What Does a Numismatist Collect and Do?
For a long time, most people thought that coin collecting started in Italy during the Renaissance. This view contrasts with evidence suggesting that the hobby is well over a thousand years older. According to De vita Caesarum by Seutonius (AD 69-122), Augustus Caesar liked old and foreign coins. He also gave them to friends as gifts. Even before that, coins were considered art and, being the most transportable and affordable forms of it, were likely collected during the period.
During the 1400s and 1500s, coin collecting was the hobby of nobility in Europe. The royal hobbyists not only collected and studied old coins, but they also served as patrons to artists, whom they commissioned both to replicate old coins and to create commemorative medals, often with the images of the patrons. The ensuing centuries saw the development of scholarship on the topic, and a cottage industry developed around the specialty.
The hobby underwent tremendous growth and became much more democratized in the 1800s as the number of private collectors grew. Novice hobbyists joined royalty in this pursuit, and numismatic societies and publications developed to spread information about coin collecting. The spread of the hobby developed still further in the last century, as shows, conferences, conventions, and local clubs began popping up across the globe.
As the hobby has grown and knowledge about historic coins and those from around the world has increased, it is not surprising that many numismatists have one or more specialty areas. Among dealers, this area of expertise is sometimes defined by price. The most common breakdown in this regard is coins priced under $1,000, coins priced between $1,000 and $100,000, and coins priced either above $100,000 or, in some instances, above $1 million. Other standard fields of expertise include ancient coins, paper money, commemoratives, early gold, territorial gold coins, error coins, and contemporary issues. Although many collectors choose to assemble pieces that cover various areas, others focus almost exclusively on one or two of them. Fortunately, resources abound for all sorts of collectors.