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 Date large cent

So much change over such a small period of time.

The large cents of 1793 to 1814 – referred to as the Early Dates by their fans – underwent what might seem to a neophyte collector a bewildering series of rapid design changes, particularly when compared to the design stagnation that has affected the cent from 1909 to 1958 and from 1959 to 2008.

During the 22 years that constitute Early Date large cent production, four distinct obverse design types were introduced, used, and discarded in rapid succession, while two completely different reverse design themes were used, one for just 12 days.

COIN VALUES: See how much Early Date large cents are worth today

The cent was the first U.S. coin struck in quantity for circulation. The first cents were struck from March 1-12, 1793. Those first 36,103 coins represent one of the most desirable of all U.S. coins: the 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent.

The designs of the new cent garnered almost instant criticism. The reverse design in particular triggered outrage, as politicians and citizens misinterpreted the major design elements of a chain consisting of 15 interlocking links. Each link represented one of the 15 states of the Union, but many saw the design as a "chain of slavery." The obverse design – a bare-headed female allegorical portrait of Liberty with flowing locks of hair – was criticized for appearing mad.

The Chain reverse design was the first to go; it was replaced by a Wreath design. The new Flowing Hair Liberty was introduced on the obverse. The 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cent went into production on April 9, less than a month after production of the Flowing Hair, Chain cent ceased. Production nearly doubled, to 63,353 coins, before a new obverse design was introduced.

Production of the 1793 Liberty Cap, Wreath cent began in early September 1793. A completely new, less "savage" Liberty portrait was created. She remained bare-headed, but she also carried a pole topped by a Liberty cap over her shoulder. A completely different, two-branch, olive Wreath design was introduced, replacing the first Wreath design (composed of uncertain flora). Production of this version of the cent continued until April 1796.

The Draped Bust obverse design was used from July 1796 through December 1808. Liberty appears as a buxom female with long hair flowing below the shoulder line, and her bust draped in cloth (hence the name). Many were struck on planchets provided by a private firm in Great Britain!

The Classic Head cent – last of the Early Date cents – was in production from 1808 through 1814. Liberty wears a "fillet'" or headband bearing the word LIBERTY, the first time that word appeared as part of Liberty's portrait.

Early Date large cents offer many dozens of die varieties, an advanced area of collecting.

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.