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: Lincoln cent series

The Lincoln cent was introduced to honor the nation's 16th president on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Both sides of the coin introduced in 1909 were designed by Victor D. Brenner. Coins struck from June to Aug. 5 depict the initials V.D.B. at six o'clock on the reverse.

The initials on the reverse were believed to be too conspicuous by some and due to negative newspaper coverage were removed from coins struck later during 1909 by order of the secretary of the Treasury. That action resulted in the 1909 and 1909-S varieties, both with and without V.D.B. The coins with the initials are scarcer, with the 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent being a key coin in the series.

COIN VALUES: See how much Lincoln cents are worth today

The initials were restored to the coin in 1918, but were placed on the obverse at the left lower part of the truncation, where they appear on all Lincoln cents after that date.

The Lincoln Memorial reverse designed by Frank Gasparro was introduced in 1959 to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

The Memorial reverse made the Lincoln cent the first U.S. coin struck for circulation to depict the same person on both the obverse and reverse, since a statue of Lincoln can be seen inside the memorial on the reverse.

In 2010, the Shield reverse was introduced, which according to a U.S. Mint release at the time, "features a union shield with a scroll draped across and the inscription ONE CENT."

Sixteen type coins by design and composition can be collected to complete a type set of Lincoln cents: the 1909 with reverse initials v.d.b., 1910-17 without initials, 1918-58 Wheat reverse with obverse initials v.d.b., 1943 (zinc-coated steel), 1944-46 (95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc), 1959-62 Lincoln Memorial reverse (with 95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc and tin composition), 1962-82 (95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc); 1982 to 2008 Lincoln Memorial reverse (99.2 percent zinc, 0.8 percent copper) and the four new reverses produced honoring the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth and centennial of the coin design produced both in 99.2 percent zinc, 0.8 percent copper and the original 95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc and tin.

The 1943 issue during World War II is probably one of the best known failures in the U.S. coinage system. The zinc-coated steel cents are magnetic and will not work in most vending machines. The zinc quickly deteriorates in use. At the time the 1943 cent was issued, the public complained the coin was being confused with dimes in use.

An almost legendary error from this period is the 1943 copper composition cent. The few genuine specimens apparently were made by accident when some copper-alloy planchets used for 1942 cents became mixed with steel planchets.

Likewise, there are 1944 zinc-coated steel cent errors. Although the Mint did not use the steel planchets for U.S. coins after 1943, it did use them to strike foreign coins in 1944. Again, steel planchets were mixed with the copper alloy planchets, resulting in the error.

Key dates in the series are generally accepted to be the 1909-S V.D.B., 1909-S, 1914-D, 1922-D No D, 1924-D, 1931-S, 1955 Doubled Die and 1972 Doubled Die.

The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-145) authorized the United States Mint to issue four different Lincoln cent reverses throughout 2009 to recognize the bicentennial anniversary of Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the production of the Lincoln cent. Brenner’s likeness of Lincoln continues on the obverse. The reverse designs are emblematic of four periods, or themes, in Lincoln’s life: His birth and early childhood in Kentucky; his formative years in Indiana; his professional life in Illinois; and his presidency in Washington, D.C. At the conclusion of the bicentennial year, beginning in 2010, the Lincoln cent coin will feature a reverse design emblematic of Lincoln's preservation of the union.

Each of the four 2009 reverses include the inscription 1809, the year Lincoln was born. The reverse designs include: Childhood in Kentucky designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Master Designer Richard Masters and sculptured by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Jim Licaretz; Formative Years in Indiana designed and sculptured by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Charles Vickers; Professional Life in Illinois designed by United States Mint AIP Master Designer Joel Iskowitz and sculptured by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Don Everhart; Presidency in D.C. designed by United States Mint AIP Master Designer Susan Gamble and sculptured by United States Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna.

The United States Mint also will issue numismatic versions of the four redesigned 2009 Lincoln cent reverses with exactly the same metallic content as the 1909 coin (95 percent copper, 5 percent tin and zinc). They will be struck. Proof and Uncirculated conditions, and will be included in the United States Mint's annual numismatic set offerings.

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.