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 shells, precious 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, and coin condition. Thus they generally focus on coins’ value for collectors and investors.

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, aninitiative 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 collections.
  • 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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Everett Millman

Everett Millman

Managing Editor | Analyst, Commodities and Finance

Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.

In addition to blogging, Everett's work has been featured in Reuters, CNN Business, Bloomberg Radio, TD Ameritrade Network, CoinWeek, and has been referenced by the Washington Post.