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."


What is the Saddle Ridge Hoard and why was it such big news?

Three of the eight metal canisters from the “Saddle Ridge Hoard” are jammed with 19th century U.S. gold coins. One of the lids is for J.A. Folger & Company Golden Gate Brand Baking Powder. The style of can is from the 1880s, with embossed lettering. Folger also founded the coffee company that bears his surname.

Image courtesy of Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin’s Inc.

Editor's note: The following post is part of CoinWorld.com's 'Collecting Basics' series, which provides novice readers with an introduction into the numismatic hobby.

The Saddle Ridge Hoard is a notable collection of 1,427 U.S. gold coins of the 19th century discovered in 2013 by a couple walking their dog on their property in California gold country near the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Coin World senior editor Paul Gilkes reported in an article published online on May 16, 2014, that most of the coins, which were found stashed in eight metal cans, are Coronet $20 double eagles dated between 1855 and 1894, struck at the San Francisco Mint.

There are, however, coins that are dated as early as 1847 and as late as 1894, and coins that were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, Carson City Mint and Dahlonega Mint.

Altogether, the collection of coins is worth an estimated $10 million according to Kagin’s, the California dealer who helped the finders market the collection.

"The couple who found the stash of gold coins on their property while walking their dog early in February 2013 had traversed the landscape many times before and had even spotted one of the eight cans poking out of the ground,” Gilkes wrote. "Curiosity eventually became strong enough for the couple to investigate further. And what the couple discovered can only be described as miraculous.”

One of the Saddle Ridge coins is an 1866-S Coronet, No Motto gold $20 double eagle graded PCGS Mint State 62 that is the finest known certified by the grading service and estimated to be worth around $1 million.

Some of the coins were encrusted with dirt and rust after being buried for years in the deteriorating cans. Still, for many of the pieces, the surfaces of the coins underneath the encrusted dirt and rust were in remarkable condition.

David McCarthy, Kagin’s senior numismatist and researcher, described the first time he saw the coins after the couple brought them to Kagin’s in plastic bags.

“I picked up a double eagle dated 1890[-S] and removed it from its bag,” McCarthy said. "Looking at the tiny amount of metal that was exposed, I could see that the coin underneath was essentially perfect."

The find was made public in February 2014, though the couple remains anonymous, known only as John and Mary.”

"It’s impossible to describe really, the strange reality of that moment,” John said of discovering the first can of coins. "When I told [Mary], the look of bewilderment — her mouth was so wide open flies could have flown in and out several times.”

Mary said it was like finding “a wonderful hot potato."

The coins were listed for sale on Amazon and Kagin’s website in May with great fanfare to a market that was very curious about these coins. 

In a story published online on Aug. 22, Gilkes cited McCarthy as saying that roughly 75 percent of the coins had been sold.

Through Amazon, interest was shown from potential buyers in France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada, Brazil and Hong Kong. McCarthy said Saddle Ridge coins offered on Amazon were only available to U.S. customers at that time. 

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1901-S Barber quarter graded Good 4 and sold for $5,875 'nearly perfect for the grade': Market Analysis

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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.