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 dimes

Liberty never wore her hair completely free and unfettered by a ribbon or turban on the first dimes, unlike the allegorical figure on the Flowing Hair half dimes, half dollars and dollars. Instead, Liberty appeared in her Draped Bust guise on the first dime (or disme, as it was alternatively spelled then) in 1796, her hair restrained (though only lightly) by a ribbon bound in back.

COIN VALUES: See how much your Early dimes would are worth today

Dimes took a somewhat different design path than did the half dimes. Introduced as they were two years after the first half dimes, half dollars and dollars, the 1796 dimes went into production with the Draped Bust design, introduced in 1795 on the silver dollar and in 1796 on the half dime, quarter dollar and half dollar.

Like the half dimes of 1794 through 1805, the first dimes (1796 through 1807) bear no representation of their 10-cent denomination, either on the Small Eagle reverse of 1796 to 1797 or the Heraldic Eagle reverse of 1798 to 1807. The Draped Bust obverse design was used with both reverse designs. The Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle designs were replaced in 1809 with the Capped Bust, Lifted Wings dime, the latter designation given to the eagle reverse in Early United States Dimes: 1796-1837, the standard reference work on the subject. Unlike the two previous reverse designs, the Lifted Wings reverse bears a denominational marking in the form of 10 C. (the C. is the abbreviation for Cents). Both designs were used through 1837, although slight modifications were made when the close collar was introduced to replace the open collar about 1827-28.

The five authors of Early United States Dimes: 1796-1837 believe that the classification of Capped Bust dimes as Large Diameter and Small Diameter varieties is incorrect. Instead, they believe the changes in diameter resulted from changes in minting equipment, specifically the collar, in the late 1820s.

Prior to 1828, edge designs were applied to silver planchets in a separate process before striking (generally). Planchets were placed into a Castaing machine, which applied the reeding, lettered inscription or other edge design appropriate for the denomination and date.

In order to not damage the edge design elements during striking, an open collar was used. The opening in the collar was larger than the planchet. During striking, the metal of the planchet spread slightly, but not to the limits of the open collar (as long as the planchet was centered properly on the anvil die).

The introduction of the close collar, however, changed minting procedures. The open collar was replaced with a close, reeded or grooved collar with a smaller opening. The planchet spread during striking, with the metal of the edge flowing into the grooves inside the collar. The use of the close collar eliminated the need for the open collar and Castaing machine, since the designs for all three sides of the coin – obverse, reverse and edge – were generated at the moment of striking.

The authors of Early United States Dimes find no clear separation between Large Diameter and Small Diameter dimes. Instead, they find a gradually reducing diameter from 1827 to 1832, and a gradually increasing diameter from 1834 to 1837. They believe the open collar and close collar explain the differences in diameter.

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.