This weeks Find it Friday is going to involve quite a few aspects, like a pocket full of change (!) and there will be no set object for this week, just the wide topic of Coinage, or Numismatics, for I attended a Numismatics training day yesterday.
The day was held at Manchester Museum and was presented by various people from The British Museum and Treasure Plus talking about their areas. Overall, the day was really interesting and a great introduction to looking after a Numismatic collection and getting the
best from the objects. It was made very obvious to me that although a coin might be a small and visually quite simple object, each one will hold its part in a much bigger story leading to all sorts of historical aspects that can be explored further, some you may never have though of. For example, Andrew Morrison of York Museums Trust told us of a project he was involved in where Roman coins were used as inspiration for hairdressers and the hair styles of the busts/portraits on the obverse side of the coins were recreated. This sounded like a brilliant project as not only was it interesting and original it was extremely fruitful in benefiting the collection. New audiences, people who may never have had interest in Numismatics before were able to access the collection with a passion and were able to give the museums themselves a fresh look at their collection, providing a deeper insight into what this aspect of the coins could tell them.
This project was funded by “Treasure Plus” who are currently funding projects and acquisitions relating to Archeology. They also presented at the Numismatics training day telling us of how to apply for the funding they have available, funding ranging between £2000 and £10,000 which could really benefit a museum.
The next presentation was ‘Storage of Numismatic Material; Coins, Medals and Banknotes’ by Henry Flynn of the Money and Medals Network. In his presentation Henry thoroughly explained how to provide stable conditions in which to store the collection in order to avoid damage or corrosion occurring. He provided ideas on storage options and materials, as well as keeping track of everything in the collection, taking in to account that a lot of coins can look very similar and if not stored correctly one going missing out of one hundred is unlikely to be missed. Looking at what should be avoided regarding storage was interesting as the storage options of times gone by are now recognised to be of bad practice, such as PVC packets. These may appear to be the best option as coins can be seen and recognised whilst in the packet but they may cause corrosion of the object as the plastic causes it to “sweat” and the condensation reacts.
Looking at storage ideas for not only conservation but also from a space-saving view gave us here at the curatorial services lots of ideas and a burst of inspiration, making me want to get my hands on the collection. Not literally of course, I would wear gloves. Or maybe I wouldn’t; We were provided with a box that included lots of samples of various items that could be used in looking after our Numismatic collection. It included lots of goodies like acid free envelopes, coin removed tickets, medal boxes, small cases to stop the smaller coins falling about and latex finger covers, so wearing whole gloves is not necessary. In addition to lots of other great things.
Later in the day The British Museums Ben Aslop presented ‘Displaying Numismatics’ and talked us through the redevelopment of the Citi Money Gallery at the British Museum. He talked of how coins in particular are difficult to display in an engaging way and how people turn of when looking at loads of coins together in a case. It appeared to me that quality over quantity was the road they took, making sure their key, most interesting collection items were made easily accessible. He also focused on a central case in the gallery holding forged coins; I did not know that the Royal Mint estimates that one in ten £1 coins are fake. I might have to take a trip to the British museum to learn a bit more.
However, my favorite part of the day was ‘Identifying Roman coins’ by Ian Leins, again of the British Museum. In this section Ian told of how coins often show recurring features that can be used to identify them; how Iron Age coins show an abstract based on a face of a ruler on the obverse side of the coin, wearing a wreath in the hair and a horse-drawn chariot on the reverse of the coin. However the appearance and design of these features will be different due to their region, allowing for a location to be identified.
Roman coins will always have a portrait on the obverse side and a name available, you just need to know how to read the information. identification in its initial stages is identifying the metal the coin is made of; Gold, Silver or Bronze. This is then followed by the identification of the type of bust/portrait, of which there are five types; bare head, laureate head, radiate head, rosette diademed and pearl diademed. These are in relation to the type of wreath or head-dress the portrait is wearing.
The size is also an indicator, if we look from Caracalla (AD 211-17) to Aurelian (AD 270-5) with various in between, over this time the coin will decrease in size, big to small. The earlier coins will be big and silver, whereas the later coins will be smaller and bronze looking, they will contain some silver content but it will be tiny.
However, it starts to get complicated in the 4th Century. Now, it doesn’t matter who the portrait is of, they are all represented with an image that looks pretty much the same for all. And, unlike the horse-drawn chariots of the Iron Age the reverse designs can be anything, popular ones include; personifications, symbolism, commemorating events, deities and military themes.
Overall, what I got from this is identifying coins is extremely hard, and yet it made me want to root through our collection here at the Curatorial Services and see what I could recognise and identify, which of course would be wishful thinking. But, for this Find it Friday I had a look and found some examples:
Here we have two examples of the horse-drawn chariot of the reverse of Roman coins. They are both Republican coins, coin.1 being 133-114 BC in age and coin.2 being 97-79 BC in age. Visible on both coins is two horses, a person in the chariot and one large wheel of the chariot. However, it is obvious that they originate from different locations, due to their styles. Coin.1 is very clear, obviously horses and each aspect is easily identifiable. Coin.2 seems to be more focused on the horses, giving them more elongated bodies and heads, giving an almost surrealist look. The wheel and person are still present, but are squashed on to the side, particularly the wheel which is so squashed it almost seems an after thought. It is obviously the same image, in very different styles.
Following this I have found three examples of the types of head dresses worn by the obverse side portraits. Coin.3 is unidentified currently but shows a Radiate wreath, like a version of what the Statue of Liberty wears. Coin.4 shows the head of the Roman emperor Gratian wearing a Pearl diademed wreath, and coin.5 shows the head of Venus wearing a simple diademed wreath. Coin.5 is quite interesting as it is a coin issued for Julius Caesar dated 100 BC to 44 BC yet shows the portrait of Venus the Roman goddess of love, beauty, sex, fertility and prosperity, as Caesar claimed she was his ancestor.