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: Seated Liberty dollar

Thirty-three years isn't a very long life by most people's reckoning. But if the Seated Liberty silver dollar design had a tombstone that's the story the dates 1840 to 1873 would tell.

It was just three years after the Seated Liberty design was used on the half dime that the Seated Liberty silver dollar was introduced.

COIN VALUES: See how much Seated Liberty dollar coins are worth today

By the time a new design for the silver dollar was presented (William Barber's Trade dollar, which was a variation of the Seated Liberty design), the concept of a Seated Liberty with Liberty cap, pole and shield seemed to have run its course.

Only one other denomination would be struck with the design after production of the silver dollar ceased in 1873 – the short-lived 20-cent coin.

Both the silver dollar and the half dime denominations bearing the Christian Gobrecht-Robert Hughes-Thomas Sully concept were discontinued in 1873.

It would be almost another 20 years before the design disappeared from the U.S. Mint engravers' repertoire altogether.

There are some similarities to the Trade dollar design adopted in 1873: a seated allegorical figure representing Liberty and an eagle on the reverse. But the similarity ends there.

The Seated Liberty silver dollar retains drapery behind Liberty's left elbow. The design doesn't require the arrows and rays used on previous incarnations of the design on lower denominations because the silver content remained steady throughout its run.

The only noticeable difference during the 33 years this type of silver dollar was struck occurred in 1866 when Treasury officials decreed all $20 gold double eagles, $10 gold eagles, $5 gold half eagles, silver dollars, half dollars and quarter dollars were to incorporate the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse.

On the Seated Liberty design, the motto appears on a ribbon below the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA legend and above the eagle's head. The denomination, located beneath the eagle's feet, is expressed as ONE DOL. The eagle still bears a shield on its breast and arrows and an olive branch in its talons. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA appears along the top half of the reverse.

Seated Liberty dollars are collected by date and Mint mark and by major varieties. The key and semi-key dates are so numerous (21 and eight respectively) that most collectors shy away from trying to complete such a set.

A complete collection of Seated Liberty dollars, dated 1840 through 1873 comprises 46 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.