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."


Collector Basics: Philadelphia Mint is main U.S. Mint

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Coin World Collector Basics posts on facilities under the U.S. Mint’s jurisdiction.

The Philadelphia Mint is the original federal Mint, authorized by Congress through the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792. Since then, the Philadelphia Mint has existed at four different locations.

Until the 1830s, the Philadelphia Mint was the nation’s sole federal Mint. Starting in the mid-1830s, Branch Mints were opened in other cities, with the Philadelphia Mint being the “main” or “mother” Mint and site of the Mint director’s offices.

The Branch Mint era ended with the Mint Act of 1873; Mint headquarters was moved to Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Mint and the former Branch Mints were placed on equal footing, though for most of its history, the Philadelphia Mint was the sole facility with the capability of making the hubs and dies for striking coins.

The first U.S. Mint at Philadelphia was built on Seventh Street in 1792. It was there in the facility’s several buildings that many of the nation's first patterns and coins were struck, including 1792 silver half dismes, 1792 Birch cents and 1792 Silver Center cents; 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain and 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath cents; and 1794 Flowing Hair dollars.

Since 1792, the Philadelphia Mint has been the sole home to the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff of sculptor-engravers and medallic sculptors. Today, the Philadelphia facility, at Fifth and Arch streets, also houses all of the technology and design development staff and produces most of the tooling for the production of 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.