A Guide To Useful Terminology

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q - R | S | T | U | V | W | X - Z

- A -

about uncirculated (AU)

Grade denoting nearly pristine, untouched condition.

absentee bid

In an auction, a bidder's instruction directing an auctioneer to bid in the bidder's behalf up to a specified maximum amount, usually in the absence of the bidder. Also, mail bid, commission bid, written bid.

albumen silver print (al-byoo'men)

Photograph made using a process invented in 1850 by Louis-Desiré Blanquart Evrard, in which paper treated with a solution of egg white (albumen) and salt, then sensitized with a silver nitrate emulsion, was then contact-printed with a glass plate negative through exposure to sunlight. The resulting print was typically yellow- to reddish-brown in tone. The first commercially exploitable method of producing a print from a negative, in wide use in America and Europe, c. 1860-1900. Common formats were carte de visite, cabinet card and stereograph.


Photograph made using a process patented in 1854 by James Ambrose Cutting, in which a glass plate negative is backed with an opaque lacquer, black paper or cloth to produce a positive image. Used as a cheaper replacement for the daguerreotype prior to the introduction of the albumen process, c. 1855-1865. See photographic plate sizes for common formats.


Formal written valuation for estate, tax or insurance purposes.


Public sale in which property or items of merchandise are sold to the highest bidder.

auction estimate

Preliminary estimate of the amount an item may sell for at auction.


Person who conducts an auction. The auctioneer presents each lot offered for sale, acknowledges bids, announces whether lots are sold or unsold and their final bid prices, and notifies successful bidders.

auctioneer's book

Official record of an auction, with the auctioneer's notations of successful bidders and final bid prices for each lot.

automobile attachment

Sign, usually metal, attached to an automobile bumper, radiator, radio antenna, or as a hood ornament.

- B -


Trade jargon. Paper label inserted in the back of a (usually celluloid) pinback button, bearing the manufacturer's name, union insignia, issuing group and/or an advertisement.


Device or emblem signifying membership in a society or group, often with official or honorary title, identifying the wearer as practitioner of a specialized trade or profession, or advocating a political cause or candidate.


Roster of officially recognized candidates for office, or of proposed laws or enactments, used to cast a vote in an election.


Square of cloth, larger than a kerchief, usually with a decorative border and central design, intended for use as a scarf.


Strip of cloth displaying a legend, slogan, portrait or tableau, esp. one attached to a horizontal staff and carried in a procession.


see max bid or straight bid


Individual or party offering to purchase property at auction.


Sale of items on tables (as at a show or convention).


Paper sign, quarto or larger, printed on one side in bold typefaces, for posting in public places.

brummagem (brum'-a-gem)

Showy but inferior and worthless thing. Within the trade, reproductions and bogus items.

bumper sticker

Small paper sign with self-adhesive backing, meant to be applied to an automobile bumper.


see clothing button or pinback button

button paper

The paper on which the design is printed in a pinback button.

buyer's premium

In an auction, percentage fee buyer pays in addition to the hammer price.

- C -

cabinet card

In photography, an albumen silver print mounted on a card measuring approx. 6.5 x 4.25 in. Popular format for portraits, c. 1870-1900.

campaign flag

see flag banner

cardboard photograph

Within the trade, a photographic print mounted on cardboard. With portraits of candidates, inserted in badges circulated in presidential campaigns, 1864-1892.

carte de visite (cart-dvah-zeet')

French, calling card. In photography, an albumen silver print mounted on a thin card measuring approx. 4 x 2.5 in. Popular format for portraits, c. 1860-1880. Also, c.d.v. or CDV.

cased image

Photographic plate image (e.g. daguerreotype, ambrotype, or ferrotype) housed in a miniature case.


Ideological principle or movement with the aim of bringing about social or political reform.

c.d.v. / CDV

see carte de visite

cello (sell'-oh)

Trade jargon, from celluloid. Pinback button laminated with celluloid or other plastic.

celluloid (sell'yah-loyd)

Semi-synthetic plastic patented in 1869 by brothers John and Isaiah Hyatt, composed of cellulose nitrate and camphor, used in a variety of commercial applications until it became obsolete in the 1940s with the introduction of petroleum-derived plastics. The process for using celluloid film to laminate pinback buttons was patented by the Whitehead & Hoag Co. of Newark, New Jersey on July 17, 1894.


