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: Jefferson 5 cent series

If one word sums up the Jefferson 5-cent coin, it would be "change" because throughout its storied history it has endured many changes.

  • The Mint mark has been placed in three different locations, and disappeared completely for a time.
  • The designer's initials were added, but not until 1966, nearly two decades after the coin was introduced. (Coin World helped lead the successful public campaign to get Felix Schlag's initials on the coin.)
  • The composition was changed, with the nickel component dropped for nearly four years – mid-1942 through 1945 – from the coin most Americans call a "nickel.
  • It has been issued with multiple surface finishes: standard business strike, Brilliant Proof, Frosted Proof and a non-Proof Matte Finish.
  • The Jefferson 5-cent coin was selected for new designs as a way of commemorating Jefferson's role and the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Felix Schlag, a German-born designer, won a national design competition to replace the Indian Head 5-cent coin in 1938. Mint officials then still followed the 25-year rule (legally, still in effect today) that they interpreted as requiring design changes every 25 years. Although Schlag won, officials rejected his winning reverse design of Monticello as viewed from an oblique angle, and replaced it with the more static head-on view still used today.

COIN VALUES: See how much Jefferson 5-cent coins are worth today

World War II brought the most significant alloy change for the Jefferson 5-cent coin. The composition was significantly altered and the Mint mark relocated to note the alloy change. The short Wartime Alloy set is an inexpensive, popular one with collectors, totaling 12 coins.

The series is a fantastic one for die variety collectors: It has numerous repunched Mint marks, over Mint marks and doubled dies, including the 1943/2-P overdate variety. Many can be found unattributed in dealers' inventories at a fraction of their real values, if one knows what to look for.

Not counting the die varieties and some of the early Proofs, there is only one non-Proof Jefferson 5-cent coin that could be considered slightly scarce, and it is dated 1994! A special 1994-P Jefferson 5-cent coin was struck with a non-Proof Matte Finish. It was issued as part of the Jefferson Coin and Currency set (it comprises the Jefferson commemorative silver dollar, a Series 1976 $2 Federal Reserve note depicting Jefferson, and the special 5-cent coin). Final mintage of the special 5-cent coin was 167,703 pieces.

New Jefferson 5-cent designs were created under the banner of the "Westward Journey Nickel Program." In 2004 Jefferson's portrait was retained on the obverse and two new reverses were produced. One reverse design honors the Louisiana Purchase and features the design of the Jefferson Indian peace medal Lewis and Clark distributed to native leaders. The second depicts the larger boat the expedition used along the Missouri River for a portion of the journey. A new, right-facing Jefferson portrait was selected for the 2005 obverse and it was paired with two new commemorative reverses: A plains bison, one of the many animal species Lewis and Clark Expeditions members saw during their journeys; and a scene of the Pacific Ocean coastline representing the end of the westward journey of Lewis and Clark. A new full-facing portrait of Jefferson was added to the obverse in 2006 and Monticello was restored to the reverse.

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.