Numismatics – Money Makes the World Go ‘Round
Numismatics is defined as the study of currency in all its forms. The term is used to describe the practice of coin collecting as a hobby, as well as the study of money and alternative methods of payment for goods or to settle debts. First used in 1829, the English word numismatics has French, Latin and Greek origins from words meaning coin or of coins.
The history of money, its evolution and its impact on economies through the ages is of great importance in numismatics. Prior to the use of coins, the barter system was commonly used for obtaining goods or services. Early objects that replaced bartering included cowry shells, gems, precious metals and even salt. These were later replaced by coins and paper money, and today, in all developed countries, plastic money (debit cards and credit cards) is becoming the ‘currency’ of choice – mainly for convenience and safety.
There is evidence that coin collecting was practiced as far back as the early first century, with mention being made of old coins and foreign money being presented by Caesar Augustus at a Saturnalia festival. Other references in the annals of history show that ancient coins were collected by the royalty and nobility of Europe during an era that came to be known as the Renaissance period between the 14th and 17th centuries. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the interest in numismatics resulted in the formation of professional societies, with the Royal Numismatic Society being founded in 1836, followed by the American Numismatic Society in 1858.
A sub-field of numismatics is exonumia, being the study of coin-like items, including medals, token coins, commemoration coins, medallions, tags, and even credit cards. Numismatics and exonumia have some overlapping features, as both are concerned with items that have served as legal tender. Scripophily, which is also considered to be a sub-field of numismatics, is the collection and study of stocks and bonds. Many of these historic documents are superb examples of artistic engraving. Another sub-field of numismatics is notaphily – the study of paper money or bank notes. As the song from the legendary musical Cabaret says: “Money makes the world go round” – a sentiment that numismatics enthusiasts would no doubt agree with.