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."


What is a mule error coin and what are the most famous examples?

New Mexico collector Tommy Bolack now owns 10 of the 14 known dollar/quarter dollar mules, after his Aug. 6 acquisition of this NGC MS-67 coin.

Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries

Editor's note: The following post is part of CoinWorld.com's 'Collecting Basics' series, which provides novice readers with an introduction into the numismatic hobby.

A mule coin is a coin struck with dies that were not intended to be paired.

"A numismatic mule is a fascinating creature, a hybrid of two designs never meant to appear together,” Coin World senior news editor William T. Gibbs wrote in 1992. "Some are accidental in nature, true errors that any collector would welcome in his or her collection. Other mules were deliberately produced, either accidentally, out of necessity to meet coinage demands, or from a desire to produce something special (even if fraudulent) for collectors."

There is a market for mules just like there is for correctly struck coins.

The hybrid coins take their name, of course, from the hard-working animal that results from the cross-breeding of a horse and a donkey — half one thing and half the other.

"Among U.S. coins, some mules have achieved legendary status,” Mike Diamond wrote in a Collectors’ Clearinghouse column published online on Nov. 16, 2013. "The most prominent of these would likely be the 14 Sacagawea dollar planchets struck by a Washington quarter dollar obverse die and a Sacagawea dollar reverse die.”

Collector Tommy Bolack wrangled his 10th Sacagawea dollar/Statehood quarter mule during an Aug. 6 Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction for a total price of $117,500. 

“I think I’ve got the market cornered. I could name my price,” Bolack said. “After I bought the first one, I never thought I’d ever own a second one, much less 10. I’ve kind of fallen in love with them.”

Diamond’s 2013 column touched on foreign mules.

"Probably the best known example among foreign coins is the 2000 Canada Millennium series 'Map Mule' 25-cent coin,” he wrote. "The obverse is the one normally used for this series and features the bust of Queen Elizabeth. The reverse face of each coin carries a design normally seen on the Royal Canadian Mint medal that accompanies the 12-coin 25-cent piece Mint set produced in that year. The design features a map of Canada constructed from maple leaves."

The Map Mule coins can be found online being sold at prices around $400. For example, a Mint State 63 example sold for $436.99 on eBay in June 2014. 

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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.