I guess it is better than trying to figure out what a vexillogist
is (see end of column), but trying to explain what a numismatist does
is a burden we all have. I suppose explaining philately is just as difficult.
A numismatist enjoys the art and science (as I like to designate
it) of numismatics — the field of coins, tokens, medals and paper money.
Unlike being a surgeon or a pilot, nothing bars entry to being a
numismatist. You can spend thousands of dollars on coins you know
nothing about, not own a A Guide Book of United States Coins, and not
know who sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens is and still call yourself a numismatist.
One of the first things a numismatist needs to do is to know how
to spell the word. In the June 1938 issue of The Numismatist, American
Numismatic Association librarian W.S. Dewey submitted a list of
misspellings of the word which had come to his attention through mail
addressed to the association. Included were the following: numatic,
numisatic, nunisatic, munismatic, numesmatic, pneumatic, numismaitic,
numisitic, numasmatic, numismutic, nunisnatic, numimatic, nomismatic,
newmismatic, amunistac, numusmatic, nuismatic, numastic, numerismatic,
numistic, numistatical, numismastic, numismatical, and nunismetic.
By the way, pneumatic, which, presumably is pronounced the same
way as Dewey’s numatic, is a real word relating to devices that are
operated by, or related to, air — such as pneumatic tires or a player
piano with a pneumatic system that will play “Sweet Rosie O’Grady” on
a piano roll.
The widespread use of numismatist arose in the 1850s and became
standard in the 1860s. At that time, some, such as Dr. Montroville W.
Dickeson, author of the American Numismatical Manual, styled himself
as a numismatologist.
In the June 1917 issue of The Numismatist, the editor printed “An
Alphabet of Unnecessary People,” taken from a recent issue of Life magazine:
Astrologers, beauty doctors, chorus-men, demonstrators of foods,
evangelists, future painters, gospel-hymn composers, hoboes, idiots,
joke writers, kings, labor agitators, man milliners, numismatists,
orators, palmists, queens, rag-time musicians, statisticians, tennis
champions, ukulele players, vers-librists, weather-map makers,
x-presidents, yellow journalists and zoologists.
First of all, this list was of no value at all in 1917. Whatever
merit it may have had in calling yellow journalists (William Randolph
Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer and the like, I presume), ex-presidents (I
like Theodore Roosevelt, who was still living then), rag-time
musicians (wonderful then and now), and palmists unnecessary was
outweighed by including numismatists in the list.
We all know that any numismatist is important, and some are very
important (just read the advertisements in Coin World as a starter!).
By the way, a vexillogist is someone who studies or enjoys flags.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
director of Whitman Publishing LLC.
can be reached at his private email,
firstname.lastname@example.org, or at
Q. David Bowers LLC, Box
Wolfeboro, NH 03894.