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: Seated Liberty half dime

The Seated Liberty half dime is the smallest in size and lowest in denomination of the six series of coins bearing the Seated Liberty designs. The Seated Liberty half dime's production at the Mints at Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans totaled 84,828,478 coins struck for circulation.

The design, featuring Liberty seated on a rock and holding a shield, was first conceived in 1835 and was first used on the silver dollar patterns of 1836. But the design was first used for circulation on the half dime in 1837.

COIN VALUES: See how much Seated Liberty half dimes are worth today

The series is divided into several subtypes. The first, struck at Philadelphia in 1837 and New Orleans in 1838, appears Without Stars on the obverse. A semicircle of 13 stars was added around the obverse border when the design was modified in 1838. This general design was employed in the half dime series from 1838 through 1859.

Early pieces in the series appear sans drapery at Liberty's elbow. Mint officials determined this was an oversight and agreed that the addition of drapery would make Liberty's dress more flowing in appearance. The proportion of the drapery to the design varies from denomination to denomination within the Seated Liberty series. On the half dime, the drapery appears very large.

From 1838 to 1853, the Mints at Philadelphia and New Orleans produced half dimes. Numerous varieties occur through the half dime series, including the 1849/6 and 1849/8 overdates.

In 1853, small arrows were added to each side of the date to reflect a reduction in weight. Because of rising silver prices, the weight was reduced to prevent coins from being melted for their silver content. The arrows remained until 1855.

In 1856, the arrows were dropped, with the earlier design resumed through 1859. Two interesting varieties appear during this period: The elusive 1858 regular date over inverted date and the 1859 with stars bearing hollow center points.

Two transitional patterns or fantasy pieces were produced in 1859 and 1860, both missing UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The obverse of each features Liberty seated surrounded by stars. The reverse features half dime surrounded by a wreath.

In 1860, the regular half dime issue was again changed. The obverse stars were replaced with the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The reverse wreath was enlarged. This basic design was retained through the end of the series in 1873.

One of the most startling numismatic discoveries of the 20th century, more than 100 years after its production, was the unique 1870-S Seated Liberty half dime, since Mint records confirming production of the coin were unknown until March 2004. The piece came to light in 1978 when it was displayed by the Chicago-based auction firm Rarcoa.

In 1872, two half dime varieties were created at the San Francisco Mint, one with a Mint mark above the wreath bow and the other with a Mint mark below.

During the last decade or so of the half dime denominations, coins were not released into circulation at the time of coinage, but were stored by the Treasury. During the period, specie payments were suspended and silver coins did not circulate. This accounts for many latter year pieces being elusive.

The gap was filled by copper-nickel 5-cent coins bearing the Shield design.

The Seated Liberty half dime series is teeming with collectible varieties in addition to those previously cited. These include blundered dates, repunched and recut dates, overdates, repunched Mint marks, as well as large, medium and small dates, and more.

Collectors of Seated Liberty half dimes and other coins in the Seated Liberty genre may be interested in the specialty club devoted to their study – the Liberty Seated Collectors Club, which publishes research in The Gobrecht Journal.

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:

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.