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Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, medals and related objects.


Specialists, known as numismatists, are often characterized as students or collectors of coins, but the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other means of payment used to resolve debts and exchange goods.

Coin collectors and enthusiasts at an exhibition organized by the Numismatic Society of Calcutta, Kolkata, West Bengal Coin collectors and enthusiasts by Yogabrata Chakraborty, 2022.jpg
Coin collectors and enthusiasts at an exhibition organized by the Numismatic Society of Calcutta, Kolkata, West Bengal

The earliest forms of money used by people are categorised by collectors as "odd and curious", [1] but the use of other goods in barter exchange is excluded, even where used as a circulating currency (e.g., cigarettes or instant noodles in prison). [2] As an example, the Kyrgyz people used horses as the principal currency unit, and gave small change in lambskins; [3] the lambskins may be suitable for numismatic study, but the horses are not.[ dubious ] Many objects have been used for centuries, such as cowry shells, precious metals, cocoa beans, large stones, and gems.


First attested in English in 1829, the word numismatics comes from the adjective numismatic, meaning 'of coins'. It was borrowed in 1792 from French numismatique, itself a derivation from Late Latin numismatis, genitive of numisma, a variant of nomisma meaning 'coin'. [4] [5] Nomisma is a latinisation of the Greek νόμισμα (nomisma) which means 'current coin/custom', [6] which derives from νομίζειν (nomizein) 'to hold or own as a custom or usage, to use customarily', [7] in turn from νόμος (nomos) 'usage, custom', [8] ultimately from νέμειν (nemein) 'to dispense, divide, assign, keep, hold'. [9]

History of money

Throughout its history, money itself has been made to be a scarce good, although it does not have to be.[ citation needed ] Many materials have been used to form money, from naturally scarce precious metals and cowry shells through cigarettes to entirely artificial money, called fiat money, such as banknotes. Many complementary currencies use time as a unit of measure, using mutual credit accounting that keeps the balance of money intact.

Modern money (along with most ancient money) is essentially a token – an abstraction. Paper currency is perhaps the most common type of contemporary physical money. However, goods such as gold or silver retain many of the essential properties of money, such as price fluctuation and limited supply, although these goods are not controlled by one single authority.

History of numismatics

A Roman denarius, a standardized silver coin Maximinus denarius - transparent background.PNG
A Roman denarius, a standardized silver coin

Coin collecting may have possibly existed in ancient times. Augustus gave "coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money" as Saturnalia gifts. [10]

Petrarch, who wrote in a letter that he was often approached by vine diggers with old coins asking him to buy or to identify the ruler, is credited as the first Renaissance collector. Petrarch presented a collection of Roman coins to Emperor Charles IV in 1355.

The first book on coins was De Asse et Partibus (1514) by Guillaume Budé. [11] During the early Renaissance ancient coins were collected by European royalty and nobility. Collectors of coins were Pope Boniface VIII, Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire, Louis XIV of France, Ferdinand I, Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg who started the Berlin coin cabinet and Henry IV of France to name a few. Numismatics is called the "Hobby of Kings", due to its most esteemed founders.

Professional societies organised in the 19th century. The Royal Numismatic Society was founded in 1836 and immediately began publishing the journal that became the Numismatic Chronicle. The American Numismatic Society was founded in 1858 and began publishing the American Journal of Numismatics in 1866.

In 1931 the British Academy launched the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum publishing collections of Ancient Greek coinage. The first volume of Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles was published in 1958.

In the 20th century, coins gained recognition as archaeological objects, and scholars such as Guido Bruck of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna realized their value in providing a temporal context and the difficulty that curators faced when identifying worn coins using classical literature. After World War II in Germany, a project, Fundmünzen der Antike (Coin finds of the Classical Period) was launched to register every coin found within Germany. This idea found successors in many countries.

In the United States, the US Mint established a coin cabinet in 1838 when chief coiner Adam Eckfeldt donated his personal collection. [12] William E. Du Bois' Pledges of History... (1846) describes the cabinet.

C. Wyllys Betts' American colonial history illustrated by contemporary medals (1894) set the groundwork for the study of American historical medals.

