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: Barber half dollar

The Barber half dollar was issued in the U.S. from 1892 to 1915.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber had the daunting task of redesigning the half dollar along with the dime and quarter dollar denominations after a public design competition failed to generate satisfying alternatives.

The Mint Act of Sept. 26, 1890, allowed for coins in use for at least 25 years to be redesigned. The coins named after the engraver who designed them would be the first to be affected by the new mandate.

The final designs selected for the Barber half dollar would be the same as used for the quarter.

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

The obverse design Barber initially submitted showed Columbia standing holding a liberty pole with an eagle in the background. This design was ditched in favor of Mint Director Edward Leech's desire for a head of Liberty comparable to several French bronze and silver coins from the Third Republic.

For the reverse, Leech leaned toward the use of the national standard of a eagle symbolizing the nation's strength.

A number of pattern designs were submitted for the reverse of both the quarter and half dollar, but Mint and Treasury officials had difficulty in selecting a design. They took their time trying to settle on the number of points on the stars, the number of olive leaves and arrows.

The obverse design showing a bust right of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap encircled by a wreath captured 13 six-pointed stars instead of five-pointed stars (normally found on U.S. coins) around the visage.

The reverse design selection became somewhat more complicated. The adopted design dropped the clouds above the eagle's head, moved the stars from points around the eagle to the field above the eagle, and moved the ribbon with E PLURIBUS UNUM grasped in the eagle's beak running to behind the eagle's neck instead of in front.

On the adopted reverse, the eagle's right wing (left side of coin) crosses the letter E in UNITED below the middle serif, leaving most of the letter exposed.

The first Barber half dollars were ejected from the coinage presses at the Philadelphia Mint at 9 a.m. Jan 2, 1892.

Eight years later, the obverse hub for die production was modified for use on coins beginning in 1901. The difference is most readily seen in at Liberty's ear. The Type II hub has a fuller lobe and clearly defined rib of central cartilage.

Half dollars were struck at all four Mint production facilities for circulation: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver and New Orleans. There were no Barber half dollars struck in 1916.

There were also a number of Mint mark changes for the half dollar series, for New Orleans and San Francisco, according to David Lawrence's book, The Complete Guide to Barber Halves.

Most of the half dollars struck at the New Orleans Mint carry a medium-sized O Mint mark, while some of the later years (1903 and 1905) also have a more wide open O. A micro O Mint mark, the size of which was used on the Barber quarter, is found on some 1892 half dollars. It is also reported on some 1898 issues as well.

Lawrence notes at least four types of S Mint marks from San Francisco can be identified for the series. Early dates, 1892 to 1898, exhibited a well-rounded, closed Mint mark. A second type, also found on 1898 coins, is more open. The third type is straighter and more open and can be found as early as 1899.

The fourth type is a thin S that appears later in the series. Lawrence notes some years have several Mint mark types, and some examples carry Mint marks that do not match any of the four other identified types.

Barber half dollars were produced for the minimum 25 years, after which Adolph A. Weinman's Walking Liberty half dollar design was approved.

There are 73 coins by date and Mint mark to make up the basic set. The keys and the semi-keys to the Barber half dollar series include the 1892-O, 1895-S, 1913, 1914 and 1915. Other tough dates include 1892-O Micro O, 1893-S, 1894, 1896, 1896-O, 1896-S, 1897-O, 1897-S, 1898-O, 1901-S, 1903 and 1913-S.

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.