Numismatic and other treasures in the world’s museums are being digitized so everyone can access them
By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
One of my favorite pastimes and something I have pursued with passion is visiting museums. I have been to hundreds of them over the years, and I still get excited when I discover a new one.
I enjoy everything from mega-museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to the tiny Headley-Whitney Museum that I visited last weekend in Lexington, Kentucky. I could, and often do, spend hours studying and admiring great art, or learning about a small piece of history that I was unaware of.
My family often complains about my habit of trying to read every story board that I encounter during our museum visits. I would much rather fully immerse myself in a museum than do the “Griswold Family” style tour.
What really gets me excited is to discover numismatic objects while exploring a museum. Surprisingly, rare coins are displayed in an amazing number of museums around the world.
Many, such as the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh that I visited last year, use coins to illustrate timelines of the country’s history. Most major turning points in a country’s history are usually reflected in their coinage.
Many museums, such as the one in Scotland, display interesting individual coins. They are also the repository of coin hoards that have been found over the centuries in their home country. Some of these exhibits can be astounding. The hoards clearly illustrate the process of a country’s prosperity and eventual conquest.
On another level are the great museums around the world that have established numismatic departments. Some of the greatest coin collections in the world are housed in these institutions.
A very partial list would include the British Museum in London, the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., and the Historical Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. These museums have a staff of curators and caretakers devoted to the study and long-term preservation of their National Collections. One of my great honors in life has been my close association with the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian.
The above-mentioned museums are all amazing in their own right, but are spread across the globe. My job allows me to travel extensively, so I have been lucky enough to have visited them often. The average coin collector would obviously not have this opportunity. If you only have two weeks’ vacation, it might be hard convincing the family that it should be spent exploring the Roman coins in the British Museum.
For those of you who have selfish families that would rather visit Disney World, you are in luck. EVERY major museum in the United States and the world is on a path to digitizing their collections. They all realize that their potential impact in the world can be greatly leveraged by having collections available online. This is true for every part of the museums, and not just numismatics.
There is a virtual race by these institutions to raise the funds to have collections digitized and available online. The Smithsonian Museum of American History in D.C. has about four to five million visitors each year. Their stated goal is to reach 1 billion people online. Talk about leveraging your resources – wow!
One of the biggest achievements in recent years at the American Numismatic Association has been the radical upgrades and improvements of money.org. This includes the digitization of over 19,000 items in the Museum collection. Recent exhibits, including a 360-degree virtual reality tour of the gallery, are wonderfully done. The Smithsonian website has dozens of some of the most amazing coins on the planet available for viewing in high-resolution clarity. The ANS has invested heavily in recent years to have as much of their collection available online as well.
If you cannot visit these and the many other museums around the world with world-class coin collections, you should spend time exploring them online. The educational material available is well worth the time, and may inspire you to visit them in person when you have the opportunity.
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