Newsletter, November 2011
Dear Madam, dear Sir,
Things are getting increasingly hectic here in Berlin, as we are busy with the preparations for the 41st World Money Fair. We believe that working at one of the three important numismatic research centres of Britain must be completely different – calm, and with the appropriate time and patience to competently evaluate these exquisite treasures and put them accurately into their historical contexts.
Today, we are pleased to present the current report by Dr. Ursula Kampmann which mainly focuses on numismatic research in London, Oxford and Cambridge. For a long time, scholarly contributions from the United Kingdom to current international debates have been regarded as extremely relevant. Another means of becoming acquainted with our Guest of Honour, the Royal Mint.
Meanwhile, we here will be “doing more research” to find out about your wishes. And we are already looking forward to seeing you again in Berlin!
The organisation team
of the World Money Fair
British Museum, Cambridge, Oxford
The Three Big Institutions of Numismatic Research in Great Britain
by Ursula Kampmann
The United Kingdom today plays a leading role in numismatic research, mainly for the following two reasons. On the one hand, due to Britain's colonial past, there is hardly a country whose numismatic collections boast such a wide variety of coins of foreign origins. On the other hand, current English laws regarding treasure finds are very fair, which has led to establishing an extraordinarily good collaboration of metal detectorists, collectors, dealers and scholars. Almost every new find is recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, scholarly documented and made accessible to the numismatic public. Thus, Great Britain has become the leading nation in research on coin finds.
Pic. 1 – Interior of the British Museum. Image: UK.
The British Museum – Competence Centre for Numismatics
The coins currently on store in the Department of Coins and Medals are just too many to count. So, one can only make a rough estimate: There are probably about one million objects. Naturally, not all these are of British origin. Over the centuries, the British Museum could get hold of many collections gathered abroad by British merchants and officers. As a matter of fact, a lot of “foreigners” bequeathed their collection to the museum, as well, confident that it would be perfectly looked after. Therefore, the British Museum affords to employ 17 experts who, it goes without saying, are proficient in the languages used in coin inscriptions! That is why the British Museum keeps publishing works on numismatic fields that seem rather remote to Europeans. In most of these cases, the book is the only work on this topic written in a language accessible to Western numismatic readers. To give but one example, in 2011 the British Museum published a catalogue of its holdings of Japanese coins which, after all, is one the best collections outside Japan.
And that is not all. The preliminary cleaning and identification of all coins from hoard troves recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme is carried out in the British Museum. In good years, they can cope with a six-digit number of coins!
As a side note, let it be mentioned that the British Museum is running the only existing research project on African numismatics – in Africa and collaborating with African numismatists.
Pic. 2 – The study room at the Coin Cabinet of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Image: UK.
Cambridge – Where Medieval Numismatics Prevails
It is just a one-hour train drive from London to the second numismatic centre of Britain, the coin collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Thanks to the numismatist Philip Grierson (1910-2006), also well-known in Germany, the museum is home to the probably most important collection of medieval coins. Moreover, the MEC is based here, a project intended to record the entire medieval coin production in a multi-volume catalogue. Scholars from all over the world are collaborating with Cambridge University to make that ambitious project became reality.
Under the direction of Mark Blackburn, finds of medieval coins in Britain have been made accessible in an online database. The website dedicated to British hoard finds provides essential source material to scholars and interested collectors.
But this is by no means all! Ted Buttrey, former curator of the museum and now retired, has built a library of numismatic auction catalogues and stock lists. He collects all kinds of material available from the trade for the use of future generations of scholars. In addition, the central office the Sylloge Volumes of Greek Coins is currently based in Cambridge.
Pic. 3 – The Money Gallery at the Ashmolean Museum. Image: UK.
Oxford – A Focus on the Celts
The Heberden Coin Room at the Ashmolean Museum is the third of the big research centres in the South of England, located at about a two-hour bus drive from Cambridge and one hour by train from London.
Oxford University runs the Celtic Coin Index that will celebrate its 50th anniversary in December 2011. The Celtic Coin Index also relies on the good collaboration of scholars, dealers and collectors in documenting all find-spots of Celtic Coins in Britain – a project that has proved to be very fruitful. Experts from Britain are not only better informed about the different areas settled by Iron Age tribes than we are; what is more, the Celtic Coin Index provides them with an excellent instrument to fight counterfeits and identify fake types of Celtic coins.
Another research focus is the Roman Provincial Coinage project (RPC), a catalogue compiling coins from all provinces of the Roman Empire. Before going into print, the latest volume has already been put online in order to get more information from collectors and scholars on coin types that have not yet been included.
Besides, Oxford is famous for its symposia where relevant topics in numismatics are discussed.
The British Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Ashmolean Museum all offer a superb exhibition of coins to the private visitor. The museums in London and Oxford both have a major Money Gallery dedicated exclusively to numismatics, whereas the Fitzwilliam Museum showcases its coins along with the general collection.
Finally, it shall not be left unmentioned that all three museums are of eminent importance as places of learning and study for future numismatists. Many curators all over the world worked at the British Museum for some years. Each year, at Heberden Coin Room and the Fitzwilliam Museum, numerous students learn to handle and identify coins.
A visit to any of the three institutions is interesting and enriching for professional and hobby numismatists alike.