Numismatics refers to the collection and study of currency. This includes such objects as coins, paper money, tokens, and other objects used as money. Numismatists are often described as those individuals who collect or study coins. Included in the broader definition is the wider study of payment methods that settle debts and facilitate the exchanging of goods. In this sense, it could cover the study of objects beyond the traditional scope of money that have also been used for payment, such as gems, cocoa beans, and cowry shells.
Traditional numismatics deals with coin collecting and study. This hobby began even in the ancient world. Roman Caesar Augustus gave away coins of ever type such as old ones that were foreign and from kings as gifts for Saturnalia festival. In the middle ages, Petrarch gained fame for becoming the first Renaissance era coin collector. He penned in a letter that vine diggers would often come to him seeking for him to identify the ruler on the old coins they uncovered or to buy them. In the year 1355, Petrarch bequeathed a numismatics gift of Roman coins to Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
Two centuries later, the first book on coins became published. Guillaume Budé wrote his De Asse et Partibus in 1514. At this time of the early Renaissance, only kings and the nobility could afford to collect ancient coins. There were a number of them who became famous for their coin collections. These included Emperor Maximilian from the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Boniface VIII, King Ferdinand I, King Louis XIV from France, King Henry IV of France, and Elector Joachim II in Brandenburg. Joachim actually began the Berlin coin cabinet. These prestigious early collectors earned numismatics the nickname the hobby of kings.
The hobby of numismatics became more structured as time passed. By the 19th century, groups began to organize into professional societies for studying and collecting coins. Britain’s Royal Numismatic Society began in 1836. It started right away with publishing its journal that became known as the Numismatic Chronicle. In the United States, 1858 witnessed the foundation of the American Numismatic Society. This coin collecting and studying group started to publish its American Journal of Numismatics a few years later in 1866.
In the 20th century, pictures of ancient coins began to be published. The British Academy started the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum publishing ventures on Ancient Greek coinage in 1931. In 1958 they published the first volume Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles. By this century coins had begun to be respected as objects of archeology.
Scholar Guido Bruck from the Vienna based Kunsthistorisches Museum promoted their value for giving a context of time. Germany began an ambitious numismatics project following World War II. Their Coin Finds of the Classical Period attempted to register all coins that had been found in Germany. It became a model template that numerous other countries later successfully adopted.
The U.S. Mint set up its first coin collection in 1838. The chief coiner Adam Eckfeldt gave his own collection to the mint to be their coin cabinet. This cabinet was well described by author William Du Bois in his work Pledges of History. The beginning of studying American historical medals came half a century later when C. Wyllys Betts wrote his work American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals in 1894.