Numismatics deals with collecting and in-depth exploration of payment methods existent throughout history for buying goods or settling debts, including coins, tokens, medals, paper money, securities, and related objects. Its purpose is to study their physical properties, coinage process, and historical background.
Collectibles get their value from their varieties, materials used, artistic designs, minting period, mintage figures, coinage errors, and socio-political context. All this makes them rare or unique and valuable from an investment standpoint. Numismatists research coins and money as opposed to coin collectors, who collect coins to complete their collection.
- Numismatics is collecting and studying various forms of money, including coins and currencies, tokens, medals, securities, etc.
- It provides an insight into their minting or printing materials and technology, coinage period, artistic inscriptions, and rarity of an era.
- Numismatists and coin collectors are interchangeable terminologies. However, the latter pursue it as a hobby, and the former do it to study the physical attributes of coins and currencies with the historical, cultural, political, and economic approaches.
- Because of significant melt value and rarity, collectibles of payment methods can be an alternative investment. Hence, many enthusiasts and associations are actively involved in the practice.
Understanding Numismatics Study
Before understanding what is numismatics, let us look at the evolution of money. Money has taken different shapes since the known human history. People used to trade using rare objects like cowry shells, precious metals like gold and silver, and other scarce materials. Likewise, other coin-like objects, such as medals and tokens, hold appreciation value. But due to the heavy and valuable nature of such metals, the metal money transformed into paper money.
Also, there are pieces of evidence that make the availability of coins of some specific eras questionable. They show that many economic factors, including the demand and supply, affected the production of the coins adversely.
For example, there was a significant reduction in coinage during Great Depression, while the production escalated during the Second World War. Moreover, many gold coins from the early 19th century were melted when gold prices exceeded coin face value. Nonetheless, these once in-trend monetary items go out of practice with the economic revolution.
Numismatics is the discipline of studying those coins and currencies to understand their physical attributes and history, culture, and economy of that era. It is often associated with rare coin collecting, which people, especially the elites, kings, queens in ancient times, opted for as hobbies. And the rest of the population used coins, currencies, and tokens to buy goods and services or repay debts.
Unlike coin collectors, numismatists do not collect these monetary tokens only for the sake of pursuing their hobby. And that is why numismatists are also considered coin collectors. They see these out-of-trend coins, currencies, and paper money differently and more deeply.
What Do Numismatists Do?
Numismatists gather coins and currencies for research purposes. They look at these objects from a historical, cultural, and artistic viewpoint. They are different from coin collectors, who pursue it as a hobby to complete their sets of coins.
The numismatics study of coins helps them gather knowledge about the civilizations that used them and explore the economy of that period. Coin collectors, on the other hand, are very particular about collecting coins that symbolize something important.
Numismatics coins can be of various categories, like bullion, proof, ancient, circulating, rare or commemorative. As a result, numismatists have devised new methods of coin collection to add value to the economy.
Based on numismatics study of ancient monetary items, it can be:
- Exonumia (coins, medals, tokens)
- Notaphily (paper money)
- Scripophily (stocks and bonds)
Many literary works and academics believe it was the early European Renaissance when numismatics started, with its first mention in English occurring in 1829. However, the collection of coins and other monetary tokens have been in practice since ancient times. Here are the events defining its history:
- 27 B.C. – 14 A.D. – First Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, was among the first coin collectors. He used to collect unique coins of all types and gift those to his guests during Saturnalia, the festival of the god Saturn.
- 14th Century – During the early Italian Renaissance, the coin market evolved as an active sector. Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch was the most popular coin collector of the era.
- 15th & 16th Century – The phenomenon gained recognition as the hobby of kings as European royalty and nobility members, including Emperor Maximilian, European kings like Louis XIV and Henry IV, began collecting ancient coins.
- 1514 – The term was first mentioned in Guillaume Budé’s book “De Asse et Partibus Eius.” It was the very first book written on numismatics coins.
- 17th & 18th Century – It became an academic discipline sponsored by institutions and public collections. It made people associated with the field to be more organized and systematic in their approaches.
- 19th Century – The influence of advanced technology, such as fluorescence spectroscopy, helped numismatists explore the tokens collected and discover the story behind them. Many associations also emerged across the United States, Great Britain, and Europe.
- 20th Century – General public got involved in the trend due to the events like coin shows and numismatic conferences.
The evolution of numismatics led to the rise of multiple associations. They are responsible for preserving the past heritage, advancing the field, and creating public collections of coins, medals, currencies, and related literary texts. These societies also think about the future of the discipline and act accordingly. Some of the most renowned entities are:
- Royal Numismatic Society (1836)
- American Numismatics Society (1858)
- British Numismatic Society (1903)
From merely being a hobby to emerging as an academic discipline, numismatics came a long way. While the kings and the elites collected coins to present them as gifts to guests, the rest used them to explore the history and culture of the civilizations of those eras. However, one thing that never changed is that the coins, currencies, tokens, paper money, and other monetary instruments offer a glimpse into the era-specific history, culture, and economy.
The most recent form of it is Scripophily, which concerns studying and collecting bonds and stock certificates. Although these hold no value as securities, they are worth collecting due to their artistic value, like engravings. Whether it is the coin or currency or stock certificate, evaluating them helps numismatists explore quite a few things about the market – the market then and the market now.
Today, collecting numismatics coins is seen as one of the best alternative investments. The coins, made of metals, are still valuable in the market. Hence, buying ancient coins with a melt value close to the value of their mint metal is a good way of investing. Similarly, commemorative coins that symbolize some popular events hold significant value in the market as well.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Numismatics is the systemic collection and study of coins, currencies, medals, tokens, securities, and other payment methods that have been used in the past to exchange goods and services or settle debts. It mainly involves understanding the physical aspects of the objects, their historical significance, and the coinage system of that period.
A numismatist collects coins, currencies, paper money, or related objects used throughout history to explore culture, art, and economy. A coin collector also gathers coins but to pursue their hobby or fulfill their own goals.
Most probably, collecting ancient coins can be a good investment if their melt value is significant. Also, due to their rarity and history, they can sometimes exchange for more than their nominal face value. All this lets investors expect a better return from such coins.
This has been a guide to Numismatics and its meaning. Here we discuss what does Numismatics study do, its history and current trends. You may learn more about financing from the following articles –