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 Half Dime

If the United States Mint were to issue a coin today that bore absolutely no reference to its denomination, Congress would likely launch an investigation. However, the Mint did issue a coin that for its first nine years of production, despite several design changes, bore no denominational markings of any kind.

It was the half dime.

Or is that half disme?

COIN VALUES: See how much your Early Half Dimes are worth today

The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, authorized a half disme – a silver 5-cent coin – as the smallest of the silver denominations. The unusual spelling – disme – was also used for the 10-cent coin that we today call the dime.

According to the late Walter Breen, Mint officials used both spellings – "dime" and "disme" – until 1835-36.

The words "half dime," with the traditional spelling, weren't used as a legend on the silver 5-cent coin until 1837, when the Seated Liberty design was introduced.

Interestingly, the 1792 pattern pieces do bear a denominational reference: the words HALF DISME. (Some of these 1792 patterns may have circulated.)

However, the first two half dimes (or half dismes) issued for general circulation bear no denominational markings of any kind, even on the edge (which was too thin to be lettered as on the silver dollar and half dollar, and on the copper half cent and cent), which is reeded.

The Flowing Hair half dime was issued in 1794 and 1795 only. The Draped Bust, Small Eagle design was used in 1796 and 1797. The Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle design was issued in 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1805.

The third series – the Capped Bust half dime – was introduced in 1829. It bears on its reverse the denomination as 5 C.

Early half dimes offer much to variety collectors. The hands-on approach to die production resulted in overdates (like the 1796/5); misspelled words (LIKERTY); different star counts (13, 15 and 16 in 1797); and more.

The earliest of the early half dimes can be expensive. However, for collectors willing to spend a little time and money, it's a great collection to build. Early half dimes aren't cheap, even in low grades. Forget about a Mint State set, even if such a set were possible. It would probably take a collecting lifetime and a fortune to complete.

Capped Bust half dimes are much more affordable, even in Mint State. The best approach to the early half dimes might be a complete set of Capped Bust half dimes, and type specimens of the early designs. You'll need three: the Flowing Hair, Small Eagle; Draped Bust, Small Eagle; and Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle.

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.