What’s Numismatics?

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Numismatics is the study and collection of all forms of currency, including coins, paper money, tokens, and medals. Coin collecting is the most common subset, and collections can be grouped by time period or geography. Exonumia is the collecting of tokens and medals, which have less fixed market values.

Numismatics is the collection and study of money. While numismatics is most closely associated with coin collecting, it actually encompasses all forms of currency including paper, coins, tokens, and other items such as wampum and beads that were used as money. Any commodity used by any culture at any point in history as a medium of exchange can be found in numismatic collections. The collection and study of commemorative medals is also part of numismatics.

Most numismatists specialize in a subset of numismatics. Coin numismatics is the most common as coins are durable, often made of valuable materials, are widely available, and are often beautiful. Many coins are stamped with images of leaders, important buildings, deities or plants and animals of the issuing country. The study of coins can usually tell a lot about what a culture values.

Items in a collection can be grouped by time periods with categories such as Ancient Greek and Roman, Medieval, American Colonial, or Modern. Modern numismatic collections typically include machine-stamped coins as well as checks and ATM devices. Generally, the modern period is considered to be all currency created since the mid-17th century. Other numismatic collections are geographical.

Some travelers collect the currency of all the countries they visit. Other numismatists collect a country or region intensively. Specializing in odd cuts is another option. For example, the twopenny coin and the precious double eagle – a 20-dollar gold piece – are prized items in museum collections. Although the 1933 Double Eagle has a face value of $20 United States Dollars (USD), its collectible value is in excess of $7 million dollars.

The collecting of tokens and medals is called Exonumia, and constitutes the smallest subset of numismatics. Tokens are objects that have value but are not a standard currency. Some frequently collected tokens include wooden nickels and transit tokens. Wooden nickels were issued by banks or shops and could be redeemed for specific items. Some stores, particularly those owned by trading companies in colonial America, issued wooden nickels that could only be spent at the company store.

Railroads and subways often sold packets of small metal tokens that could be used to pay for a ride. Medals were not used as currency but rather commemorated an individual, event or place. While most forms of collected currency have fairly well-known market values, the value of tokens and medals is much less fixed and is often based on what a buyer will pay.

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