What Is a Numismatist?

Numismatists and Going Beyond Coin Collecting

Professional numismatist Bob Campbell from All about Coins Inc.
Professional numismatist Bob Campbell from All about Coins Inc.

James Bucki

A numismatist is a person who studies and/or collects coins, paper money, and related objects such as medals, awards and other objects used as instruments of exchange. Additionally, the numismatist will research the history of the objects he or she collects. Most commonly, the word numismatist refers to a person that studies and collects coins. This can include coin dealers, researchers, and historians that specifically focus on coins and paper money.

Fun Fact

The first known coin numismatist was Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, according to the U.S. Mint.

Collecting versus Accumulating

Many people collect a variety of different objects. These types of collections can include art, stamps, toys, rocks/minerals, quilts, baseball cards, comic books, dolls, beer cans, action figures, etc. What sets numismatics apart from other types of collections is that money has a certain universal appeal.

Many people have a jar or can on their dresser or countertop in which they deposit their pocket change every evening. This does not make them a numismatist nor a coin collector. This is more of an accumulation of coins rather than a collection.

A coin collector will spend time organizing their collection into specific categories. This may include type sets, date and mint sets, year sets, and commemorative coins, just to name a few. The coin collector will house their collection in albums, folders or organized into special cases. Additionally, the coin collector will catalog and label the coins in his or her collection.

The Collector versus The Numismatist

Although a coin collector will spend time and effort to organize their collection, the numismatist will move beyond organizing his or her coin collection. The numismatist will spend time researching the history of the coin and the history of the society around the time the coin was minted. Many books have been written about coins ranging from ancient coins to modern United States coins. Additionally, many online resources can provide you with the history of your coins.

This historical insight adds personal value to the collecting journey for the numismatist. If you think about it, when you hold a coin, you are "holding history in your hand." A United States coin that was minted in the late 1700s may have been used by one of the Patriots that led the Revolutionary War. In fact, some coins can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin.

Research is an integral part of becoming a numismatist. One way to know if you have advanced from a coin collector into a numismatist is if you have more books on coins, then you have coins. Building a numismatic library that focuses on the types of coins that you collect will start you on your path to becoming a true numismatist.