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: 2-cent

The Civil War brought lots of hardship to citizens on both sides of the conflict. One of those hardships was the lack of small change to transact the daily business of life.

As a solution many merchants in the North began issuing their own privately struck tokens. The federal government did not consider these tokens to be legal tender issues and officials were becoming increasingly concerned about the proliferation of the tokens.

An Act of April 22, 1864, authorized a change in the composition of the 1-cent coin as well as the striking of the 2-cent coins.

COIN VALUES: See how much U.S. 2-cent coins are worth today

Mint Engraver James B. Longacre suggested an obverse design featuring a national shield with stripes in front of two crossed arrows. The shield is flanked by laurel branches. Above the shield is a ribbon designed to bear a legend, several of which were suggested.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase approved Longacre's design and chose "In God We Trust" for the motto on the ribbon. The 2-cent coin was the first U.S. coin to bear this motto.

Some say the adopted motto for the coin, the first U.S. coin to carry it, was influenced by "In Deo Speramus" or "In God We Hope," the motto of Brown University, from which Chase was graduated.

But credit for the motto idea is most commonly given to Baptist minister Mark R. Watkinson, who wrote to Chase on Nov. 13, 1861, suggesting that U.S. coins bear some recognition of God. In his letter to Chase, he said such an addition would "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism."

Chase took the matter under consideration and in a Nov. 20, 1861, letter to the Mint director, Chase stated: "No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition."

Two varieties exist for the 1864 issues - Small Letters motto and Large Letters motto. Both some early Proofs as well as business strikes were struck with the Small Letters die. A new master hub was used for the remainder of the issues of 1864 through 1870. They can be identified by the Large Letters motto, making two major varieties of the first year of issue to be collected.

About 20 million 2-cent coins were issued in 1864. Production declined to less than 14 million the following year and continued until long after the Civil War. The issue of 1872 was the last of the business strikes. About 600 Proof 1873 pieces were struck as part of sets distributed to collectors. The Act of March 3, 1871, authorizing the Mint to redeem and melt 2-cent coins, is another reason for the scarcity of this date.

According to Q. David Bowers' United States Copper Coins, "the rarest date in the 2-cent series is the Proof-only 1873. Rare varieties within the series include the 1864 with small motto, the 1867 with in god we trust doubled, and the very rare 1869/8 overdate. Of the later piece, probably no more than two or three dozen, if indeed that many, exist."

Two-cent coins are collected by dates by some but for others finding a single example from the series is enough to provide a representative type set of U.S. coins.

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.