Where did the word “numismatics” come from? First documented as an English word in the early part of the 1800s, this word derived from a French adjective, numismatiques, which means "of coins." In turn, that word came from the Latin word for “coin.” The meaning of the word gets even more interesting when the Latin word gets traced back to the original Greek that it was borrowed from. After some iterations, the word came from the Greek nemō, or "I dispense or divide."

Numismatic

Know your U.S. Coins: Half cent

Although it may seem unusual today, the United States government once issued a coin worth less than one cent: the half cent.

The copper U.S. half cent was authorized for production on April 2, 1792. During its 64-year lifespan as a circulating denomination, five different basic design types of the tiny (0.93-inch) coin were struck. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint and do not have a Mint mark.

COIN VALUES: See how much U.S. half cents are worth today

The half cent's designers and engravers are among the best known names in U.S. Mint design/engraving history: Adam Eckfeldt, Robert Scot, John Gardner, Gilbert Stuart, John Reich and Christian Gobrecht. Designs for the half cent were also used on other denominations through the years.

The 1793 Liberty Cap half cent features a lettered edge stating TWO HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR. The obverse depicts a bust of Liberty with flowing hair, facing left. A Liberty Cap on a pole rests on her right shoulder giving the design its name, the Liberty Cap. The design for the Liberty Cap half cent was based on Agustin Dupre's Libertas Americana medal.

Half cents struck between 1794 and 1797 bear another Liberty Cap design, this one facing right, and issued in Plain Edge, Lettered Edge and Gripped Edge varieties.

From 1800 to 1808 the Draped Bust design was used on half cents. All half cents bearing those dates are Plain Edge varieties.

The Classic Head design was used on half cents struck between 1809-1836. From 1849 to 1857, a Coronet design with Plain Edge was used. All half cents have a wreath on the reverse.

The key dates in the series are 1793; 1796, No Pole; 1802/0, Reverse of 1800; and 1831.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:

Nickels:

Dimes and half dimes:

Quarters:

Half dollars:

Dollars:

Gold coins:


Community Comments

Numismatics is about more than just coins.

While many people use numismatics as a general term to refer only to the study of coins, this word actually refers to the study of all kinds of money. As such, it includes the study of coins and also paper bills, tokens, and other related objects that have been used as currency by various people throughout history, as well as noncurrency items like medals. Some kinds of money used at different points in history might surprise novice numismatists; for example, a culture might have used shells as a currency. 

Barter, or the trade of objects and services for other objects and services, has long been used in the marketplace and continues today. In some cases, the line between barter and currency still provides a topic of debate, but in most cases, articles about numismatics cover subjects like coins and paper money. Numismatics might become easier to comprehend by understanding the numismatic values of coins and paper money, and this refers to the value of a coin or note that is higher than the intrinsic or face value. In other words, this could also be called the collectible value. For example, a historical gold coin has an inherent value that is based upon its bullion value. It may also have a face value, or the actual value of the money assigned by the country that produced it. However, that same coin might be worth much more than the gold or the face value because it is rare, historically significant, beautiful, and/or designed by a famous artist.

Ultimately, understanding numismatics really depends upon understanding the nature of money. In the past, money might have been shells, gems, or precious metals. Today, most societies rely upon coins and paper money, but in this digital age, even that has begun to change as billions of dollars get exchanged every day electronically without the need for physical currency. Even more revolutionary, there are new digital currencies that have never been based upon any nation's physical currency. As it has in the past, it is likely that the study of numismatics will continue to evolve as currency evolves.