuscript books written on parchment as physical objects. It is often referred to as 'the archaeology of the book', concerning itself with the materials, and techniques used to make books, including their binding.

Manuscript document written by hand

A manuscript was, traditionally, any document that is written by hand -- or, once practical typewriters became available, typewritten -- as opposed to being mechanically printed or reproduced in some indirect or automated way. More recently, the term has come to be understood to further include any written, typed, or word-processed copy of an author's work, as distinguished from its rendition as a printed version of the same. Before the arrival of printing, all documents and books were manuscripts. Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in book form, scrolls or in codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately embossed initial letters or full-page illustrations. A document should be at least 75 years old to be considered a manuscript.

Printmaking process through which an artistic print is created

Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper. Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Each print produced is not considered a "copy" but rather is considered an "original". This is because typically each print varies to an extent due to variables intrinsic to the printmaking process, and also because the imagery of a print is typically not simply a reproduction of another work but rather is often a unique image designed from the start to be expressed in a particular printmaking technique. A print may be known as an impression. Printmaking is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple impressions, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to.


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. Tetradrachma fran Aten (omkr 490 fKr, ur Nordisk familjebok).png
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.

Ancient Greek coinage

The history of ancient Greek coinage can be divided into four periods, the Archaic, the Classical, the Hellenistic and the Roman. The Archaic period extends from the introduction of coinage to the Greek world during the 7th century BC until the Persian Wars in about 480 BC. The Classical period then began, and lasted until the conquests of Alexander the Great in about 330 BC, which began the Hellenistic period, extending until the Roman absorption of the Greek world in the 1st century BC. The Greek cities continued to produce their own coins for several more centuries under Roman rule. The coins produced during this period are called Roman provincial coins or Greek Imperial Coins.


The tetradrachm was an Ancient Greek silver coin equivalent to four drachmae. In Athens it replaced the earlier "heraldic" type of didrachms and it was in wide circulation from c. 510 to c. 38 BC.

Athena ancient Greek goddess of wisdom

Athena or Athene, often given the epithet Pallas, is an ancient Greek goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare, who was later syncretized with the Roman goddess Minerva. Athena was regarded as the patron and protectress of various cities across Greece, particularly the city of Athens, from which she most likely received her name. She is usually shown in art wearing a helmet and holding a spear. Her major symbols include owls, olive trees, snakes, and the Gorgoneion.

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.

Corinth Place in Greece

Corinth is an ancient city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, which is located in south-central Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality of Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit. It is the capital of Corinthia.

A deity is a supernatural being considered divine or sacred. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines deity as "a god or goddess ", or anything revered as divine. C. Scott Littleton defines a deity as "a being with powers greater than those of ordinary humans, but who interacts with humans, positively or negatively, in ways that carry humans to new levels of consciousness, beyond the grounded preoccupations of ordinary life". In the English language, a male deity is referred to as a god, while a female deity is referred to as a goddess.

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. Tetradrachme.wmt.jpg
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.

Western world Countries that identify themselves with an originally European—since the Cold War, US American—shared culture

The Western world, also known as the West, refers to various nations depending on the context, most often including at least part of Europe, Australasia, and the Americas, with the status of Latin America in dispute. There are many accepted definitions, all closely interrelated. The Western world is also known as the Occident, in contrast to the Orient, or Eastern world.

Monarchy system of government where the head of state position is inherited within family

A monarchy is a form of government in which a single person holds supreme authority in ruling a country, also performing ceremonial duties and embodying the country's national identity. Although some monarchs are elected, in most cases, the monarch's position is inherited and lasts until death or abdication. In these cases, the royal family or members of the dynasty usually serve in official capacities as well. The governing power of the monarch may vary from purely symbolic, to partial and restricted, to completely autocratic.

