Numismatics: The Study of Coin

Now-a-days most of our economic transactions are controlled by electronic technology. However, the importance of hard cash has not been diminished. Since c.700 BCE human beings are using pieces of metals in exchange of goods or services. We called these pieces of metals as coins. Coins are everywhere in our daily life even in this age of plastic money. We used them in malls, markets, restaurants, and in numerous other places. The scientific study of coins is known as Numismatics. Also the hobby of collecting various types of coins is included within the discipline of numismatics.

The term ‘numismatics’ is derived from Latin numismatis which means coin. Its earliest use in English can be traced back to 1829.

The numismatists analyzed the materials of the coins. Their study also included the identification of the source of metals used, the classification of the coins according to their shape, time period and issuing authority. Ancient coins are generally found in hoards, or sometimes as stray individual finds. The numismatists study those coins and prepare their report. These scholarly reports are of immense importance to the historians. Numismatists provided the historians with the raw data about the material condition of people of the past. The historians used those data in writing his accounts of the past. On the basis of the information supplied by the numismatists the historian can determine the chronology of a particular ruler, the extent of his rule, the material condition of the common people under his rule, the condition of trade and commerce, etc.

The numismatists used several scientific methods to study the metal content of the coins. These included the use of modern X-ray Fluorescence spectrometry. The increasing use of modern technologies in the field of numismatics is greatly beneficial to obtain accurate results quickly.

The Renaissance in Europe witnessed an enthusiasm among the people to collect antiques of the Classical age. This is the same age when we met the first of the numismatists. Although there must have been earlier instances of collecting coins, they were not sufficiently documented. The famous Renaissance personality Petrarch is often credited as the first of the coin collectors during Renaissance. Guillaume Bude wrote the first authoritative text on coins in the year 1514. His book came to be known as ‘De Asse et Partibus’. Several famous royal personalities were interested in numismatics. Even the Pope Boniface VIII (1230-1303) was a collector of coins. Some of the famous modern numismatists included Charles Seltman, the British archaeologist; David Hendin, the American expert of Jewish and Biblical coins; and Guido Bruck, an Austrian numismatist specializing in late Roman period.

In modern days, both the professional scholarly activities of the scientific study of coins and  the amateurish enthusiasm of collecting coins is largely dominated by organized bodies. Most of these organizations came into being during the 19th century or early-20th century. Some of the famous organizations dealing with numismatics are The Royal Numismatic Society and The British Numismatic Society in Britain and The American Numismatic Society. The Royal Numismatic Society published a renowned scholarly journal, the Numismatic Chronicle. The American Journal of Numismatics is also a critically acclaimed scholarly journal. It was first published in 1866.

Besides these bodies almost all the governments patronized numismatics through their respective Archaeological departments. As numismatics is an integral part of the archaeological explorations, almost every archaeological department has separate sections to deal with the coins.

Numismatics is growing in its popularity worldwide. Many local societies and clubs all over the world are facilitating its growth. Certainly, the “hobby of the kings” is no more confined only within the palaces and among the royalties.

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