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: Winged Liberty Head dime

Let's set one fact straight from the very beginning: Adolph A. Weinman never intended his design for the obverse of the new dime introduced in 1916 to represent Mercury, that male, fleet-of-foot, Roman god of messengers. The female visage (there's no hint of androgyny about her portrait, so how she could be mistaken for a male god is a mystery) on the new dime is that of Liberty, her winged cap symbolizing, in Weiman's own words, "liberty of thought," not fleetness of foot.

The Winged Liberty Head dime – popularly though erroneously known as the "Mercury dime" – is considered by many the most attractive U.S. 10-cent coin.

COIN VALUES: See how much Winged Liberty Head dimes are worth today

Weinman's dime was issued during the renaissance of U.S. coinage design, which began in 1907 and 1908 with the new gold designs; continued in 1913 with the Indian Head 5-cent coin; and reached its zenith in 1916 with stunning new designs for the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar.

The introduction of the 1916 Winged Liberty Head dime prompted nearly universal praise from the coin collecting community. Weinman's designs were instantly recognized as brilliant.

There are no truly rare dates in the Winged Liberty Head dime series, although there are some scarce die varieties that are not essential for a date and Mint mark set.

If the figure on Adolph A. Weinman's dime isn't Mercury, who was she? She was Elsie Kachel Stevens, the young wife of poet Wallace Stevens, was Weinman's model.

Wallace and Elsie Stevens rented rooms in a house owned by Weinman. The artist-sculptor asked Elsie to pose for a sculpture bust about 1913. She agreed.

Weinman used his bust of Elsie Stevens as a model for the dime, when he began designing it in 1915. A profile photograph of the bust shows the obvious inspiration for the dime.

Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Weinman's bust is unknown. It disappeared after Wallace Stevens' death, and after their daughter declined to accept it as a gift from her mother.

One thing collectors should be aware of is the large numbers of Winged Liberty Head dimes with machine doubling, especially in the date area. Machine doubling is caused by a mishap in the minting process and while considered collectible by a few, generally adds no premium to a coin. Machine doubling should not be mistaken for doubled die doubling.

Two doubled die varieties are among most desirable coins. The most significant die varieties in the series are the 1942/1 and 1942/1-D Winged Liberty Head, Doubled Die dimes, commonly called overdates.

The coins are not overdates in the traditional, pre-20th century sense (i.e., no one punched the numeral 2 over the numeral 1 in the date). Instead, they are doubled dies, just like the famous 1955 and 1972 Lincoln, Doubled Die cents.

The two varieties were created when two dies, one intended for the Philadelphia Mint and the other for Denver, were impressed first with a hub dated 1941, and then impressed a second time with a hub dated 1942.

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:

More from CoinWorld.com:

The 34 million worth of silver coins from SS city of Cairo wreck have been melted

NGC identifies two 2014 American Eagle tenth-ounce gold bullion coins with narrow reeds

Voices: Langbord Case – What are those 1933 Saint – Gaudens double eagles worth?

The curious 1837 dime in an NGC black holder (or, when a coin in a MS-65 slab is valued like an MS-67)

First domestic case of ‘design creep’

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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.