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: San Francisco Mint a response to Gold Rush

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 discovery of gold in California in 1849 forced the need for a Branch Mint of the United States on the West Coast to refine the newly mined gold for striking into federal coinage instead of shipping the metal to the Philadelphia Mint for the same purpose. Private minters filled the void until Congress approved in 1852 a federal coinage facility to be located in San Francisco.

The first San Francisco Mint opened for production in 1854 in one of the private mint facilities in the city, but it didn’t take long for authorities to realize production would outgrow the facility’s structural confines.

Among the inaugural year's production were 246 1854-S Coronet gold $2.50 quarter eagles, 12 of which are reported known today.

In the years following World War II, officials determined the Philadelphia and Denver Mints were capable of handling the nation’s coinage needs. Coinage operations at the second San Francisco Mint, opened in 1874, were suspended in March 1955, with all production equipment removed. The facility was converted to an Assay Office, a status formally designated by Congress on July 11, 1962.

The San Francisco facility was returned to full Mint status by way of the same March 31, 1988, legislation that elevated West Point to full Mint status. The third facility, today, primarily produces annual Proof 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.