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: Washington, D.C./U.S. Territories quarters

Six quarters were issued during 2009 with reverses honoring the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands (pictured here) and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

Soon after the 50 States quarter dollar program was launched, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., began her quest for recognition of the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories on the reverse of the circulating Washington quarter dollar. She introduced legislation five times, gaining passage in the House of Representatives. However, her initiatives were blocked in the U.S. Senate because the legislation was viewed by opponents as a backdoor attempt to gain statehood for the federal district.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., who was the chief sponsor of the legislation that created the 50 State quarters program, declared his support for quarter dollars honoring the district and the territories soon after the launch of the State quarters program and joined Norton in working to obtain its passage. They achieved success at the close of the 110th Congress by attaching the bill to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (PL 110-147) signed into law Dec. 21, 2007, some 10 years after the approval of the 50 States quarters law.

COIN VALUES: See how much Washington quarter coins are worth today

Six quarters were issued during 2009 with reverses honoring the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. According to the Mint they were issued in equal sequential intervals throughout the year. The District of Columbia quarter was issued Jan. 26.

The John Flanagan's obverse design of George Washington modified by William Cousins (unchanged from the 50 State quarters obverse) appears on each. The reverses honor the District of Columbia and the territories.

The authorizing laws required the secretary of the Treasury to approve each reverse design after consulting with the chief executive of the District of Columbia or the territory being honored and the Commission of Fine Arts, after review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

The authorizing law provides for the coins to be struck for commerce, Uncirculated and Proof versions, as well as a 90 percent silver. 

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.