Hellenistic Greece

In the context of ancient Greek art, architecture, and culture, Hellenistic Greece corresponds to the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the annexation of the classical Greek Achaean League heartlands by the Roman Republic. This culminated at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC, a crushing Roman victory in the Peloponnese that led to the destruction of Corinth and ushered in the period of Roman Greece. Hellenistic Greece's definitive end was with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when the future emperor Augustus defeated Greek Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, the next year taking over Alexandria, the last great center of Hellenistic Greece.

Solidus of Justinian II after 705. Christ is on the obverse (left), the emperor on the reverse. Solidus-Justinian II-Christ b-sb1413.jpg
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 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. Silver Rupee Madras Presidency.JPG
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

National side (obverse) of a Lithuanian EUR2 coin N22978 2 eur aversas.jpg
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

Y=500 coin, the obverse showing a Paulownia plant, the reverse showing the value "500", and the year 2006 (Ping Cheng Shi Ba Nian , heisei juu-hachi nen) 500JPY.JPG
¥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 Crest was no longer used after the war, and so (equally informally):

Coins of the United Kingdom

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

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. 1 us dollar 1979.jpg
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:

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.[ clarification needed ] A law specific to this series and the corresponding time period permits the following:

See also

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  1. An ancient Greek currency unit issued by many Greek city states during a period of ten centuries, from the Archaic period throughout the Classical period, the Hellenistic period up to the Roman period under Greek Imperial Coinage.
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Florin (British coin) British coin issued from 1849 until 1967

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Halfpenny (British pre-decimal coin) British pre-decimal coin

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Farthing (British coin) official currency of the United Kingdom and other territories

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Threepence (British coin)

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Roman currency

Roman currency for most of Roman history consisted of gold, silver, bronze, orichalcum and copper coinage. From its introduction to the Republic, during the third century BC, well into Imperial times, Roman currency saw many changes in form, denomination, and composition. A persistent feature was the inflationary debasement and replacement of coins over the centuries. Notable examples of this followed the reforms of Diocletian. This trend continued into Byzantine times.

Byzantine currency, money used in the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the West, consisted of mainly two types of coins: the gold solidus and a variety of clearly valued bronze coins. By the end of the empire the currency was issued only in silver stavrata and minor copper coins with no gold issue.

History of coins

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Italian lira currency

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Coinage of India

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There have been three sets of coins in Ireland since independence. In all three, the coin showed a Celtic harp on the obverse. The pre-decimal coins of the Irish pound had realistic animals on the reverse; the decimal coins retained some of these but featured ornamental birds on the lower denominations; and the euro coins used the common design of the euro currencies. The pre-decimal and original decimal coins were of the same dimensions as the same-denomination British coins, as the Irish pound was in currency union with the British pound sterling. British coins were widely accepted in Ireland, and conversely to a lesser extent. In 1979 Ireland joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Irish pound left parity with sterling; coin designs introduced after this differed between the two countries.

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Silver coins are possibly the oldest mass-produced form of coinage. Silver has been used as a coinage metal since the times of the Greeks; their silver drachmas were popular trade coins. The ancient Persians used silver coins between 612-330 BC. Before 1797, British pennies were made of silver.

Achaemenid coinage aspect of history

Coins of the Achaemenid Empire were issued from 520 BCE-450 BCE to 330 BCE. The Persian daric was the first gold coin which, along with a similar silver coin, the siglos, represented the bimetallic monetary standard of the Achaemenid Persian Empire which has continued till today. It seems that before then, a continuation of Lydian coinage under Persian rule was highly likely. Achaemenid coinage includes the official imperial issues, as well as coins issued by the Achaemenid governors (Satraps), such as those stationed in ancient Asia Minor.

Australian ten-cent coin

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Canadian coinage is the coinage of Canada, produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and denominated in Canadian dollars ($) and the subunit of dollars, cents (¢). An effigy of the reigning monarch always appears on the obverse of all coins. There are standard images which appear on the reverse, but there are also commemorative and numismatic issues with different images on the reverse.


  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.