In philately, gummed paper label or seal that resembles a postage stamp but will not carry the mail.

civil war token

Privately-issued coin-like token, the approximate size of a U.S. cent, which circulated during the American Civil War because of a scarcity of small change. Two major types were issued: patriotics, with patriotic or political themes; and store cards, advertising pieces often carrying the issuer's name, address and type of business or services.

clothing button

Button secured to an article of clothing and meant to be passed through a buttonhole. Compare, pinback button.


Candidate for lesser office who hopes to get elected along with or "on the coattails" of a presidential candidate.


Within the trade, a metal collar securing the paper and lamination to the metal support of a pinback button.


In numismatics, a medal issued to observe or mark an anniversary or event, or to honor the memory of a person.


Individual or party on whose behalf property is being sold.


Alloy of copper and nickle. In numismatics, a metal used to strike tokens and medals.


In numismatics, symbol, design or lettering punched on a coin to convey a message or advertisement.


Envelope or wrapper for mail.


Minute cracks, as in the glaze of ceramics or, within the trade, the celluloid lamination of pinback buttons or the emulsion of ferrotypes. Also, craze-cracking.


Within the trade, extreme lateral edge of a pinback button, often where manufacturer's name, union insignia and/or name of issuing group, are printed.

- D -

daguerreotype (dag-yoor'oh-type)

Photograph made using a process described by Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre in 1839, in which a highly polished silver-clad copper plate is sensitized with iodide fumes, forming a layer of silver iodide, the plate then exposed in a camera and a resulting latent image brought out with development in mercury vapors. The first commercially exploitable photographic process, popular in America and Europe, c. 1840-1860. See photographic plate sizes for common formats.


Within the trade, small card sign meant to be hung from a doorknob.

- E -

electoral ticket

List of candidates for nomination or election, usually candidates endorsed by a political party. Presidential electoral tickets list both the candidates and their statewide electors. Typically used as a voting guide. Compare, ballot.


To ornament with raised (embossed) work.


Colored opaque glass or glaze-like substance that is bonded to a metal, ceramic or glass surface.


In printmaking, an intaglio process in which a wooden or metal plate is marked or incised directly with a burin or other metal-marking tool; the print made from such a plate.

ephemera (ih-fem'rah)

Anything transitory or short-lived. Within the trade, any of various small printed materials such as handbills, palm cards, leaflets, brochures, tickets, postcards, etc.

eye appeal

Quality of an item's attractiveness, distinct from any quantifiable measure of grade or condition.


Numismatic items (as tokens, medals, or scrip) that resemble coins or paper money.

extremely fine (XF)

Grade denoting choice, excellent condition, with minimal wear or fatigue.

- F -

facsimile currency

Counterfeit paper money; funny money. Within the trade, counterfeit money issued in favor of a candidate for elective office. Compare, satirical currency.

fantasy item

Within the trade, an item represented to be from a given time period or to have historical provenance, but which never existed in any form until a later date; a fake or forgery. Compare, reproduction.


Photograph made using a process invented in 1858, in which a japanned iron plate is coated with light-sensitive chemicals and exposed in a camera. Introduced as a cheaper alternative to the daguerreotype, it was popular in America from the late 1850s until the early 20th century. With portraits of candidates, used in badges circulated in presidential campaigns, 1860-1892. See photographic plate sizes for common formats. Also, tintype.

ferrotype badge

Badge containing ferrotypes, esp. ferrotype portraits of presidential candidates. Often shortened, ferrotype.


Within the trade, the area, usually blank, surrounding the central elements of the design (as of a coin or flag).

fine (F)

Grade denoting fine condition, with average wear or fatigue.

flag banner

Banner designed to replicate the national flag or standard; in the United States, often with portraits or names of presidential candidates superimposed. Also, campaign flag.


see planchet


Lenticular badge with two images and/or slogans that alternate with a change of perspective. Also, flicker.


see flasher


Stains in paper, the result of latent oxidizing of trace metals or the growth of molds, usually due to the presence of water in the environment. In pinback buttons, foxing is typically caused by rust on the metal support reacting with and bleeding through the button paper.

