It is a curiosity. How or even when coin collecting really started. Within a collector there must be an an extra gene that compels us to seek our sought out treasures. There is a moment of triumph when a set is completed or you found that one specific coin you have always dreamed of. May be this is how numismatic collecting came about. Because there can be a reward when a numismatist goes on a hunt.
But as I searched through documents and a couple of books, I've concluded that coin collecting wasn't really coin collecting during the periods some aristocrat's were once noted for. It was once said that collecting coins was the hobby of kings. One would have to have the aid of a seeing eye dog if they couldn't see that one. Of course it was the hobby of the privileged. Who else would have had the coins? The commoner of these periods, would have had only a few coins, if any, in their purse (not like to coffers of the nobles) and the collectible state of it really didn't matter.
It is debated, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus was considered to be one of histories first numismatist. It's mentioned historically that he accumulated a plethora of coins and gave them out as gifts at parties. Well Rome had their hands on a lot of territory back then, so it's reasonable to believe that the coins any one of the Caesar's had, came from the imperial vault. Does this count as collecting? Is it the amount of coins one owns or is it the number of sets a collector puts together? This may be a question that may never be answered by the Numis-brotherhood. There are some other's who are mentioned to be numismatic hoarders of old and they can be easily found on the net, but we will leave this for another topic.
Let us get back to the history of the Numismatist. I read an article written by Dr. Busso Peus Nachf that puts some reasoning of when the numismatist came about that makes some sense. The only set back is that it still puts the coin in the elites palm. He says that collecting coins may have started back as far as the 5th century BC. The artistry put into the coins was a value that was of great importance. This makes sense. Also the designer would put their initials within their works which added to the intricacies to the coin. I can see these as plausible. Coins collected to this day have these traits. But again, who else would have had these coins or could afford to get coins to admire? Not the common folk.
So we have to travel farther into the future. To a period in time of a poet by the name of Francesco Petrarch. Petrarch was a scholar, a poet and rumored to be one of the initiators of the 14th century Renaissance. He and other's used coins to complement their knowledge on classic history. This is when the study of numismatics was introduced and incorporated into researching history. This made the coin not only an object of value but gave it a historical significance. Thus the creation the true Numismatist.
Now this makes a great deal of sense to me. But of course others may see it differently. But when collector takes not only the condition of a coin, but also include the historic period and history of a coin, that really makes someone a numismatist.
You can read Dr. Nachf article and come up with your own theories here Collecting Coins