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: Late Date large cent

Late Date Coronet cents were struck between 1840 and 1857

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

Better is not always best.

The increasing sophistication of minting technology at the second Philadelphia Mint was a godsend for production, but it all but eliminated significant die varieties on U.S. coins, including the Late Date Coronet cents of 1840 through 1857. Die variety collectors lament the sameness of production that arose with those improvements. For them, better is not best.

The improvement in die production did not completely eliminate large cent die varieties, but it made those that were produced less interesting, at least in the eyes of some. Varieties are primarily though not strictly limited to the dates.

Among the interesting Late Date varieties: the 1843 Coronet, Obverse of 1842, Reverse of 1844 cent; the 1844/81 variety, in which the engraver punching the date into the die attempted to stamp the first two numerals into the die upside down, where the 4s were meant to be; and the 1855 cents, some with slanting 5s and others with upright 5s.

However, despite the improvements in die production, the Late Date large cent series remains extremely collectible.

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

Researchers generally record 1840 as the first of the Late Date cents, although one 1839 obverse die, the Head of 1840, variety is identical to the portraits used from 1840 through 1843. New hubs were created in 1843, which show a slightly repositioned portrait and other modifications. The same hubs were used for the remainder of the series.

Annual mintages from 1840 through 1856 ranged from a low of 1.57 million (1855) to a high of 9.88 million (1851).

The large cent was an anachronism by the 1850s. Its heavy weight versus its limited buying power made it unpopular in commerce. Rising copper prices made the cent unprofitable to coin. An alternative became necessary.

A growing interest in a copper-nickel coinage (nickel lobbyists were powerful at the time) led to the approval of a smaller copper-nickel cent in 1857 to replace the aging large cent. The new, smaller 1857 Flying Eagle cent, authorized in the Act of Feb. 21, 1857, was released in quantity on May 27.

It was the end of one era, and the beginning of another.

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.