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."

Numismatic

Know your U.S. coins: Walking Liberty half dollar

Walk right into the world of collecting Walking Liberty half dollar coins, a series struck between 1916 and 1945.

Adolph A. Weinman's obverse design for the Walking Liberty half dollar has been hailed as one of the greatest of all time. It depicts a full-length allegorical Liberty striding left, garbed in the stars and stripes of Old Glory. Liberty carries in her left hand branches of laurel and oak. Her right hand is outstretched as she walks toward the dawn of a new day represented by the rising sun with rays. A large, plain field is on the right, at Liberty's back. Dominating the reverse is a left-facing fearless and powerful eagle captured with his wings about to unfold to begin flight from his perch atop a mountain crag. In the foreground is a mountain pine sapling springing from a rift in the rock. Open field space occupies a very small portion of the reverse.

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

Weinman had a busy year in 1916. His models for the dime and half dollar won coinage design contests. They have remarkably similar heads, although the depiction of Liberty on the half dollar does not have a winged cap.

The D Mint mark for Denver or S for San Francisco appears in the obverse field on all 1916 and early 1917 issue Walking Liberty half dollars. The Mint mark was moved to below and to the left of the mountain pine near the rim on the reverse beginning later in 1917. Various repunched Mint mark varieties are cataloged for the series. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint without a Mint mark.

A problem encountered throughout the series is the typical weak strike. The obverse facial details and hand holding a branch are typically weak. The hand is directly in line with the high points of the eagle's breast and left leg on the reverse, which is also typically either weakly struck or the first place to wear.

There simply wasn't enough metal to properly fill those design elements.

There are a number of challenging key dates to seek out in this series. Nine issues have a mintage of less than 1 million pieces each. These are 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D (on obverse), 1917-S (on obverse), 1919, 1921, 1921-D, 1921-S and 1938-D. The lowest mintage of all is 1921-D at 208,000 pieces.

The Walking Liberty half dollar appears in U.S. Proof sets of 1936 to 1942. The 1936 has the lowest Proof mintage at 3,901 pieces. The highest mintage is 21,120 pieces for 1942.

There are early dated Proofs struck individually, rather than for sets. There are, as an example, at least three known Satin Finish Proofs of the 1917 half dollar.

There are two varieties of the 1941 Proof coin, with and without the designer's initials.

It took seven revisions before the Weinman design could be used on the half dollar. This was due to the high relief in several places. Patterns exist of the Walking Liberty half dollar in several stages of its development.

Although officially none of these patterns were ever released, examples are known in private hands.

The design for the half dollar could be legally changed after July 1, 1941, 25 years having passed since its introduction.

However, wartime demands on the Mint allowed this design to continue through 1947. The Walking Liberty half dollar was replaced with a design depicting Benjamin Franklin in 1948.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:

Nickels:

Dimes and half dimes:

Quarters:

Half dollars:

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.