What is Numismatics?
Numismatics is the study and collection of coins, tokens, and other coin-like objects that people used as currencies throughout history. The term may also refer to the study of money and other payment methods that people use to pay for goods and services and to settle debts.
The study is concerned with the physical aspects associated with the objects, including their appearance, year of production, metallurgy, place of manufacture, and the characteristics of the political, economic, and historical environment during the time of production.
The term numismatics was borrowed from the French word “numismatiques,” and the French borrowed the term from the Latin word “numismatis.” The English term “numismatics” was first used in 1829, and it was borrowed from the adjective “numismatic.”
- Numismatics refers to the research of production and the way people have used coins, tokens, currencies, and other objects throughout history.
- It involves the study of the physical attributes of coins and other payment methods, such as metallurgy, appearance, year of manufacture, and place of production.
- Numismatics is sometimes referred to as the “hobby of kings” since it was associated with kings, emperors, and other ancient rulers.
Money as a Currency
Traditionally, money’s been made to be a rare commodity that people need to work hard to get. It was also made using scarce materials, such as precious metals such as gold and silver. The use of precious stones facilitated trade from one geographical location to another since people recognized the metals as a store of value.
However, due to the bulkiness of precious metals, it became inconvenient to transport the metals over long distances. It necessitated the transition from precious metals to paper money, which was lighter and more convenient to carry. To date, paper money remains one of the popular forms of physical money. Nevertheless, gold and silver are stored by banks and other financial institutions as a store of value.
History of Numismatics
The practice of collecting coins can be traced to ancient times during the reigns of rulers like Caesar Augustus. Augustus supposedly collected coins of every kind from foreign lands, which he gave as gifts to other rulers of foreign lands to facilitate trade agreements.
Petrarch is credited as the first Renaissance collector, with evidence from letters that he authored, detailing how he was approached by vine diggers who asked him to buy their coins and identify rulers on the coins they carried.
De Asse et Partibus, abbreviated as “De Asse,” was the first text to be published on the history of the coin. It was published in 1514 by Guillaume Bude. Some of the documented early coin collectors were prominent people in the society who included emperors, nobility, and kings.
Some of the notable coin collectors included Pope Benedict VIII, King Henry IV of France, and Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire. It explains why the practice of coin collection was called the “hobby of kings.”
In the 19th century, coin collectors started organizing themselves in professional societies, which also published journals to document coins found within their territories. The American Numismatic Society keeps a collection of over 800,000 coins, medals, and currencies, dating back to 650 BCE, and a library with over 100,000 books. Other professional societies established across the world include:
- The Royal Numismatic Society
- The American Numismatic Society
- The Canadian Numismatic Association
- The Israel Numismatic Society
- The Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand
- The Numismatic Association of Australia
- The Czech Numismatic Society
Numismatics in the Modern World
Modern numismatics involves the research of production and usage of money, medals, and currencies of the 17th century onward to determine the relative rarity of the coins they study. Researchers are also interested in the varieties, mintage figures, mint-made errors, and social, political, and economic content of coin minting.
The modern study of coins has been made convenient by the presence of the internet and modern communication methods that make it easier to research the history of coins and share knowledge with other researchers. Coin enthusiasts and researchers have established local coin clubs and societies to share ideas and history from across the world. The internet has also made research materials on coin history freely searchable by numismatists.
The following are the sub-fields of modern numismatics:
Exonumia is the study of coins, tokens, medals, and other coin-like objects. The objects may include elongated coins, souvenir medals, and wooden nickels. A large category of exonumia focuses on commemorative military awards and classifies the awards and medals by the military excursion or event they commemorate.
Notaphily is the study of paper money that is used as a currency. Numismatists have been collecting paper money since its introduction as a form of physical currency by governments around the world. In the 1970s, established nations such as the United States, France, and Germany established notaphily as a branch of numismatics to record catalogs of paper money in the countries.
Scripophily refers to the study and collection of securities, such as stock certificates and bonds. Numismatists collect stocks and bonds due to their interesting historical contexts and their inherent beauty. Old bonds and stock certificates may include beautiful engravings that coin collectors store as pieces of art.
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