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: Washington, 50 states quarter

The 50 States quarter program proved Americans like change. From the outset in 1999, the public embraced the new designs, providing undeniable proof the mindset long engrained at the United States Treasury that insisted Americans would find new circulating designs confusing and therefore reject them was premised on nothing more than bureaucratic inertia.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., shepherded through Congress legislation that became Public Law 105-124, a 10-year initiative commemorating each of the 50 United States with a reverse on the circulating Washington quarter dollar.

During the 10 years of issue (1999 to 2008) the U.S. Mint reported that more than 140 million Americans were collecting the 50 State quarter dollars. And at its conclusion in 2008, the series was hailed as the most successful coinage program in the history of the U.S. Mint.

COIN VALUES: See how much Washington quarter coins are worth today

State quarters were struck for general circulation, but they were also offered in a multitude of collector products in different finishes in both the copper-nickel clad alloy and 90 percent silver. The U.S. Mint produced five new reverse designs each year in 10-week intervals in the order the states entered the union.

A modified version of John Flanagan's portrait of George Washington serves as the common obverse. To accommodate state designs on the reverse, the legends united states of america, quarter dollar, liberty, and IN GOD WE TRUST all appear on the obverse. Each reverse design has a different theme and carries the name of the state being honored, the year it entered the union and the year it was issued.

States chose a variety of ways to decide upon appropriate themes and design concepts, from public competitions to committee recommendations. The U.S. Mint reviewed design concepts for coinability and both the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts provided recommendations regarding the artistic merits and historic appropriateness. Ultimately each reverse design was recommended by the governor of the state being honored with final selection by the secretary of the Treasury.

All final design were rendered by U.S. Mint sculptor-engravers, contracted designers or Artistic Infusion Program artists contracted by the Mint from design concepts or word descriptions.

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.