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: Shield 5 cents

Nearly 75 years after the first silver 5-cent coin (Flowing Hair half dime) was struck, the copper-nickel Shield 5-cent coin began its relatively short (24 years) span from 1866 to 1889.

The date of authorization for the new composition 5-cent coin was May 16, 1866. Less than one month later on June 11, 1866, the coins were officially struck and released to the public. For seven years, the United States Mint struck two compositions of the 5-cent denomination, as production of the silver half dime continued through 1873.

COIN VALUES: See how much your 5 cent coin is worth today 

The Shield 5-cent coin was designed and engraved by James B. Longacre. Its copper-nickel metallic content is 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. The edge of the coin is plain and because all of these 5-cent coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, the coin has no Mint mark.

Collectors of this series have the choice of obtaining coins struck as Proof or as business strikes. However, coins dated 1877 and 1878 were struck only as Proof.

The design used during the initial year, 1866, features rays on the reverse extending outward from the 5. The Rays design was discontinued in 1867, with both Rays and No Rays versions struck.

The 1880 coin ranks as the No. 1 rarity as a business strike for the series. It is certainly a key date.

The only overdate in the series was struck during the last year of production for the series. The 1883/2 is a semi-key and desired by collectors in all circulated grades.

Besides the Proof 1877, the 1866 and 1867 Rays 5-cent coins are very popular among collectors. The key Proof of the series is the 1867 With Rays variety, with an estimated 15 to 25 known specimens.

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.