Do you have any coins in your pocket or purse right now? How many coins in your pocket have ridges along the edge like serrations? They are not the lowest denomination coins, but the higher denomination coins.
The ridges along the edge of a coin are known as reeding, and they are a fascinating numismatic mainstay of yesteryear. Put simply, reeded (or milled) edges solved the problem of clipping.
Clipping was a deceptive and fraudulent practice of carefully shaving off a small piece of metal around a coin’s rim. The shavings would be saved, melted together, and sold.
After employing reeded edges to coins, it was apparent when a coin had been clipped.
When Did Reeding Begin?
Reeding dates to the 17th century, when coins were struck from precious metals like gold and silver. Specifically, reeding dates to the Spanish silver 8-Real, which translates to ‘piece of eight.’
Spanish Reales widely circulated throughout the American colonies, which influenced other mints. By the 18th century, most countries issued reeded coins.
While the practice of reeded edges continues today, lower denomination coins like pennies and nickels do not have ridged edges.
Milled edges on coins add a detailed element that makes it more challenging to counterfeit the coins. In addition to preventing fraud, reeded edges also make it easier for visually impaired individuals to identify their coins by touch.
How Did People Get Away With Clipping?
Reeding solved the problem of clipping but to appreciate how clipping became a problem, let’s consider the quality control of older coins.
Coins in the 17th century were somewhat crude in comparison with the coins from your pocket change. If you have seen older coins, you know they are not all perfect, uniform circles.
Many coins were made by pressing down a small ingot with a stamp. There would be small bits and flanges of silver outside the edge of the design since the minters did not have the technology we have today.
This method of minting made the coins susceptible to clipping. One could clip a gold coin, collect the clippings, and then spend the coin.
And because the edges around the design were the part clipped, there would be no way of knowing it had been clipped. As coins circulated, they lost incremental amounts of precious metals. Therefore, the assumption would be that the clipped coin had become lighter as a result of circulation over time.
Clipping coins was not always one individual with a file and sheers. There were examples of well-organized clipping schemes!
One woman was alleged to have conspired with apprentices, cashiers, and servants who were custodians of their master’s money. Their scheme involved bringing coins to her for clipping and then returned to the owner in secret.
While there were harsh punishments, including death, for clipping silver and gold coins, it remained a lucrative enterprise until reeding was implemented.
While reeded edges are still used in today’s coinage, it is not to prevent clipping. Compared to clipping gold or silver coins, it would be extremely difficult to clip the cupronickel alloy used today. Regardless, clipping, and reeded edges are a fascinating element of numismatic history.