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 Eagle quarter

The Washington quarter dollar was born out of the Treasury Department's desire to produce a coin to mark the bicentennial of the birth of the first president of the United States.

Coinage presses had remained dormant for more than a year after production of Standing Liberty quarter dollars had ceased in 1930. Standing Liberty quarter dollars had only lasted for 14 years, not the 25 that the Mint Act of Sept. 26, 1890, afforded the secretary of the Treasury without needing special legislation.

Special legislation was needed to introduce the Washington coin. The bust originally was going to appear on a half dollar as proposed, but the bill was changed to reflect the use of the 25-cent denomination. Congress authorized the Washington quarter on March 4, 1931.

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

A design competition was staged with the mandate that the obverse had to be based on a bust of Washington sculptured into clay form in 1785 by Jean Antoine Houdon. The reverse had to depict a national symbol, such as a shield or eagle.

The designs submitted by Laura Gardin Fraser – designer of the Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar and wife of Indian Head 5-cent coin designer James Earle Fraser – were declared the competition winners. Although the Fraser designs were overwhelmingly recommended by the Commission of Fine Arts and the Washington Bicentennial Commission, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon rejected them.

Mellon favored another design from the more than 100 models that were submitted. Still, the commission pressed on with its selection of the Fraser models. The commission at one point had considered a suggestion that the eagle from the reverse of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle be replicated for the Washington quarter reverse, but the idea was scrapped as too provocative.

Mellon left office in early March 1932, with unsuccessful pressure put on Mellon's successor, Ogden Mills of New York, who also rejected Fraser's designs after carefully reviewing the issue.

In an April 16 letter to the Commission of Fine Arts, Mills made known his selection of the designs of sculptor John Flanagan.

The approved models used from 1932 through the beginning of 1934 proved unsatisfactory in that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was all but illegible and there was weakness in Washington's hair. Subsequently, the obverse hub has been modified numerous times over the years to sharpen details.

The reverse hubs have also been modified over the years with minor changes in details, mainly the leaves and lettering.

To celebrate the nation's Bicentennial, the reverses of the quarter dollar, as well as Kennedy half dollar and Eisenhower dollar, were changed for the dual-dated coins (1776-1976). The eagle on the reverse was replaced with Jack L. Ahr's Colonial drummer design, with 13 stars surrounding a flame.

The Bicentennial coins were struck in copper-nickel clad for circulation and silver clad for Proofs and special sets.

The key dates to the Washington series are both from the first year of issue - the 1932-D and 1932-S coins. They are the only two coins in the series with mintages under 1.6 million, with 436,800 and 408,000 coins respectively.

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.