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."


1970s leads to devalued dollar, high gold values

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The economic crisis in the United States worsened as the balance of payments deficit persisted. Therefore, on Aug. 16, 1971, President Nixon an­nounced the United States was freeing the dollar for devaluation against other currencies by suspending the full convertibility of foreign-held dollars into gold. This inconvertibility meant no foreign government could convert dollars into Treasury-held gold; thus, the tie between the dollar and gold was severed.

The devaluation of the dollar occurred Dec. 18, 1971, and was accomplished by raising the official price of gold from $35 to $38 an ounce. Other currencies were juggled up or down into a new pattern of exchange rates. Throughout 1972 the price of gold on the free market climbed until it leveled off in December at $61 an ounce.

MORE: CoinWorld.com's precious metals basics

Economists and monetary authorities almost unanimously regarded the 8.57 percent devaluation of the dollar as inadequate. And, since the dollar was no longer exchangeable for gold, it made little difference that the price at which the Treasury did not sell gold was raised from $35 to $38 an ounce. Another devaluation was forced, then, in February 1973. Treasury Secretary George Shultz announced that the dollar would be devalued 10 percent against SDRs (and so against gold) with the official monetary price of gold raised from $38 to $42.22 an ounce.

The price of gold on the London market took a sharp leap upward, breaking through the $100 an ounce barrier on May 14, 1973. Official stocks of gold were virtually frozen because no central bank would give up gold at the official price of $42.22 an ounce when the free market price had climbed so far above it.

The above is an excerpt from the eighth edition of the Coin World Almanac, published by Amos Media Company in 2011.

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.