Numismatics is the
name given to the study and collecting of coins and medals, and is derived
from nomisma, the Greek word for coin. It is probable that
coins were prized for their aesthetic qualities in the ancient world, while
their importance in socio-economic development was appreciated by Herodotus,
the 5th century Greek historian.
Herodotus, the Lydians were the first people to
introduce the use of gold and silver coins.
certainly coin collections during the earliest times – but not in the
modern sense. In the era before banking, people stored their surplus wealth
in leather bags or earthenware jars, which could be buried in troubled times.
Coins from such hoards are undoubtedly the source of much of the material now
in the hands of museums and some collectors.
From the Renaissance
onwards, it was fashionable for gentlemen to possess a coin cabinet –
which in some cases was an entire room, shelved from floor to ceiling to
house their treasures!
early collectors were the Italian scholar and poet Petrarch, the Medici
rulers of Florence, Pope Paul II, Queen Christina of Sweden and the Habsburg
Emperor Charles VI.
In Britain, George
III set a fine example, and his interest in coins was shared by his personal
surgeon, Dr William Hunter, whose wide-ranging
collections, including coins and medals, were the nucleus of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, opened in 1807.
King George III
shared an interest in coins with his personal surgeon, Dr
formed by his brother, Dr John Hunter and their
contemporary, Sir Hans Soane, formed the basis of
the numismatic collections in the British Museum.
Britain is unusual
in having several great institutional collections, including those in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and the Fitzwilliam Museum in
Cambridge, as well as the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh.
and all-embracing collections are housed in the Bibliothèque
National in Paris and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
III, King of Italy, one of several monarchs
with an abiding passion for coins.
Among more recent
monarchs who had an abiding passion for coins were King Carol of Romania and
Prince Rainier of Monaco, but King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was a
lifelong numismatist, whose studies and scholarly writings on the subject are
still widely respected. His magnificent collection is now in the Palazzo
Massimo alle Terme, Rome.
Some of the
greatest collectors of more recent times were Americans, such as the
pharmaceuticals magnate Eli K Lilly and the Texan tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt,
who famously tried to corner the world silver market back in the 1970s.
The late Mary Norweb was arguably the world’s leading female
numismatist. The sale of her incomparable collections in the United States
during the 1980s was spread over many auctions.
in Australia include the Quartermaster, Pratley Nicholson and Vort-Ronald collections, while the Australian coin
collection at the Melbourne Museum
is decribed as the most important of its kind in
[Adapted from THE WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COINS
& COIN COLLECTING]