Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Obverse and reverse
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Obverse and reverse

In logic (and usually without being paired with "reverse"), "obverse" has a meaning close to contrapositive.

The terms obverse and reverse apply almost exclusively to currency, and most often specifically to coins; they are usually described with less precision as, respectively, the front and back sides, or (in American usage regarding a coin tossed to produce a random choice between two things) "heads" and "tails".

Table of contents
1 The context of the contrast
2 Formal standards
3 Informal standards

The context of the contrast

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 a token. Traditionally, states have been monarchies where the person of the monarch and the state were for most purposes equivalent, and for most people inseparable to the point of indistiguishability. In an absolute monarchy, it is fairly unthinkable for the currency not to bear an image accepted as that of the monarch; whatever the form of government, the more effectively the state is evoked by the currency, the more effective that currency is in efficiently promoting unhesitating (or better yet unthinking) confidence in its value.

For this reason, the principal side of a piece of currency is the one that evokes that reaction by invoking the strength of the state, and that side almost always depicts the monarch, or any well-known representative of the state, or a symbol of the state. That principal side, whose function is to evoke the state, and thereby tacitly say "you can trust this currency to do what it says it will", is the obverse.

Coins and banknotes ("bills", in American usage) have two sides, and the secondary side (the reverse) is seldom wasted; various information directly relating to its role as medium of exchange can occur there (if not provided for on the obverse), and additional space is likely to be used propagandistically, evoking some treasured aspect of the state's territory, its philosophy of governing, or its people's culture. In any case, this secondary side is usually less focused, and probably always less central, than the obverse, to the facilitation of the acceptance of the currency.

Formal standards

Many states specify, by law or published policy, what appears (and sometimes what will appear) on the obverse and reverse of their currency. (The specifications mentioned here imply the use of all upper-case letters, though they appear here in mixed case for the sake of readability of the article.)

The U.S. Government long adhered to including all of the following:

However, the ten-year series of
Statehood Quarters, whose issuance began in 1999, was seen as calling for more space and more flexibility in the design of the reverse. A law specific to this series and the corresponding time period permits the following:

Informal standards

In Japan, from
1897 to the end of World War II, though not formally stated: The Chrysanthemum no longer appeared after the war, so (at least equally informally),