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."


Are bullion coins legal tender?: Precious metals basics

No aspect of bullion coins is quite so important or quite so difficult to explain as legal tender status. Just what, in fact, constitutes a legal tender bullion coin is the matter of no little debate and seems to change from nation to nation.

Legal tender status for a bullion coin distinguishes it, at least in the mind of the collector or investor, from the many privately issued bullion pieces on the market. It is a badge of honor and legitimacy.

As an example, the American Arts Gold Medallion series of 1980 to 1984, though issued by the Bureau of the Mint under congressional mandate, was not afforded legal tender status. The distinction between “official,” which the medallions are, and “legal tender,” which they are not, may seem trivial to the point of an argument of semantics. However, the investors who were expected to purchase a minimum of a million ounces of the medallions every year stayed away in droves. The program was a failure.

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The American Arts Gold Medallions were designed with the investor in mind, the larger piece containing 1 ounce of fine gold and the smaller a half ounce. However, the pieces of 1980 and 1981 have a “medal-like” appearance. Obverses are portraits of the artist with the name above the bust. Reverses show a scene reminiscent of the artist with the legend american arts commemorative series and the date of issue around. The edges are plain.

In 1982 the pieces were altered to give them a more “coin-like” appearance. Reeded edges and rim beading were add­ed. Dates were moved into the field. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was added to the obverse and one ounce gold or one half ounce gold was added to the reverse.

In comparison to the Krugerrand, the later American Arts Gold Medallions certainly looked like bullion coins. The Krugerrand has a reeded edge and beading. The obverse has a portrait of Paul Kruger and SUID AFRICA • SOUTH AFRICA; the reverse the date, and the legends KRUGERRAND and FYN GOUD 1 OUNCE FINE GOLD around a springbok design.

Marketing attempts for the sale of the American Arts Gold Medallions included the name U.S. Gold, which was given the program by J. Aron & Co., the firm that contracted in 1983 to be the prime distributor of the U.S. Mint-produced gold medallions. The public did not respond to this marketing attempt. The Mint set up a telephone ordering system that was also unsuccessful.

The above is an excerpt from the eighth edition of the Coin World Almanac, published by Amos Media Company in 2011.

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.