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 have been used as money. Any commodity used by any culture at any time in history as a means of exchange can be found in numismatics collections. The collection and study of commemorative medals also is considered part of numismatics.
Most numismatists specialize in a subset of numismatics. Coin numismatics is the most common since coins are durable, often made of valuable materials, are widely available, and are frequently beautiful. Many coins are stamped with images of leaders, important buildings, gods, or the plants and animals of the issuing country. The study of coins typically can tell a great deal about what is valued by a culture.
Items in a collection can be grouped by time periods with categories such as Ancient Greek and Roman, Medieval, colonial American, or modern. Modern numismatic collections typically include machine-stamped coins as well as checks and ATM devices. Generally, the modern period is considered all currency created since the mid-seventeenth century. Other numismatic collections are geographically based.
Some travelers collect currency of all the countries that they visit. Other numismatists intensely collect one country or region. Specializing in odd denominations is another option. For example, the two-penny coin and the valuable double eagle – a 20-dollar gold piece – are prized items in museum collections. Although the 1933 double eagle has a face value of $20 US Dollars (USD), its collector value is more than $7 million USD.
The collecting of tokens and medals is called Exonumia, and constitutes the smallest subset of numismatics. Tokens are objects which have a value but are not standard currency. Some frequently collected tokens include wooden nickels and transit tokens. Wooden nickels were issued by banks or stores and could be redeemed for specified items. Some stores, especially those owned by trading companies in colonial America, issued wooden nickels that only could be spent in the company store.
Railroads and subway systems often sold packages of small metal tokens which could be used to pay for a journey. Medals were not used as currency but rather commemorated an individual, an event, or a place. While most forms of currency collected has fairly well known market values, the value of tokens and medals is much less fixed and often is based on what a buyer will pay.