- G -

gelatin silver print

Photograph made using a process introduced about 1883, in which paper treated with silver halide in an emulsion of gelatin is exposed under a negative, either by contact-printing or through an enlarger, then chemically developed, fixed and dried. More stable and easier to produce, it supplanted the albumen process by the turn of the century and remains the standard type of black and white photograph.

goldine (gol-deen')

Gold-colored finish used for cheaper medals or tokens; often struck in aluminum.

good (G)

Grade denoting good condition, with extensive wear or fatigue.


A standard term used to describe the physical condition of an object, relative to other objects of the same type or class. Grades used by USAmericana:
Uncirculated (UNC)
About Uncirculated (AU)
Extremely Fine (XF)
Very Fine (VF)
Fine (F)
Very Good (VG)
Good (G)

- H -


Photomechanical process in which a photographic image is recorded on a relief plate that can be printed on a press, resulting is an image made of a tiny dot pattern.

hammer price

In an auction, the final bid price, whether property is sold or unsold, announced by the auctioneer when the gavel falls or the auction closes, not including the buyer's premium, taxes, or other surcharges. Compare, price realized.


Small printed sheet, quarto or smaller, to be distributed (as for advertising) by hand. Also, leaflet.


Square of cloth, smaller than a kerchief, often with a decorative border and corner design, carried as a personal accessory.


Candidate for nomination by a political party to a public office, esp. a candidate for the Republican or Democratic presidential nomination who does not become the party's nominee.

- I -

inaugural invitation

Invitation to (or commemorating) the inauguration of a United States president, issued by the official Inaugural Committee. Since 1949 (Truman), Inaugural invitations have issued in two formats, Congressional (octavo), and Public (quarto).

inaugural medal

Medal commemorating the inauguration of a United States president, issued under the auspices the official Inaugural Committee. Souvenir medals have been struck since 1901 (McKinley), and medals have been available for sale to the public since 1929 (Hoover). Since 1953 (Eisenhower), typically found in a 70 mm bronze issue, but also struck in gold and silver.


In an auction, the amount established by the auctioneer required to raise a bid, or the amount between two legal bids.


To form by stamping or punching in, as of coins or features of their design.


Mode of sculpture in which forms are carved beneath a surrounding plane surface. Compare, relief.

- J -

jugate (jew'-get)

Having parts arranged in pairs. Within the trade, having two portraits, conjoined or side-by-side, often of presidential and vice-presidential candidates. An item (such as a medal, pinback button or poster) with jugate portraits.

- K -


Square of cloth, larger than a handkerchief but smaller than a bandanna, often with a decorative border and central design, intended for use as a head covering or scarf. Also, neckerchief.

- L -


Within the trade, the clear plastic film covering pinback badges.

laminaion problem

Trade jargon. Flaw in the lamination of a pinback button, usually occurring in manufacture, resulting in trapped air beneath the lamination.

lapel pin

Small ornamental badge worn on the lapel, usually with a clasp reverse.

lapel stud

Badge mounted on a shank for insertion through a buttonhole, esp. on the lapel.


see handbill


Within the trade, a pinback button made entirely of metal, on which is directly printed a lithographed design.


A print made from a plane surface (originally stone) on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area ink-repellent.

- M -

max bid

In an auction, a bid that can be reduced; an "up to" bid. Max bids are reduced to the minimum or one increment over the second-highest bid (underbid).

medalet (meh-dal'-it)

Medal measuring less than 30 mm in diameter; a token.


Within the trade, having moving parts, esp. a spring mechanism; a badge with such a mechanism.


Serving to preserve remembrance, esp. of a deceased person or persons.


Within the trade, having a part or parts that, when repositioned, alter the design or message; usually refers to a paper item, such as a metamorphic postcard.

minimum bid

In an auction, the minimum dollar amount the auctioneer will accept from a bidder.


Coin, token or medal whose obverse die is not matched with its official or regular reverse die.


Trade jargon, from jugate. Having four or more portraits, conjoined or side-by-side, often of presidential and coattail candidates; an item (such as a badge or poster) with multigate portraits.

- N -

notification ceremony

Ceremony at which party leaders officially notify a candidate of the party's nomination for president or vice-president.


The collection and study of coins and currency; coin collecting.

- O -


Facing the observer; of numismatic items especially, the side which bears the principal design or device, often as prescribed by the issuing authority.

- P -

palm card

Small card (to fit within the palm) printed with advertising.

paper stock sizes

Standard sizes* of paper stock used for books, newspapers and other printed materials:


24 x 36 in.


