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: Copper-nickel 3-cent

The war between the North and the South ended April 9, 1865. Five days later President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

Not exactly an auspicious backdrop for the introduction of a new U.S. coin denomination – the copper-nickel 3-cent coin – but one that links it forever to an important time in American history.

The need for a 3-cent coin was voiced as early as 1849 – before the introduction of the 2-cent coin in 1864 – when the Washington Globe made the following observation: "It would be an improvement in our currency, if there were a two-and-a-half or three-cent piece of silver, or of a mixture of silver and copper. There is everywhere in Spanish America a silver coin called a cuartillo, which is the fourth part of a real (12½ cents), the cuartillo being of course 3 1/8 cents. This is the smallest coin; and instead of a smaller, eggs are used in some places, and in others grains of cacao. A three-cent piece would be found to be very useful and convenient, as it would not then be necessary to use the copper cents to the extent they are now used, which though answering every purpose for which they were intended, are still heavy and inconvenient, and copper being very soft and very oxidizable, is not particularly well adapted for either tasting, smelling or handling.'" Others agreed in Washington with the Globe's logic. Congress debated and then on March 3, 1851, authorized a silver 3-cent coin. The first silver 3-cent coins were struck later that year.

But that was not the end of the push for a circulating 3-cent coin.

The story leading up to the striking of the copper-nickel 3-cent coin involves several players, most notably – a Mint director, a metallurgist/mining investor, and congressional leaders.

In 1863, during U.S. Mint Director James Pollock's first term, metallurgist James Wharton became interested in nickel. According to Don Taxay's The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Wharton was apparently encouraged by Pollock to undertake its extraction.

Rep. John Adam Kasson, R-Iowa, was an opponent of using nickel but eventually, due to the nationwide disgust with the paper fractional currency notes, he relented. Congress authorized production of a 3-cent coin in copper-nickel. The copper-nickel 3-cent coin, designed by James B. Longacre, was introduced in 1865. His obverse design features Liberty wearing a coronet with a ribbon in her hair. Longacre's theme of a coronet-crowned Liberty can be found in the Coronet gold dollar series of 1849-1854 and the Coronet $20 double eagle of 1850-1907.

There are some slight differences between the depiction of Liberty on the copper-nickel 3-cent coin and the gold dollar and double eagle. On the 3-cent coin, Liberty wears a ribbon in her curls in addition to the coronet. On the gold dollar, Liberty's curls stop at the base of her neck, while in the $20 gold piece Liberty's curls cover the back of her neck and the edge of the bust.

But despite the small changes, the essence of Longacre's regal personification of Liberty – as she appears on the 3-cent coin – remains the same.

The reverse design is a Roman numeral III with the same wreath as used on the 1859 Indian Head cent (also designed by Longacre, who frequently mined earlier coin designs when designing later issues).

The high mintage year for the copper-nickel 3-cent coin was 1865, when 11,382,000 were struck. Mintages for the copper-nickel 3-cent coin drop off for every year after that with the least amount of coins struck in 1884 with 1,700 and only 1,000 in 1884.

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.