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."


Know your U.S. coins: Early Quarter Dollars

Although the quarter dollar was authorized under the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, the denomination was not issued until four years later with the release of the Draped Bust, Small Eagle quarter dollar.

Mint Director Henry William DeSaussure persuaded renowned portraitist Gilbert Stuart to prepare a rendition of Liberty. Stuart chose Ann Bingham of Newport, R.I., to serve as his model. Sketches went to the Mint in August 1795.

The new design appeared on silver dollars later in the year, an appearance considered lackluster, to say the least. Stuart was not pleased with the engraving executed by Robert Scot, a bank note plate artist who, according to numismatic researcher Walter Breen, didn't have the vaguest idea how to sink a die or make a device punch. Scot's temporary assistant, John Eckstein, is credited with the reverse design of the small eagle on its cloud-shaped cushions within an oversized wreath of olive and palm branches.

Like the first half dimes, the first quarter dollars appeared without the denomination. Only 6,146 of the quarters were produced for circulation. The coins would have to be enough to last eight years, because that much time would pass before quarter dollar production was resumed.

There were two obverse and a single reverse die produced. Both obverse dies, however, contained just 15 stars, even though many of the coins produced from them were struck after June 1, 1796, the date of Tennessee's admission to the Union as the 16th state.

In 1804, the value 25 C. was included on the reverse below the eagle's tail feathers.

Numerals were employed until 1838 when the designation for the denomination was changed to QUAR DOL. on the Seated Liberty coins.

Production in 1804 was increased to only 6,738 coins. It would take another year, to 1805, before the production was pushed over the 100,000 mark, with 121,395 struck.

In 1804, Scot fabricated a reverse device punch for the Draped Bust quarter dollar using the Heraldic Eagle design he created eight years earlier based on the Great Seal of the United States.

A number of die varieties exist for the Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle coins, even though they were only produced between 1804 and 1807.

As early as 1801, German engraver John Reich sought to obtain full-time employment with the Philadelphia Mint. Reich had sold himself into indentured service to reach the United States during the Napoleonic Wars and would eventually design the Capped Bust quarter dollars (1815-1828), among other coins.

Reich was rebuffed in his efforts by Engraver Scot, who was unyielding to outsiders, presumably fearing replacement. With Scot's advanced age and declining health of utmost concern to Mint officials, Reich was hired in 1807 as an assistant engraver.

Reich's first assignment was to redesign all denominations.

His Capped Bust design first appeared on the half dollars and half eagles in 1807, then quarter eagles in 1808, dimes in 1809 and finally on the quarter dollars in 1815, the next time the banks ordered the denomination.

Breen reports the sporadic mintages of the quarter dollar denomination was reflective of the public's preference for Spanish and Mexican 2-real coins, which were legal tender at par even though lighter in weight.

The Capped Bust quarter dollar series offers a number of overdates: 1818/5, 1823/2, 1824/2, 1825/2, 1825/3 and 1825/4. During 1822, the reverse was blundered with the 25 struck over the 50 C.

According to Breen, the variety is "very rare, not because of die failure, but because this die was laid aside in horror as soon as impressions were examined."

"It was briefly resurrected in 1828, when the new Mint Engraver William Kneass could blame it on his late predecessor, and excuse its exhumation on grounds of economy."

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

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:


Dimes and half dimes:


Half 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.