A coin dealer inspecting a coin in his coin shop.
A coin dealer inspecting a coin in his coin shop. Image Copyright: © 2017 James Bucki; All rights reserved.

Definition of Numismatics

Numismatics is the scientific analysis and study of money and the way people have used money throughout history. Additionally, it is also used to refer to the collection of coins, currency, tokens, paper money, and related objects. When coin collectors use the word numismatics, though, they generally mean the study of coins in particular. A wider and more correct definition includes the study and collecting of all money-related items such as banknotes, tokens, medals, bullion rounds, etc.

Money and Currency

Money, or currency as it is sometimes called, includes the broader study of money and other types of payment forms that are used to pay off debts or items that are used in the exchange of goods. It usually excludes the use of goods that are used in barter exchange type systems. Therefore, it would not include cigarettes that are usually used as a form of "currency" inside  prison systems, nor would it include the use of shells, bullion precious metals or gemstones that are used to trade for goods.

In early history money was usually made out of some sort of scarce material  such as gold or silver. This facilitated trade over a larger geographic area since precious metals were widely recognized as a store of value. As time progressed the transportation of large amounts of gold and silver became burdensome and ran the risk of loss. To help facilitate trade in smaller geographic areas, the issuance of paper money became popular.

The History of Numismatics

Numismatics or coin collecting is also known as the "Hobby of Kings." There is evidence that in ancient times rulers like Caesar Augustus collected coins and money from foreign lands. These were usually given as gifts to rulers of foreign countries to help facilitate a trade agreement. The first documented book on coins was De Asse et Partibus written by  Guillaume Budé in 1514 A.D. Early coin collectors included popes, nobility and emperors.

In the mid-1800s professional societies began to be organized. This included the Royal Numismatic Society in England, The American Numismatic Society founded in New York City and the American Numismatic Association whose headquarters are currently located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Numismatics Today

Coin collecting and the study of coins have taken a very different turn with modern communications and the Internet. Local coin clubs and societies of specialized interest are now prevalent throughout the United States and the world. In addition to acquiring coins from across the world, numismatists can also research the history of the coins in their collections.

Specialized studies of coins include:

  • Exonumia: the study of coin like objects such as tokens, medals and other objects used for commerce. Additionally, these can include such items as elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medals, tags and badges.
  • Notaphily: the study of paper money or banknotes. There is a wide variety of paper currency that has been issued privately, by public banking institutions and national governments.
  • Scripophily: the study and collection of stocks and bonds. Equity and debt certificates are usually intricate works of art that have historical significance. Many people collect them because of their beautiful engravings.

See also: Numismatist

Example Usage

Scholars who study ancient coins are said to be studying the science of numismatics.

Edited by: James Bucki