The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 28, July 1, 2012, Article 13


Last week, Dick Johnson submitted the following query for our readers:

In a news article from England on the discovery of a buried coin of William the Conqueror, an archaeologist called the condition of the coin "quite good nick."

The complete paragraph was "Joanne Kirton, archaeology supervisor, added: "The coin is in quite good nick and it was very difficult to make out the name on the coin."

Maybe a British reader can translate the slang term "nick" in this meaning.

First to respond was Kerry Rodgers of New Zealand with the apt subject line, " Two nations separated by a common language". He writes:

For "nick" read "condition". And I would say from the photo the coin looks in almost Fine nick rather than just good nick.

Michael Rice from Vancouver Island writes:

It's a common Brit expression for "in good condition" - where 'good' does not refer to a numismatic grade but rather is the same as "nice". A North American equivalent might be "in pretty decent shape".

The Brits could have used the term "in the pink" just as easily, where "the pink" is not a color, but a reference to the Anglo Saxon word "pynca", meaning 'top' or 'peak'. Ain't words fun?

Harry Waterson writes:

When I lived in England used cars that were in good condition were said to be "in good nick" which I always thought meant "very few dents."

Harry found this explanation online:

I think the term nick refers to the old practice of cutting small bits of metal from gold coins, as a way of stealing a little gold from every coin. This gives rise to the term to 'nick' something, meaning to steal it, and being in good nick may refer to a coin that does not have too many nicks taken out of it.

To read the original post, see:

Bob Van Arsdell writes:

I can offer an explanation for the slang expression "in quite good nick", having known many British dealers and collectors since the early 1970's. I also visited Britain dozens of times on business, and volunteered for 26 years on archaeological excavations there.

The term is in general use, it's not a specialized numismatic or archaeological expression. "Nick" means roughly "state of preservation" or "condition". I've heard it used for all sorts of things automobiles, coins, rare books and small finds from archaeological excavations.

Hope this helps, perhaps some British collectors can offer some nuanced meaning I may have missed over the years.

Bob Coard writes:

"In good nick", is a peculiarly nuanced English term. It is a statement that something is in good or working condition. However there is the, unexpressed, underlying meaning that this is in spite of circumstances. As in, of a sportsman: "I'm in quite good nick really" (despite having two broken ribs and a fractured collarbone). Possibly best regarded as part of the British talent for understatement.

Bob Van Arsdell adds:

Having re-read the "quite good nick" article, it reminded me of one of the usage minefields in Anglo-American communication.

The British can use the word "quite" differently from people in the USA. Very roughly they often mean "not quite" when they say quite. I was told a story of a British woman who was devastated when an American guest said the dinner she had served was "quite good". The British woman had slaved over the stove for hours, and took the American compliment as a British insult.

Perhaps the article would make more sense to Americans if the coin had had been described as "In quite good nick BUT the legend....".

David R Pickup writes:

You asked about the British phrase "good nick" meaning good condition. It is not clear what the derivation is. There are several phrases using the word "nick", including the "nick of time" meaning the crucial point in time. Perhaps "nick" meant the original condition and good nick was something that was still in good (original) condition. Looking at the dictionary it is not very old.

Auctioneers and cataloguers would not use such a vulgar phrase. They would say brilliant uncirculated, deeply toned, or bold fine depending on the condition.

Thanks, readers! This has been a great discussion of an unexpected, but interesting topic. Now we all know a little more about it than we did last week. Thanks also to Dick Johnson for raising the question. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: QUERY: "IN GOOD NICK" (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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