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Paper money collectors lack identity

What’s in a name?

OK, in today’s world we all have labels. In politics you are liberal or conservative, in religion you are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or one of many others that are practiced. Aside from those labels, I collect coins and currency. Am I still just a numismatist or something more? Sure, it is not nearly as important as politics or religion, but it does bother me that we paper money collectors do not officially have our own label.

It all started in 1974 when my grandmother handed me some coins and an old red seal $2 bill. I immediately became a numismatist and a what? Over the years I have added to both of my collections faithfully and enjoy both. But, being an artist I found older U.S. currency to be far more fascinating and diverse to collect. To me they were small works of art. In most cases when showing off my collections, the currency had a stronger impact to the viewer. Paper has color and a lot more “art” across it’s surface than a coin does. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a numismatist and have many complete collections and beautiful coins. Walking Liberty, Peace, Mercury and Buffalo designs are some of my favorites and I really enjoy the older commemorative series (pre-1982). I do consider myself a proud numismatist.

As a currency collector, what do I call myself? Internet searches have yielded me a few clues, but there is still some disagreement on a single term. I found notaphilist, scripophilist, syngraphist, exonumist and even numismatist all used to describe a bank note or currency collector. Definitions found are as follows:

Notaphily is the study of paper money or banknotes. A notaphilist is a collector of banknotes, paper money, paper currency or plastic notes.

Scripophily is the study and collection of stocks and bonds. A specialized field of numismatics, scripophily is an interesting area of collecting due to both the inherent beauty of some historical documents as well as the interesting historical context of each document.

Syngraphics is the study and collection of paper money. This branch of numismatics may not be as well known as coin collecting, but it is in fact quite a lively aspect of the greater currency-collecting community, and individual samples of paper money have sometimes fetched high prices at auction due to rarity or unusual circumstances. Several individuals in the numismatics field specialize in syngraphics.

Exonumia are numismatic items (such as tokens, medals, or scrip) other than coins and paper money. This includes “Good For” tokens, badges, counter stamped coins, elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medallions, tags, wooden nickels and other similar items. It is related to numismatics proper (concerned with coins that have been legal tender), and many coin collectors are also exonumists. Besides the above strict definition, others extend it to include non-coins which may or may not be legal tenders such as cheques, credit cards and similar paper. These can also be considered notaphily or scripophily.

Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects. While numismatists are often characterized as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other payment media used to resolve debts and the exchange of goods.

Numismatics is a far better known and broader term. In fact, as I type this on the computer, all of the other terms are caught by spell-check, while numismatics is unnoticed. After further research I have noticed many paper money terms being used interchangeably as notes, bank notes, promissory notes, currency, script, paper money and rags. Who holds the final authority on this matter, Wikipedia or Webster’s?

It looks like numismatist, syngraphist and notaphilist are my best bets for a label today. Maybe I can be a numismatist always (because I collect coins, too), a syngraphist on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and a notaphilist on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays leaving Sunday to be just tired. Even if we collectors don’t agree, I will collect both and enjoy all the hobby has to offer. You can just call me crazy for stirring up a good debate.


Will Gragg
is a hobbyist from Irmo, S.C.
Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News.
To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send e-mail to david.harper@fwmedia.com.


Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money
With coverage of nearly 200 years of U.S. currency this new edition of the ultimate U.S. paper money book is in a class all its own.

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Standard Guide to Small Size Paper Money

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