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.

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 collecting 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 broader and more correct definition includes the research 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 used in the exchange of goods. It usually excludes the use of products used in barter exchange type systems. Therefore, it would not include cigarettes that are traditionally used as a form of "currency" inside prison systems, nor would it involve 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 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.

However, since printing paper money is so cheap, some countries have resorted to printing money to pay for their debts. The consequence of this unrestricted monetary policy has led to hyperinflation and eventually the collapse of the country's currency. For example, Zimbabwe printed so much paper money that inflation ran into double and triple-digit rates. Before the Zimbabwe currency collapsed, a $100 trillion bill being used for transactions was not uncommon.

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 located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Beyond Numismatics

Professional numismatists not only research and write history books about coins and all forms of money, but they also may function as consultants to help collectors acquire specimens to meet their collecting goals. Since professional numismatists dedicate their professional life to the hobby of coin collecting, they are well suited to guide collectors into new areas of the coin collecting hobby. Before investing or purchasing a coin for a sizable amount of money, it is best to consult with a professional numismatist.

New coin collectors can also benefit from the experience of a professional numismatist. Like any transaction that involves the purchasing of items, there are a few pitfalls that should be avoided. A professional numismatist is well-suited to guide a new collector slowly into the hobby and develop a lifelong relationship.

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 around the globe, numismatists can also research the history of the coins in their collections.

The Internet has provided numismatics with easy access to a large number of research resources. Renowned numismatist Eric P. Newman bequest a large endowment to Washington University in St. Louis to develop a database of research articles, books, and periodicals known as the Newman Numismatic Portal. Material is added almost daily and is freely searchable by any numismatist.

Specialized studies of numismatics include:

  • Exonumia: the study of coin-like objects such as tokens, medals, and other objects used for commerce or as commemorative mementos. A large subset of exonumia focuses on military awards and commemorative medals. Experts usually catalog these items by the war or military excursion of which they commemorate. For example, World War II has a large number of medallic awards and medals that were issued. Additionally, exonumia 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.

Specialized Clubs

Numismatics also has many areas of specialization. To support these specialized areas of study, clubs and organizations are usually formed by collectors who share the same passion. For example, people who specialized in the collection of error coins can join Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America or CONECA. Collectors who share a passion for early American copper coins can become involved in the Early American Coppers Association. The possibilities are endless, and new specialized coin associations are being formed every year.

Edited by: James Bucki