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: The Dalles Mint never finished for U.S. Mint

Image of original blueprint illustrates what The Dalles Mint in Oregon would have looked like had its construction been completed.

Image in public domain.

Editor's note: This is one in a series of Coin World Collector Basics posts on facilities under the U.S. Mint's jurisdiction.

With gold discovered in Idaho and a gold rush in eastern Oregon, the need arose in 1860 in the Pacific Northwest for a Mint to produce coinage.

Currency in The Dalles came in the form of raw gold dust that often was shipped to the San Francisco Mint for processing and conversion into federal gold coins.

Demand grew for construction of a Mint closer to the gold mines. Legislation was passed by Congress on July 4, 1864, which authorized a new Branch Mint of the United States at The Dalles, then known as Dalles City, for the production of gold and silver coins.

The superintendent of the planned Branch Mint, William Logan, was en route to The Dalles aboard the SS Brother Jonathan on July 30, 1865, when that ship sank near Crescent City, Calif., taking his life, along with many others (and a shipment of gold).

The basement and first floor of the planned two-story Mint were completed in 1869. Further construction was suspended in 1870 and the project abandoned in 1873 amid the waning gold rush. The Dalles Mint became obsolete before any coins could be produced.

The structure was turned over in 1875 by the federal government to the state of Oregon, which sold it to private interests. 

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.