18 x 24 in.


12 x 18 in.

quarto (4to)

9 x 12 in.

octavo (8vo)

6 x 9 in.

duodecimo (12mo)

4 x 6 in.

sextodecimo (16mo)

3 x 4 in.

trigesimo-secundo (32do)

2 x 3 in.

sextodecimo-quarto (64to)  

1.5 x 2 in.

*dimensions are approximate

parade torch

Small oil lamp meant to be attached to a pole and carried in a nocturnal procession.


Flag that tapers to a point.


The collection and study of postage and imprinted stamps; stamp collecting.

photographic plate sizes

Standard sizes* of 19th century plate photography (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, ferrotypes):


larger than a whole plate

whole plate

8.5 x 6.5 in.

three-quarters plate  

7.25 x 5.5 in.

half plate

5.5 x 4.5 in.

quarter plate

4.25 x 3.25 in.

sixth plate

3.25 x 2.75 in.

ninth plate

2.25 x 2 in.

sixteenth plate

1.5 x 1 in.


smaller than a sixteenth plate

*dimensions are approximate

photogravure (photo-grav-yoor')

Photomechanical process in which a copper plate is coated with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue, exposed to a negative and then etched, resulting in a high quality print reproducing the continuous tones of a photograph.

pinback button

Usually circular badge, bearing a printed design or slogan obverse, with a clasp or straight pin affixed to the back. Most common forms are cello and litho. Frequently abbreviated, pinback, button. Compare, clothing button.


Thick card, posted in a public place, as for advertising.


Metal disk to be stamped as a coin or other incused device.

plate image

Photograph on a plate of silver-clad copper (daguerreotype), glass (ambrotype) or japanned iron (ferrotype). Also, plate photography. See photographic plate sizes for common formats.

pocket mirror

Same configuration as a pinback button, but instead of a pin, a mirror has been placed under the collet.


Paper bill or sign for posting in a public place, esp. one that is decorative or pictorial.


Something given free or at a reduced price with the purchase of a product or service. Many early campaign items were premiums produced for advertising purposes. (Not be confused with buyer's premium.)

price realized

In an auction, the sold price, including the hammer price plus the buyer's premium.


In numismatics, a coin or medal of the highest grade, struck on a specially-prepared planchet, using special dies, to receive the highest quality strike possible, with a special mirror-like finish and with near perfect clarity and detail.


In numismatics, having a mirror surface, usually the product of special mintage for collectors.


Source or history of ownership of an item being offered for sale.

- Q, R -


Representation of words or syllables by pictures of objects or by symbols whose names resemble the intended words or syllables in sound. Any item utilizing a rebus as part of the design.


From the Latin recto folio, "on the right-hand leaf." The side that is to be read first; the front or obverse. Compare, verso.

reeded edge

In numismatics, the result of a minting process which creates vertical serrations on the edge of a coin (as found on United States dimes and quarters).


Mode of sculpture in which forms are raised above a surrounding plane surface. Compare, intaglio.


Trade jargon. Pinback button assembled with original button paper but laminate and hardware of a later vintage. Considered brummagem.


Exact or close copy of an item that can be mistaken for the original. Considered brummagem.


In an auction, the minimum hammer price the consignor will accept and below which an auction lot will not be sold. May be higher than the minimum bid.


Copy of a token or medal struck from the original dies at a later date.


Within the trade, small fabric badge, usually of silk, cotton or satin, with a printed or embroidered design or slogan, meant to be pinned to the lapel.

ribbon badge

Badge consisting of a decorative bar from which a ribbon, sometimes in combination with other ornaments, is suspended.


Ornament made of material gathered or pleated so as to resemble a rose and worn as a badge or to trim a badge. Within the trade, sometimes used as ornamental trim for a pinback button.

- S -

salt print

Photograph made using a process invented in 1840 by William Henry Fox Talbot, in which paper soaked in a salt solution and sensitized with a silver nitrate emulsion was contact-printed with a glass plate negative through exposure to sunlight; the earliest form of positive print. Saw limited use in America and Europe until about 1860, when it was replaced by the albumen process.


Within the trade, an item produced or offered by a manufacturer but not purchased or used by a political group. A "sample" button is oftentimes unique, or available in very limited numbers.

satirical currency

Counterfeit or facsimile paper money issued to ridicule a person, often a political leader, or an institution; funny money. Compare, facsimile currency.


