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: Classic Head $5 half eagle

The Classic Head $5 gold half eagle was issued between 1834 and 1838.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

Classic is defined as serving as a standard of excellence, something traditional or enduring.

Those characteristics aptly describe the Classic Head design used on the gold $5 half eagle coins struck from 1834 to 1838. The design, also used on the 1834 to 1838 $2.50 quarter eagles, was the work of William Kneass who served as the third United States Mint chief engraver.

Kneass was appointed to the position Jan. 28, 1824, for a salary of $2,000 a year. He replaced Robert Scot, who died in 1823.

Many researchers say a friend of Kneass's, Adam Eckfeldt, the chief coiner at that time, was most responsible for his appointment.

Not much more is known about the man who is also credited with designing a pattern for a half dollar dated 1838.

COIN VALUES: See how much your Classic Head $5 half eagle is worth today 

Kneass suffered a stroke in 1835, and died in office five years later. His Classic Head design was among the last examples of his work.

His interpretation of Liberty wears a headband bearing the word LIBERTY. The design is similar to John Reich's design for the Classic Head large cent, which was the first time that word appeared as part of Liberty's portrait.

The reverse design was a collaboration between John Reich and Kneass. The eagle with wings outspread has its head turned to the left with a shield on its breast and olive branches and arrows clasped in its talons.

During the first two years of issue the Classic Head half eagle's metallic content was 89.92 percent gold, 10.08 percent copper and silver. On Jan. 18, 1837, Congress authorized a change in the gold to .900 fineness for the half eagle. After that, the coin's metallic content was 90 percent gold, 10 percent copper and 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.