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Numismatics (ancient Greek: νομισματική) is the scientific study of money and its history in all its varied forms. While numismatists are often characterized as studying coins, the discipline also includes the study of medals, medallions, and tokens (also referred to as Exonumia).


Monies studied by numismatists

Checks, bank notes, paper money, scripophily, and credit cards are also subjects of numismatistic interest. Early money used by primitive people is referred to as "Odd and Curious", but the use of other goods in barter exchange is excluded, even where used as a circulating currency (e.g. prison cigarettes). For instance, the Kirghiz people used horses as the principle currency unit and gave small change in lambskins1. The lambskins may be a suitable for numismatic study, the horse is not.

Economic and historical studies of money's use and development are separate to the numismatists' study of money's physical embodiment (although the fields are related; economic theories of money's origin depend upon numismatics, for example).


Numismatics is an ancient discipline, reaching as far back as Julius Caesar who is often credited with writing the first book on numismatics. Numismatics can include the study of many different aspects relating to coins, including history, geography, economics, metallurgy, usage, and manufacturing processes.


Numismatists are sometimes differentiated from coin collectors inasmuch as the latter chiefly derive pleasure from the simple ownership of monetary devices, whereas the former are more concerned with acquiring knowledge about monetary devices and systems. In fact, many numismatists are also collectors and vice-versa. Walter Breen is a well-known example of a noted numismatist who was not an avid collector, while King Farouk I of Egypt was an avid collector who had very little interest in numismatics. Harry Bass by comparison was a noted collector who was also a numismatist.

Numismatists frequently research the production and use of money in historical contexts using mint or other records in order to determine the relative rarity of the coins they study. Varieties, mint-made errors, the results of progressive die wear, mintage figures and even the socio-political context of coin mintings are also matters of interest. In sum, there is very little about money that is not a valid numismatic field of study.

Many professional numismatists authenticate or grade coins for commercial purposes. The buying and selling of coin collections by numismatists who are professional dealers advances the study of money, and expert numismatists are consulted by historians, museum curators, and archaeologists.

Market value of rare coins

The idea of using numismatic material as an investment vehicle has become more popular over the last several decades. When the public took notice of the ultra-rare U.S. coins fetching tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions, an investment hype ensued. The most notable era of coin-price inflation was around 1989. Rare U.S. coins were seen as a way to diversify assets in the wake of the stock market crash of 1987.

Rare dates of some series of U.S. coins doubled, tripled, or even more in a short time. "Investment-grade" coins became the object of obsession. Certified and graded coins were born. PCGS was established in 1986 as a "first-generation" third-party grading company, which allowed coins to be guaranteed authentic, deterring counterfeits. Coins could now have an established grade which facilitated easy sight-unseen comparison, making the coin market more liquid. It is interesting to note that during the height of the coin market, PCGS was so innundated with grading submissions, that some coins (submitted on the Economy level) experienced an 11-month turnaround time. Coin prices have dropped sharply from their peak.

See also

External links


1 See Glyn Davies' monetary timeline here (, taken from his 1996 book with Roy Davies, A Comparative Chronology of Money: Monetary History from Ancient Times to the Present Day, University of Wales Press, ISBN 0-7083-1351-5. The timeline reports horses and sheep as the principle monetary units until circa cs:Numismatika da:Numismatik de:Numismatik fr:Numismatique it:Numismatica he:נומיסמטיקה lt:Numizmatika lv:Numismātika nl:Numismatiek pl:Numizmatyka pt:Numismtica ru:Нумизматика sl:Numizmatika sv:Numismatik


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