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: Middle Date large cents

John D. Wright, cataloger extraordinarie of the large cents of 1816 to 1839, writes that the series collectors refer to as the Middle Dates offers "more bang-for-the-buck than the ones either before (too many bucks) or after (not enough bang)."

Catalogers of large cents generally classify cents as the Early Dates (1793 to 1814); the Middle Dates (1816 to 1839; no 1815 cents were struck); and the Late Dates (1840 to 1857). Wright's reference to "too many bucks" for the Early Date cents characterizes the expense involved in acquiring the many rare die varieties and dates, while his comment "not enough bang" refers to technological improvements to the minting process that make the cents of 1840 to 1857 less interesting (at least to some).

To a neophyte, the cents of 1816 to 1857 appear to have the same designs: a portrait of Liberty wearing a coronet on the obverse, a wreath on the reverse). However, specialists know that the designs of the Middle Date cents are variations on that Coronet Liberty-Wreath theme. All are not the same.

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

Why are the Middle Date cents so interesting?

Wright writes that the Middle Date series offers enough "specialty" that he would never feel the letdown of the "complete collection syndrome" that one feels when "plugging that last hole in each album."

The fun is in the chase and in the seeking, Wright writes, not in the having. And what a chase it can be.

Collectors can choose from several ways to collect Middle Date cents, Wright advises. One approach is a date set. Another way to approach the series is to collect one of each date and major varieties. A third approach is to focus on a single year. A fourth approach involves chasing after all of the nearly 250 die varieties (the approach that has kept John Wright so happy over the years).

Expanding that latter goal to include die states, and one has a goal that will probably never be completed. Other approaches include collecting errors. Whatever your approach, you'll have fun with Middle Date cents.

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.