Position A or position B?

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In some countries, coins with edge inscriptions are regarded as having two varieties, depending which way up the inscription reads in relation to either side of the coin. In the UK these varieties have never been recognised. However, with the release of the Presidential series of dollar coins in the US, American collectors are beginning to collect both varieties, and I believe it is only a matter of time before the UK follows suit. In any event, there are collectors of these coins in the UK, so knowing which edge variety they are looking for may be useful.

The edge varieties are most commonly referred to as 'position A' and 'position B'. Belgian catalogues have recognised edge position varieties for many years, and appear to be the first country to have done so. Many earlier Belgian coins are far rarer in position B than in position A, and one can only assume that the original striking process took care to place the coins 'the right way up'. The latest country to recognise these varieties is the USA. Fortunately, the PCGS has apparently chosen to use the same method of designation as Belgium, although to date, this only applies to US Presidential Dollar coins.

The Krause catalogue definition is as follows:
   - Position A: coins with portrait side down having upright edge lettering
   - Position B: coins with portrait side up having upright edge lettering.

This is, of course, exactly the same as the original Belgian definition:
   - Position A: with the coin at eye level, the value facing upwards, the edge inscription is the right way up
   - Position B: with the coin at eye level, the value facing upwards, the edge inscription is upside down.

Below are two pictures showing the edge of a one pound coin. I have used UK coins, as they will be familiar to most people reading this guide. The coin in the picture on the left is in position A (with the value facing upwards, the edge inscription is the right way up). The coin in the picture on the right is in position B (with the value facing upwards, the edge inscription is upside down).

                             
                        POSITION A                                                POSITION B
            (value up, writing right way up)                       (value up, writing upside down)

The definition used by the PCGS is very similar to the one used by Krause. The important thing to note is that none of these definitions use the terms 'obverse' or 'reverse'. This is because it is not always clear which side of the coin is the obverse and which is the reverse. A quick search on the internet will show you that the obverse may be the side showing the largest (or nicest) image, the monarch, the name of the country, etc. In the past, and in the absence of a proper definition from their numismatic associations, many Dutch, German and Spanish collectors have mistakenly used the terms obverse and/or reverse, and this has led to confusion. Many of these collectors still believe that a position A coin in the Netherlands, Germany or Spain is classed as a position B coin in Belgium or in the US.

The terms 'obverse' and 'reverse' should never be used to determine whether the coin is in position A or B. Instead of obverse and reverse, portrait side and value side should be used, as there is less possibility of confusion. The US definitions (Krause and PCGS) use 'portrait side'. Of course, there are plenty of coins without portrait, but with edge inscriptions, so this could still present a problem. Also, coins exist which have a portrait and the value on the same side. To confuse things further, there are also coins without a value (e.g Victorian crowns, some of which do have edge inscriptions).

For most coins, there is a clear 'value side' and an equally clear 'portrait side', and determining whether they are in position A or B presents no problem. When looking at coins without portrait or with the portrait and value on the same side, it is probably best to stick to the original Belgian definition, and refer to the 'value side'. For Victorian crowns, the US definition would be best. Remember, both the Belgian and the US definitions produce the same result, although a different side of the coin is used.

Finally, if there is neither a value nor a protrait on the coin (if such coins exist), you would need to explain your method of determining which is position A and which is position B. It is usually wise to state the definition you used when enquiring about a coin, anyway. When selling a coin, a picture showing the edge (along with part of either side of the coin) is essential.

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