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

Striking problems plague First Spouse coins

Problems striking the Alice Paul and Frances Cleveland (first term) gold coins in the First Spouse program have delayed release of all four coins in the 2012 series. All four coins will be released this year, according to the U.S. Mint.

Images courtesy of U.S. Mint.

All four Proof and Uncirculated 2012 First Spouse half-ounce gold $10 coins will be struck and issued before the end of the calendar year, though not until production problems are remedied.

U.S. Mint Deputy Director Richard A. Peterson told Coin World during an Aug. 7 interview that trial strikes have been conducted at the Philadelphia Mint for all four of the 2012 First Spouse .9999 fine gold coins. The coins bear designs for Alice Paul, Frances Cleveland (first and second terms) and Caroline Harrison.

Peterson discussed a range of topics during the interview.

Once problems have been rectified and final trial strikes approved, the First Spouse coins will be struck at the West Point Mint and bear the W Mint mark.

Peterson said the primary striking problems have been encountered with the Paul and Cleveland (first term) coins; the Mint has had difficulty in achieving proper metal flow to fill design devices and achieve proper surface finish quality.

Philadelphia Mint production personnel are adjusting striking pressure on the coinage presses to rectify the fill issues and to avoid creating what Peterson referred to as a “halo effect” around the devices.

Peterson said the West Point Mint has plenty of production capacity to strike all four coins in Proof and Uncirculated versions once the production problems have been cleared.

Normally, by this time of year, the U.S. Mint would have already issued three of the four First Spouse coins, Peterson said.

No timetable for the 2012 releases has been announced.

Research and development

Peterson also discussed ongoing research at the U.S. Mint.

The Mint’s contractor, Concurrent Technologies Corp., is still overseeing extensive research and development into alternative coinage metals or alloys for circulating coinage, according to Peterson. The Mint is nearing the end of a congressionally mandated study, with the findings to be forwarded to Congress by mid-December.

The Mint’s three current suppliers of coinage metals, and an undisclosed number of potential vendors, have submitted planchets for consideration. Jarden Zinc Products, Greeneville, Tenn., currently provides ready to strike cent planchets; and Olin Brass, East Alton, Ill., and PMX Industries, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provide coinage strip for the remaining denominations.

Peterson said the Philadelphia Mint has used the submitted planchets to conduct two rounds of trial strikes. The testing is addressing diameter, weight, color, hardness, ductility, and other factors affecting coinability including metal flow, striking pressure, wear, corrosion and color retention. The vendors selected must be capable of supplying the Mint with sufficient planchets for each denomination for which they have been selected.

During an Aug. 7 coin forum, numismatist Q. David Bowers recommended the trial strikes be presented to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History to preserve them, instead of the Mint having them melted.

The alternative coinage metals research is being conducted under provisions of the Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of 2010, Public Law 111-302. The findings of the research and development must be submitted to Congress by Dec. 14, with subsequent review and analysis reports every two years thereafter.

Before the initial report is submitted to Congress, it must be vetted by the Treasury Department, Treasury secretary and the Office of Management and Budget.

The nature of metals limits the Mint’s choices of coinage metals. Peterson said that, of the metals on the elemental chart, half are radioactive and most of the remainder are in insufficient supply. Only aluminum, zinc, steel and lead are left, and lead is not being considered, Peterson said.

Steel-based alternatives have been suggested, based on testimony presented during an April 17, 2012, hearing before the House Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy & Technology.

So far, trial strikes are limited to low production runs, but quantities will need to be in the millions with a supply chain of planchets ample to support circulation demand, Peterson said. Peterson expects the initial draft to be readied sometime after Labor Day.

Order management system

Peterson said Mint officials are continuing to consider what direction to pursue in revamping the current order management system or whether to construct a completely new one.

Peterson recently suspended a multimillion dollar contract with British-based Venda, not because of any problems with the vendor, but to determine whether revamping an old system, as was being planned, was the right way to go.

Peterson said the consulting firm the Mint subsequently hired in the interim, MITRE Corp., has concluded the Mint’s current system remains prone to complete failure if overloaded.

Much of the hardware driving the current computerized OMS is no longer being supported by the manufacturers. The system is able to handle a maximum of only 5,000 orders per hour combined: that is, orders placed through www.usmint.gov and by telephone through the U.S. Mint’s order fulfillment contractor, Pitney-Bowes Government Solutions in Plainfield, Ind. The contractor’s telephone operators enter phone orders into the same system that customers use when directly ordering the coins through the Mint website.

Peterson said that when order entries exceed 5,000 per hour, the system can become inoperable or perform erratically.

During the Oct. 27, 2011, sellout of the 100,000 five coin 2011 American Eagle 25th Anniversary sets, the OMS became overloaded, and many orders were randomly canceled.

“That’s an ugly problem, but we live with it,” Peterson said. “We don’t want to do that to our customers.”

With the two-coin 2012-S American Eagle San Francisco Two-Coin set, the Mint sold the coins between noon June 7 and 5 p.m. July 5 without mintage limits.

MITRE Corp. recommends the Mint stockpile all of the secondary market hardware parts it can obtain. Peterson said the consultant also has recommended data compression to reduce the size of computer files that could affect the OMS’s efficiency and prevent overloads. ¦


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.