Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects. While numismatists are often characterized as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other payment media used to resolve debts and the exchange of goods. Lacking a structured monetary system, people in the past lived in a barter society and used locally found items of inherent or implied value. A few people today still use bartering in absence of a monetary system. Early money used by 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., cigarettes in prison). The Kyrgyz people used horses as the principal currency unit and gave small change in lambskins. The lambskins may be suitable for numismatic study, but the horse is not. Many objects have been used for centuries, such as cowry shells, precious metals and gems.
Today, most transactions take place by a form of payment with either inherent, standardized or credit value. Numismatic value may be used to refer to the value in excess of the monetary value conferred by law. This is also known as the “collector value.” For example, a collector may be willing to pay more than $2.00 for a United States two-dollar bill, given their low circulation.
Economic and historical studies of money’s use and development are an integral part of the numismatists’ study of money’s physical embodiment.
Coin collecting may have existed in ancient times. Caesar Augustus gave “coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money” as Saturnalia gifts.
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Petrarch, who wrote in a letter that he was often approached by vinediggers with old coins asking him to buy or to identify the ruler, is credited as the first Renaissance collector. Petrarch presented a collection of Roman coins to Emperor Charles IV in 1355.
The first book on coins was De Asse et Partibus (1514) by Guillaume Budé. During the early Renaissance ancient coins were collected by European royalty and nobility. Collectors of coins were Pope Boniface VIII, Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire, Louis XIV of France, Ferdinand I, Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg who started the Berlin coin cabinet and Henry IV of France to name a few. Numismatics is called the “Hobby of Kings”, due to its most esteemed founders.
Professional societies organized in the 19th century. The Royal Numismatic Society was founded in 1836 and immediately began publishing the journal that became the Numismatic Chronicle. The American Numismatic Society was founded in 1858 and began publishing the American Journal of Numismatics in 1866.
In 1931 the British Academy launched the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum publishing collections of Ancient Greek coinage. The first volume of Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles was published in 1958.
In the 20th century as well the coins were seen more as archaeological objects. After World War II in Germany a project, Fundmünzen der Antike (Coin finds of the Classical Period) was launched, to register every coin found within Germany. This idea found successors in many countries.
In the United States, the US mint established a coin Cabinet in 1838 when chief coiner Adam Eckfeldt donated his personal collection. William E. Du Bois’ Pledges of History… (1846) describes the cabinet.
C. Wyllys Betts’ American colonial history illustrated by contemporary medals (1894) set the groundwork for the study of American historical medals.
Former Polish coins with image of Nicolaus Copernicus (10 złotych, 1968 i 1959), designed by Józef Gosławski in 1958)Modern numismatics is the study of the coins of the mid 17th to the 21st century, the period of machine struck coins. Their study serves more the need of collectors than historians and it is more often successfully pursued by amateur aficionados than by professional scholars. The focus of modern numismatics lies frequently in the research of 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.