Small, gummed paper label used to close a letter or package.


Within the trade, the separation from the collet of the lamination of a badge or button.


Reddish-brown to dark olive brown color. Within the trade, a pinback button with design printed photographically in sepia tones.


Flat-crowned hat with a wide straight brim, originally made of straw, later of plastic or Styrofoam simulating straw. Often worn by delegates at political conventions.


In an auction, to place a late bid, with the hopes of preventing rival bidders from reacting in time and raising the bid.

so-called dollar

Silver dollar-sized medal commemorating a special event.


Book, usually softbound, containing music and lyrics to songs. Within the trade, a campaign songbook.

shell badge

Badge made of thin, die-cut metal, usually with embossed design. Political shell badges often contain cardboard or ferrotype portraits of candidates for elective office.


Optical novelty popular in the mid-19th century, named after English scientist Lord Henry Stanhope (1753-1816), consisting of a tiny glass rod, one end rounded to form a convex lens and a tiny photographic positive cemented to the other end; a magnified view of the photograph could be seen by looking through the lens. Stanhopes were mass-produced and incorporated into jewelry and trinkets.


An image in stereo, i.e. two juxtaposed images, usually photographs of the same subject taken from slightly different perspectives, giving the illusion of three dimensions when viewed through a stereoscope. Stereographic cards (stereoviews) of varied subject matter were popular in American and Europe, c. 1860-1940.


see stereograph


Small ornamental badge mounted on a long, straight pin, to be worn in a tie or on the lapel.

straight bid

Bid that is not reduced. When a straight bid prevails, it is the hammer price.

street banner

Large mesh or canvas banner suspended by ropes or cables over a street or thoroughfare.


see lapel stud

- T -


Badge made of thin, die-cut metal, usually displaying a lithographed design or slogan, worn on the lapel, collar or a pocket, by folding an upper tab against the badge.

table medal

Medal larger than 70 mm in diameter, usually struck on a thick planchet.

third party

A minority political party. In modern American politics, any party other than the Democratic or Republican parties.


see ferrotype


Coin not issued by a government treasury but having trade value. Within the trade, a medalet.

trade card

Small printed card used to advertise goods or services.


Trade jargon, from jugate. Having three portraits, conjoined or side-by-side, often of presidential candidates and a coattail candidate; an item (such as a badge or poster) with trigate portraits.

- U -

uncirculated (UNC)

Grade denoting pristine, untouched condition.


In an auction, the second-highest bid, usually one increment below, thus establishing, the hammer price. See also, underbidder.


In an auction, the second-highest bidder, whose bid is usually one increment under, and thus establishes, the hammer price.


In numismatics, having a design on one side (of a coin) only. Within the trade, may refer to certain 19th century political badges or medalets, e.g. a uniface ferrotype badge.

union insignia

Mark of a union local, added to manufactured goods to signify that the factory or shop producing them is organized. Also, union bug, union label.

- V -

vendor item

Within the trade, campaign item produced for resale by a commercial vendor without the official sanction of a campaign or candidate.


In numismatics, a bluish-green deposit, especially of copper carbonates, formed on copper, brass, or bronze coins or medals.


From the Latin verso folio, "the page to be turned." The opposite or reverse side. Compare, recto.

very fine (VF)

Grade denoting choice, very fine condition, with insignificant wear or fatigue.

very good (VG)

Grade denoting very good condition, with minor but noticeable wear or fatigue.


Picture (as an engraving or photograph) that shades off gradually into the surrounding paper, rather than having sharp outlines or a frame.

- W -

want list

List given by a collector to a dealer, listing items the collector wants for a collection. The dealer keeps the want list and attempts to purchase items listed on it for the collector.

watch fob

Short strap, ribbon, or chain attached to a pocket watch; the ornament attached to a fob chain.

white metal

Alloy of lead and tin. In numismatics, a metal used to strike cheaper tokens and medals (often with a prooflike silver finish).

window sticker

Small paper sign with printed slogans and/or graphics, meant to be moistened and applied to glass, especially the interior of automobile windows.


In printmaking, a relief technique where the design is left raised above what is carved out of the wood, what is not carved being printed.

- X, Y, Z -