Helen Wang's "A short history of Chinese numismatics in European languages" (2012–2013) gives an outline history of Western countries' understanding of Chinese numismatics. [13] Lyce Jankowski's Les amis des monnaies is an in-depth study of Chinese numismatics in China in the 19th century. [14]

Modern numismatics

Two 20 kr gold coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union Two 20kr gold coins.png
Two 20 kr gold coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union

Modern numismatics is the study of the coins of the mid-17th century onward, the period of machine-struck coins. [15] Their study serves more the need of collectors than historians, and it is more often successfully pursued by amateur aficionados than by professional scholars. The focus of modern numismatics frequently lies in the research of production and use of money in historical contexts using mint or other records in order to determine the relative rarity of the coins they study. Varieties, mint-made errors, the results of progressive die wear, mintage figures, and even the sociopolitical context of coin mintings are also matters of interest.


Exonumia (UK English: Paranumismatica) [16] is the study of coin-like objects such as token coins and medals, and other items used in place of legal currency or for commemoration. This includes elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medallions, tags, badges, counter-stamped coins, wooden nickels, credit cards, and other similar items. It is related to numismatics proper (concerned with coins which have been legal tender), and many coin collectors are also exonumists.

Notaphily is the study of paper money or banknotes. It is believed that people have been collecting paper money for as long as it has been in use. However, people only started collecting paper money systematically in Germany in the 1920s, particularly the Serienscheine (Series notes) Notgeld. The turning point occurred in the 1970s when notaphily was established as a separate area by collectors. At the same time, some developed countries such as the United States, Germany, and France began publishing their respective national catalogs of paper money, which represented major points of reference literature.

Alexander the Great memorial tetradrachm from the Temnos Mint c. 188-170 BC Alexander the great temnos tetradrachm.jpg
Alexander the Great memorial tetradrachm from the Temnos Mint c.188–170 BC

Scripophily is the study and collection of companies' shares and bonds certificates. It is an area of collecting due to both the inherent beauty of some historical documents as well as the interesting historical context of each document. Some stock certificates are excellent examples of engraving. Occasionally, an old stock document will be found that still has value as stock in a successor company.

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coin collecting</span> Collection of minted legal tender

Coin collecting is the collecting of coins or other forms of minted legal tender. Coins of interest to collectors include beautiful, rare, and historically significant pieces. Collectors may be interested, for example, in complete sets of a particular design or denomination, coins that were in circulation for only a brief time, or coins with errors. Coin collecting can be differentiated from numismatics, in that the latter is the systematic study of currency as a whole, though the two disciplines are closely interlinked.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coin</span> Small, flat and usually round piece of material used as money

A coin is a small object, usually round and flat, used primarily as a medium of exchange or legal tender. They are standardized in weight, and produced in large quantities at a mint in order to facilitate trade. They are most often issued by a government. Coins often have images, numerals, or text on them. The faces of coins or medals are sometimes called the obverse and the reverse, referring to the front and back sides, respectively. The obverse of a coin is commonly called heads, because it often depicts the head of a prominent person, and the reverse is known as tails.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Exonumia</span> Numismatic items other than coins and paper money

Exonumia are numismatic items other than coins and paper money. This includes "Good For" tokens, badges, counterstamped coins, elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medallions, tags, wooden nickels and other similar items. It is an aspect of numismatics and many coin collectors are also exonumists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Solidus (coin)</span> Late Roman Empire gold coin

The solidus or nomisma was a highly pure gold coin issued in the Late Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. The early 4th century saw the solidus introduced in mintage as a successor to the aureus, which was permanently replaced thereafter by the new coin, whose weight of about 4.5 grams remained relatively constant for seven centuries. In the Byzantine Empire, the solidus, or nomisma, remained a highly pure gold coin until the 11th century, when several Byzantine emperors began to strike the coin with less and less gold. The nomisma was finally abolished by Alexius I in 1092, who replaced it with the hyperpyron, which also came to be known as a "bezant". The Byzantine solidus also inspired the originally slightly less pure dinar issued by the Muslim Caliphate. In Western Europe, the solidus was the main gold coin of commerce from late Roman times to Pepin the Short's currency reform in the 750s, which introduced the silver-based pound/shilling/penny system.

