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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). As an example, the Kyrgyz people used horses as the principal currency unit, and gave small change in lambskins; [2] the lambskins may be suitable for numismatic study, but the horses are not. Many objects have been used for centuries, such as cowry shells, precious metals, cocoa beans, large stones, and gems.


First attested in English 1829, the word numismatics comes from the adjective numismatic, meaning "of coins". It was borrowed in 1792 from French numismatiques, itself a derivation from Late Latin numismatis, genitive of numisma, a variant of nomisma meaning "coin". [3] [4] Nomisma is a latinisation of the Greek νόμισμα (nomisma) which means "current coin/custom", [5] which derives from νομίζειν (nomizein), "to hold or own as a custom or usage, to use customarily", [6] in turn from νόμος (nomos), "usage, custom", [7] ultimately from νέμειν (nemein), "to dispense, divide, assign, keep, hold". [8]

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 (and most ancient money too) is essentially a token – an abstraction. Paper currency is perhaps the most common type of physical money today. However, goods such as gold or silver retain many of the essential properties of money, such as volatility and limited supply. However, 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. Caesar Augustus gave "coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money" as Saturnalia gifts. [9]

Petrarch, who wrote in a letter that he was often approached by vinediggers 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. [10] 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, 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. [11] 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. [12] Lyce Jankowski's Les amis des monnaies is an in-depth study of Chinese numismatics in China in the 19th century. [13]

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. [14] 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 lies frequently 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) [15] 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, counterstamped 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 catalogues of paper money, which represented major points of reference literature.

Alexander the Great tetradrachm from the Temnos Mint circa 188-170 BC Alexander the great temnos tetradrachm.jpg
Alexander the Great tetradrachm from the Temnos Mint circa 188-170 BC

Scripophily is the study and collection of stocks and Bonds. 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 a stock in a successor company.

The example of one of Alexander the Great's coin

The example of the silver tetradrachm found in Byblos (ca 330-300 bc.) is indicative of Macedonian influence. Alexander's coin (To nomisma Alexandrou) is of the type of the head of beardless Heracles, with an aquiline nose on the right, represented with a headdress of lion's head and of an aetophore Zeus (holding an eagle) on the reverse, enthroned with a scepter in his left hand. [16] The type of this tetradrachm has a very assertive Macedonian and Greek character. The choice of representations is symbolic : the reminder of his divine lineage and his heroic character. The representation of the Olympian god and the Greek hero also makes it possible to spread the Greco-Macedonian culture and in particular religious cults. The silver minting inaugurated by Alexander in -333 showed representations which, while privileging the Greco-Macedonian aspect of the divinites, did not appear to the Orientals as totally foreign (assimilated to the Baals deities). [17]

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Obverse and reverse</span> Front and back side of coins, medals, orders of merit, and paper bills

Obverse and its opposite, reverse, refer to the two flat faces of coins and some other two-sided objects, including paper money, flags, seals, medals, drawings, old master prints and other works of art, and printed fabrics. In this usage, obverse means the front face of the object and reverse means the back face. The obverse of a coin is commonly called heads, because it often depicts the head of a prominent person, and the reverse tails.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ancient Greek coinage</span> Greek coins from the Archaic to Roman Imperial periods

The history of ancient Greek coinage can be divided into four periods: the Archaic, the Classical, the Hellenistic and the Roman. The Archaic period extends from the introduction of coinage to the Greek world during the 7th century BC until the Persian Wars in about 480 BC. The Classical period then began, and lasted until the conquests of Alexander the Great in about 330 BC, which began the Hellenistic period, extending until the Roman absorption of the Greek world in the 1st century BC. The Greek cities continued to produce their own coins for several more centuries under Roman rule. The coins produced during this period are called Roman provincial coins or Greek Imperial Coins.

<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 related to 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. Constantine introduced the coin, and its 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, which introduced the silver-based pound/shilling/penny system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Omeljan Pritsak</span>

Omeljan Yósypovych 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of numismatics</span>

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">Silver coin</span> Form of coinage

Silver coins are considered the oldest mass-produced form of coinage. Silver has been used as a coinage metal since the times of the Greeks; their silver drachmas were popular trade coins. The ancient Persians used silver coins between 612–330 BC. Before 1797, British pennies were made of silver.

<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, which produces pricing guides as well as other books on related topics, including; collectables,, 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">Tetradrachm</span> Ancient Greek silver coin

The tetradrachm was a large silver coin that originated in Ancient Greece. It was nominally equivalent to four drachmae. Over time the tetradrachm became effectively the standard coin of the Antiquity, spreading well beyond the borders of the Greek World. As a result, tetradrachms were minted in vast quantities by various polities in many weight and finesse standards, though the Athens-derived Attic standard of about 17.2 grams was the most common.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conder token</span>

Conder tokens, also known as 18th-century provincial tokens, were a form of privately minted token coinage struck and used during the latter 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>

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">Fugio cent</span> First official circulation coin of the United States

The Fugio cent, also known as the Franklin cent, is the first official circulation coin of the United States. Consisting of 0.36 oz (10 g) of copper, it was designed by Benjamin Franklin and minted only in 1787. Its design is very similar to a 1776 Continental Currency dollar coin that was produced in pattern pieces as potential Continental currency but was never circulated.

Nomisma was the ancient Greek word for "money" and is derived from nomos (νόμος) anything assigned, a usage, custom, law, ordinance".

...but money has become by convention a sort of representative of demand; and this is why it has the name 'money' (nomisma) – because it exists not by nature but by law (nomos) and it is in our power to change it and make it useless.

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

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

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