The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 35, August 31, 2008, Article 10


us-quarter-reeded-edge Several readers responded to my query about counting the edge reeds on a coin with an amazing variety of methods. Everyone has a favorite way of doing it, each with its own pros and cons. None eliminate the tedium of actually counting, but most incorporate tools to make parts of the task easier. Now that these cats are out of their bags, it will be interesting to hear if any of our experts choose to experiment with one of the other suggested methods. -Editor
Tom DeLorey writes:
When I was at ANACS, I would stand the coin on edge under a microscope at low magnification, and turn the coin until I found some identifiable mark. Using that as a starting place, I would slowly turn the coin, counting as I went, until I returned to my identifying mark. Write down the results, and do it again to see if I got the same number.

I suppose it would be easier to photograph a coin in a conical mirror (as is done on lettered edge coins to show the inscription), make a print and check them off by tens as you suggest, but my way was faster back in the days when a photograph meant developing film.

Bob Johnson writes:
Many years ago I read an article in an error coin magazine (probably Lonesome John Devine's Error Variety News) on photographing the edge of a coin. This was many years before digital cameras, which should make the job much easier (instant results).

Disassemble a regular flashlight and take out the reflector. Place the coin in the reflector and take the photograph. The entire edge will be visible. Of course with a digital camera you can put the image on your computer and blow it up to make counting much easier. I have never tried this, but I'm sure it will work with a little practice.

Dick Johnson writes:
Counting the number of reeds on a coin is a curious task, but certainly one of numismatic importance. There is no one set way. I have observed different methods by different numismatists.

The surest way, of course, is on a photograph, mentioned in last week's E-Sylum inquiry, and even easier on an enlarged photo. Everyone, it seems, starts counting at the top. Mark a top reed as either a "0" or "1" right on the photo. Then you can mark every fifth or tenth one. Then count the tics to get a total count.

If you are attempting to count reeds on an actual coin take a well-sharpened lead pencil and rotate the point in one of the indentations near the top. (Pencil lead retains in the indentation and can be removed with a damp cloth afterwards.) Start counting and don't stop until you are back to that marked indentation. You have better eyes than I have if you made it all around the circumference without starting over. All I can say is thank goodness the U.S. three-cent silver is not reeded. Larger coins are easier, obviously, with larger reeding.

David Lange writes:
I devised myself a tool many years ago using materials at hand. The first was a "Koinvayer," a spring-loaded, plastic pair of tongs made by the E. T. Kointainer Company, the same business which makes Kointain capsules. The end of each tong has a convex diamond shape to hold a coin securely by its edge at a right angle to the tong handles. Instead of holding the subject coin this way, I placed it parallel to the tool, securing it between two plastic wheels lifted from an HO scale model railroad car. These wheels each came with a prong on its outside face that fit perfectly into the convex end of the tong, while the inside surface of each wheel had been smoothed by me with a file after I had cut it free from the axle which joined the two wheels. To further protect the coin's surfaces from abrasion, I placed self-adhesive paper dots over the filed side of each wheel.

While holding the coin between the two wheels with my hand, I then placed this trio between the tongs and released the pressure which held them open. This spring action provided a nearly hands-free tool that permitted me to rotate the coin 360 degrees while counting reeds. As for performing this last task, I painted every 20th reed with white-out, which is easily rubbed off the edge when the chore is completed, doing no harm to the coin. That gave me enough stopping points to complete the job without losing count.

Bill Bugert, Vice President of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club writes:
I have successfully been using a simple technique for years; with it, I have counted the reeds on well over 1,500 Liberty Seated Half dollars along with other smaller denominations.

In a nutshell, here it is. Simply remove the reflector from an inexpensive flashlight, place the coin into the reflector under your stereo microscope, and slowly rotate the reflector with the coin while viewing the in-focus edge (i.e., reeds) through the scope. Start at an obvious flaw (all coins have them) and, count the reeds (counting out loud is best and ignore distractions) using the reticule of your scope to keep track of your position; stop for breathers at easily referenced places (e.g., nicks, lint, cracks in the collar, etc). Continue until you get to the starting reed.

You may have to initially adjust the coin in the reflector to keep it in focus for the entire counting session. With practice, you can easily and accurately count the reeds on a coin in about 2 minutes. Careful with the reflector surfaces; they scratch easily and you may end up replacing it more often than you like. One more thing, you can also photograph the edge of the coin with this technique.

Mike Hodder writes:
Back in the day I tried several different ways of counting reeds on a coin's edge. None worked satisfactorily. I learned the following technique from E.G.V. Newman. It's the only one I found that rendered reliable counts every time.

Obtain a small amount, a few ounces is all that's needed, of ordinary white or yellow modeling clay, the sort one may buy in a hobby shop or from a school supply store. When one wants to count a coin's reeds pull off a small piece from the clay, knead it until it's warm and soft, and then flatten it out to an appropriate length and width (three to four inches by about one inch seems to work well but the desired length and width depend on the circumference and thickness of the coin to be examined).

Next, take a felt tip marker (one with washable, not indelible, ink) and mark one reed on the coin's edge. Then, take the coin by its edge (as always), push its edge into the clay, and roll the coin along its circumference through the clay. The clay will be impressed by the reeds as the coin rolls along and the ink from the marker will show in the light colored clay each time the marked reed rolls onto it. Keep rolling until two ink marks are seen in the line of indentations.

It's a simple job to count the indentations left in the clay by the reeds starting at the first ink mark and ending just in front of the second one. A low powered glass is useful. A sewing needle can be used to mark in the clay groups of five reeds to aid in the tally. When one is finished, just ball up the clay for re-use (the tiny ink marks blend back into the clay when it's kneaded). Store it in a closed container so the clay doesn't dry out. I found a plastic quarter dollar tube worked well. The impressions in the clay can be photographed to document a count.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2008 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster