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 half dollar

Shield? Check.

Liberty cap on pole? Got it.

Rock? Right here.

Although this checklist is imaginary, it does seem to be what was used to design silver coinage in the mid- to late 1800s.

What was to become known as the Seated Liberty design – which used a shield, Liberty cap on pole with Liberty perched on a rock – can be found on more silver denominations than any other design.

Many designers and engravers participated in the process of transferring the design concept to the various denominations over the years and the half dollar was no exception.

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

Christian Gobrecht's original allegorical representation of Liberty seated on a large rock (based on a painting by Thomas Sully) is the dominant feature on the obverse. She holds a shield in one hand and a pole with Liberty cap in the other. The figure is surrounded by 13 stars.

Noted designer/engraver John Reich, probably best known for his Capped Bust design used on the half dime, dime, quarter dollar and half dollar, is credited with the Seated Liberty half dollar reverse. Reich's eagle, with wings raised, shield on breast, arrows and olive branch in claws, continues the heraldic reverse theme of earlier coinage.

The Seated Liberty half dollar experienced many of the same design changes through its 52-year run as did the half dimes and quarter dollars bearing the design: the addition of drapery or lack of drapery, and arrows and rays or no arrows nor rays. The design was discontinued in 1891 but not before the 20-cent and silver dollar denominations were issued.

There were several pattern design trial pieces struck for the 1838 half dollar.

Patterns are coins struck to try out a new size or design or denomination or even alloy or type of planchet. Trial pieces are struck to literally test a die being developed by the engraver. Two of the patterns for the Seated Liberty obverse show a design similar to the eagle design adopted – one has the eagle facing right, the other left. Another pattern shows an eagle in flight facing left, reminiscent of the obverse design for the Flying Eagle cent.

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.