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."


Collector Basics: Educational notes tell a story

This Series 1896 $1 silver certificate is known as an Educational note. In the main vignette, known as History Instructing Youth, a female allegorical representation of history reclines on a stone bench, one arm around a young child and the other arm pointing to a stone tablet featuring a portion of the U.S. Constitution, located at the end of the bench.

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Series 1896 $1, $2 and $5 silver certificates are called Educational notes. Many collectors consider the designs as the crème de la crème of all notes produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

The nickname “Educational” most likely came about because of the theme of the designs on the $1 denomination. The vignette is known as History Instructing Youth and depicts a female allegorical representation of history reclining on a stone bench with one arm around a young child and the other arm pointing to a stone tablet featuring a portion of the U.S. Constitution, located at the end of the bench. In the background of the vignette are the Washington Monument and the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

On three sides of the main scene are 23 wreaths, each bearing the last name of a statesman, military hero, inventor, writer, poet or other well-known American. The design was adapted from a mural by artist Will H. Low.

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.