<i>The Numismatist</i> Monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association

The Numismatist is the monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association. The Numismatist contains articles written on such topics as coins, tokens, medals, paper money, and stock certificates. All members of the American Numismatic Association receive the publication as part of their membership benefits.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Omeljan Pritsak</span> Ukrainian-American history professor (1919–2006)

Omeljan Yosypovych Pritsak was the first Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University and the founder and first director (1973–1989) of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

This glossary of numismatics is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to numismatics and coin collecting, as well as sub-fields and related disciplines, with concise explanations for the beginner or professional.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dutch rijksdaalder</span> Historical coin

The rijksdaalder was a Dutch coin first issued by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in the late 16th century during the Dutch Revolt which featured an armored half bust of William the Silent. It was the Dutch counterpart of the Reichsthaler of the Holy Roman Empire but weighed slightly less, at 29.03 g of 0.885 fine silver, reduced to 0.875 fine by the 17th century. Friesland, Gelderland, Holland, Kampen, Overijssel, Utrecht, West Friesland, Zeeland, and Zwolle minted armored half bust rijksdaalders until the end of the 17th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Token coin</span> Trade token

In numismatics, token coins or trade tokens are coin-like objects used instead of coins. The field of token coins is part of exonumia and token coins are token money. Their denomination is shown or implied by size, color or shape. They are often made of cheaper metals like copper, pewter, aluminium, brass and tin, or non-metals like bakelite, leather and porcelain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American Numismatic Society</span> American numismatic association based in New York

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) is a New York City-based organization dedicated to the study of coins, money, medals, tokens, and related objects. Founded in 1858, it is the only American museum devoted exclusively to their preservation and study. Its collection encompasses nearly one million items, including medals and paper money, as well as the world's most comprehensive library of numismatic literature. The current President of the Society, Dr. Ute Wartenberg, served as the Executive Director for two decades and was succeeded in this role by Dr. Gilles Bransbourg.

The Charlton Press is a book publishing company that produces pricing guides as well as other books on related topics, including collectibles and porcelain figures. The company's first title was Catalogue of Canadian Coins, Tokens & Fractional Currency, published in 1952, and contained all coins used as circulating tender in Canada from 1858 until present.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Odesa Numismatics Museum</span>

The Odesa Numismatics Museum is a currency museum in Ukraine. The museum preserves and exhibits ancient relics from the Northern Black Sea Region and Rus-Ukraine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Civil War token</span> Privately minted token coins

Civil War tokens are token coins that were privately minted and distributed in the United States between 1861 and 1864. They were used mainly in the Northeast and Midwest. The widespread use of the tokens was a result of the scarcity of government-issued cents during the Civil War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conder token</span> 18th-century token coinage in the British Isles

Conder tokens, also known as 18th-century provincial tokens, were a form of privately minted token coinage struck and used during the later part of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century in England, Anglesey and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British Museum Department of Coins and Medals</span> Department of the British Museum

The British Museum Department of Coins and Medals is a department of the British Museum involving the collection, research and exhibition of numismatics, and comprising the largest library of numismatic artefacts in the United Kingdom, including almost one million coins, medals, tokens and other related objects. The collection spans the history of coinage from its origins in the 7th century BC to the present day, and is representative of both Eastern and Western numismatic traditions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Numismatic Collection</span> National coin cabinet of the United States

The National Numismatic Collection is the national coin cabinet of the United States. The collection is part of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

A numismatist is a specialist, researcher, and/or well-informed collector of numismatics/coins. Numismatists can include collectors, specialist dealers, and scholar-researchers who use coins in object-based research. Although use of the term numismatics was first recorded in English in 1799, people had been collecting and studying coins long before then all over the world.

Lyce Jankowski is a numismatist, specialising in East Asia, and an art historian, specialising in Chinese material culture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hongqian</span> Chinese numismatic term

"Red cash coins" are the cash coins produced in Xinjiang under Qing rule following the conquest of the Dzungar Khanate by the Qing dynasty in 1757. While in Northern Xinjiang the monetary system of China proper, with standard cash coins, was adopted in Southern Xinjiang where the pūl (ﭘول) coins of Dzungaria circulated earlier, the pūl-system was continued but some of the old Dzungar pūl coins were melted down to make Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶) cash coins. Because pūl coins were usually around 98% copper, they tended to be very red in colour which gave the cash coins based on the pūl coins the nickname "red cash coins".


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