"Towards an Operative Definition of Numismatics"

by John N. Lupia, III

Copyright John N. Lupia 2010-2022

Numismatics is the study of any object serving as a customary or legal means of conveyance for all forms of payment, award, or reward having measurable monetary value, or an engraving, scrip, or advertisement imitating that normative means, or any small portable metallic, or other portable durable material such as paper serving as a vehicle conveying either a legal register for economic exchange purposes or taxation, or else having a socially esteemed, venerated or coveted value of award resembling a form customary for payment, award or reward. The word numismatics is derived from Greek and Latin with the Greek having the notion of currency from the Greek words νόμος "nomos", a habitual practice of social custom or convention, law or ordinance, and the Greek word νόμισμα "nomisma", anything sanctioned by current or established usage or custom, and the Latin words nummus and nummulus meaning money.

As you can see from the above definition the entire field of numismatics is a subdivision of philatelics, which is the domain of stamping devices and their impressions. In other words, numismatics dating to 650 B.C. is a subdivision of philately dating to 7,000 B.C. with neolithic seal stamping devices. Numismatics emerged 2,550 years after postal history and 6,350 years after philately when the domain of stamping devices began.

Since the 1940's, numismatics and philatelics have been largely considered as belonging to two separate and distinct fields of subject matter and study. However, upon careful reading and understanding the above definition one can easily see that they are neither separate nor distinct in their subject fields and area of study. Stamps like coins are a currency produced by stamping or impressing a die. Moreover, the postage stamp is not alone when franked on an envelope for mailing. The United States Postal system devised various methods for processing mail also introducing more dies and their impressions onto that envelope, the primary and most common two were the dater and the killer. The dater also known as the CDS (Circular Date Stamp) when round (early 19th century these were sometimes octagonal or some other shape) was a die usually in the form of a circle that had the post office city and state forming part of the permanently affixed whole, having plugs or slugs as they are various called, inserted into their mounting spaces or niches for the month, day, hour and year. These are a lot of fun to study especially when postal clerks inserted them inverted or in the wrong spaces. The killers were another die of various shapes and designs that was intended to render the stamp unusable a second time. These are like wild cards at different periods of history since some are very amusing, colorful, artistic or not, and also frequently had like the dater various interchangeable components. Coin and paper money specialists who study dies and their varieties will thoroughly enjoy the many challenges they face in the philatelic world which is much more demanding as is it is clearly plain to see due to the three to four major dies involved on dated and cancelled envelopes called covers in the stamp collecting world, bearing postage stamps and the numerous other ancillary slugs used for customizing them for the days work. Besides the dater and killer other postal markings were sometimes required. Perhaps the most common and well known one is the "Return to Sender" and the "Pointing Finger" auxiliary or service marking. Many other types of backstamps are known. "Receiving postmarks" typically found on the reverse of the cover were like the dater a die with the city and state forming part of the permanent attached whole with interchangeable components for the month, day, hour and year. Railroad and trolley, boats and ships, air mail, registry, transit, meters, permits, precancels, perfins, forward markings, agent markings, undeliverable, damaged, express mail, are just some of the many various postal markings and other processing features a collector will find in the enormous world of stamp collecting. Comparatively there are far more dies and stampings on a single cover than on any coin, medal or paper currency making stamp collecting far more varied and fascinating with breadth and depth unparalleled in any other branch in numismatics as a whole.

In the 19th century and in the first few decades of the 20th century many of the great collectors and hobbyists collected both stamps and coins and could see the clear relationship between them and paper money, bank-checks, money orders, and notaphily, i.e., stock certificates or scrip. Over the past fifty to sixty years, i.e., since the late 1940's or so the two classes of collecting have been alienated from one another and many collectors today see no real relationship between them and even rival them disdaining the other. It is hoped that the contents of this website and the various databases and articles will demonstrate the unity between both fields of study and show that philatelics is not only a branch of numismatics but one of its finest.

Numismatology is the multidisciplinary science of numismatics. Numismatics, as we have seen, is the systematic and scientific study of any of the various objects other than land and its improvements serving as a generally accepted means of conveyance of either monetary value, award or reward or souvenir value. Historically, money objects emerged as social phenomenon within cultures from the very beginning.

Since the beginning of recorded history, about 5,200 years ago, for the sake of the dignity and good of the individual, social justice, and in order to keep peace and to settle and avoid disputes, human societies created portable mailing and 2,550 years later money objects as an equitable medium of fair exchange for the release of all forms of debts, duties and obligations and to satisfy the demand for exact payment in equivalent value for the purchase of real property, personal property, chattel, goods and services, to award and reward service or any individual or entity for some socially recognized and esteemed cause.

Money objects are a modern socially convenient means to save or store monetary value and to transfer it from one person to another within society. A monetary object expresses a monetary unit or standard of value authorized, recognized, accepted and adopted through social convention and custom. Since the monetary unit is a social convention it is the legal tender or official currency of the society that created and authorized it.

The class of objects used to convey monetary value is comprised of those having either intrinsic value or imputed value.


Intrinsic value is any marketable good or token used by a society as a store of monetary value.

Intrinsic value is one of social perception and custom sometimes called "fictitious value" where a culture recognizes some material found in nature or some object manufactured by that material as precious and highly desirable, i.e., with a measurable monetary value.

Cowrie shells, wampum, coins, and ingot bars are examples of hard cash. These objects have intrinsic value revered by social custom and tradition.

Those objects having intrinsic value are frequently called hard cash.


These are money or currency objects that are given authority by and individual, corporation, organization or government to be used to a specified value as indicated.

Postage stamps, stocks, bonds, securities, paper currency, coupons, and paper tokens, revenue stamps, ration stamps, lottery tickets, savings stamps, and other similar philatelic and numismatic phenomenon are those objects that had their original intended value, not inherent in the intrinsic material or media of their physical substance but in that authorized for use to that specified value.

Principles of Valuation

Valuation is the estimation of worth for any object derived through supportable and defensible evidence of value typically published in an appraisal report by an experienced, qualified, and competent appraiser. Value in and of itself is a social perception and consequence of custom sometimes called fictitious value or perceived value which is universal to the social community in its ethos and particularized by the individual in their assimilation of the social custom and the values that society has emulated or standardized in practical life. To arrive at fair market value an appraiser must assess the various filters through which value is processed and determined by that society in order to determine the appropriate value for a specific object. The principles of valuation are by and large mathematical methods and techniques of comparison and adjustment.

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