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."

Numismatic

What is the SS Central America and why is it important to hobby?

Bob Evans is shown more than 20 years ago with the “Eureka bar,” an 80-pound gold ingot that remains the largest such piece recovered from the wreckage of the SS Central America.

Coin World image by Paul Gilkes.

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 SS Central America is a steamship that capsized in a hurricane off the South Carolina coast during an 1857 trip between Panama and New York City. 

Why is it important in numismatics? The 3 tons of gold it was carrying at the time it wrecked might have something to do with that.

The “Ship of Gold,” as it is nicknamed, was carrying gold bars (or ingots) and coins, including more than 5,000 Mint State 1857-S Coronet $20 double eagles, for commercial firms. The human death toll from the shipwreck was 477.

The recovery of gold from SS Central America shipwreck site began in 1989 after the wreck was discovered off the coast of South Carolina in 1987. Years of legal battle between the salvors who found the coins and the insurance companies that had paid off claims after the 1857 shipwreck delayed the gold’s entry into the market for a decade.

Another lengthy legal battle took place after the chairman of Columbus Exploration LLC, the company that had been handling the recovery effort, sold gold from the wreck to a consortium of coin dealers in 2000 while allegedly shutting out original Columbus investors.

The second dispute led to a long hiatus in recovery dives during the first 14 years of the 2000s. But in 2014, the recovery effort was renewed.

Odyssey Marine Explorations has been pulling gold from the wreckage after it was announced in March 2014 that the company had been awarded a contract by Recovery Limited Partnership, which has exclusive salvage rights to the site.

Odyssey's recovery dives began in April 2014.

In the first five months, the Odyssey Explorer recovery ship brought to surface 15,500 gold and silver coins, 45 gold bars, hundreds of gold nuggets, gold dust, jewelry and other artifacts, according to a Coin World story by Paul Gilkes published online Sept. 17.

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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.