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 dime

It was the longest running design for any U.S. silver coin – the Seated Liberty obverse. It was used on the half dime, dime, 20-cent coin, quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar as well as some dollar patterns.

When it was used for the dime denomination, the design was tinkered with several times during its 55-year run. At any given time, the obverse design has featured stars and no stars; with drapery at the elbow and without drapery; with arrows at the date and without arrows; with legend, without legend.

Even the reverse wasn't exempt from change. From 1837 to 1860 it featured a berry-bedecked wreath. Then it was changed to display a "cereal" wreath made up of corn, wheat, maple and oak leaves.

COIN VALUES: See how much Seated Liberty dimes are worth today

Many designers participated in the series. The design used on the obverse from 1837 to 1840 was the work of Thomas Sully and Christian Gobrecht (Gobrecht also designed the berry-wreath reverse with legend).

The concept for the design began when U.S. Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson decided it was time to move away from John Reich's Capped Bust designs. Patterson liked the strength conveyed in the seated Brittania that was used on British coinage. He commissioned noted painters Sully and Titian Peale to submit designs favoring a Seated Liberty concept.

The new design apparently pleased Patterson and he assigned Gobrecht the task of engraving it. Gobrecht had been serving as a draughtsman and die sinker at the Mint, and assistant to then Engraver William Kneass since 1836. When Kneass died in 1840, Gobrecht succeeded him.

The obverse design depicts an allegorical figure of Liberty seated on a rock with her head looking back over her right shoulder. Her left hand holds a pole with Liberty cap on the upper end, while her right hand supports a shield resting against the rock. The word liberty appears on a ribbon held in place across the shield by Liberty's right hand. The date appears below the figure.

The first reverse design shows an open-ended wreath of two branches connected at the bottom with a ribbon tied into a bow, with the denomination one dime, rather than a numerical designation, within in the wreath.

Changes to the Gobrecht-Sully obverse were instituted by John Hughes in 1840. Hughes added drapery between Liberty's left arm and left thigh as well as more cloth over her bustline. He also fattened her arms, reduced her bust and the size of the rock she sits on, and straightened the shield to its full and upright position. In addition, arrows were added on either side of the date on coins dated 1853 through 1855.

In 1860, James B. Longacre removed the stars from the Hughes-Gobrecht-Sully design and moved the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA legend from the reverse to the obverse. He reintroduced arrows at the date from 1873 through 1875. Longacre is also credited with designing the cereal wreath used on the reverse. In fact, Longacre's reverse design remained in use until 1916 – even though the Barber dime obverse was introduced in 1892.

Despite the changes to design and even to fineness, the Seated Liberty dime remains popular with collectors.

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.