An Overview of Numismatics
Derived from the Latin root for “coin” and the Greek for “use under the law,” numismatics
is the study of currency and the systems it affects. Numismatists study coins, tokens,
and paper money. Because numismatics is a historical and economic study of money’s
use and evolution, the field has also expanded to include the study of modern payment
media for exchanging goods and resolving debts.
While numismatists are interested in non-monetary forms of payment (e. g. , cowry
metals, or gemstones), they do not focus on goods used for barter. For instance,
the Kygyz people paid one another using horses, using lambskins as “small change”
to settle value differences. Numismatists would not consider the horses to be currency,
since they served a specific function beyond that of monetary exchange.
When most people think of numismatics, they think of modern numismatics. This branch
of the discipline focuses on coins from the mid-17th century to the modern era - the
period during which modern coins have been machine struck.
Most modern numismatists are coin collectors rather than scholars. They study the
historical and social context of a coin’s production and pay close attention to
factors that determine a coin’s value. These factors include rarity, errors in mintage,
coin condition. Thus they generally focus on coins’ value for collectors
Milestones in Numismatic History
- 1514: Guillaume Budé authors the first book on coins, De Asse et Partibus. The
book discussed Roman coins.
- 1836: The Royal Numismatic Society is founded, and soon thereafter begins publishing
the Numismatic Chronicle.
- 1838: The American coin cabinet is established, after collector Adam Eckfeldt
donates his collection.
- 1858:The American Numismatic Society is founded.
- 1866: The first issue of the American Journal of Numismatics is published by the
American Numismatic Society.
- Immediately after World War II, Germany launches the Fundmünzen der Antike, an
initiative to catalogue all the country’s coins. Other countries follow suit.
Types of Numismatists
Although the term “numismatist” is often used synonymously with the word “collector,”
the two words do not have precisely the same meaning. There are essentially three
“tiers” of numismatists:
Amateurs: Amateur numismatists collect coins as a hobby and often have limited
background knowledge about the field of numismatics. Amateurs may study only the
coins or historical eras that are relevant to their private collections. The majority
of amateur numismatists rely on the expertise of professionals for building their
Professionals: This applies to
coin dealers, who are qualified to grade coin quality and have extensive knowledge
of coins’ value. Again, their knowledge is focused on useful information for collecting
and trading coins.
Scholars: Scholar numismatists are experts in multiple aspects of the field, including
pre-modern coins. They study not only coins, but also other forms and systems of
currency. Scholar numismatists complement their understanding of money with a background
in its economic, historical, and social contexts.
The field of numismatics offers limitless opportunities for coin collectors to expand
their knowledge beyond coins. By understanding the context and implications of money
through time, amateurs and professionals alike gain valuable insight into the fascinating
background of this pleasurable hobby.
This information is provided for general reference purposes and does not constitute
professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information, please
consult with a professional expert.
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