Dr Simon Glenn, Project Officer for Leeds Special Collections’ Numismatics Collection, gives an insight into our Numismatics Project.

Special Collections holds the University of Leeds’ collection of 15,000 coins, tokens, and medals from all over the world, from sixth century BC Greek examples to late 20th century British issues. The image above shows a lead lotus token from Cambodia from the time of the Khmer Empire (802–1431).

The collection has been the focus of renewed interest recently, thanks to the work undertaken by Emma Herbert-Davies, whose display of coins can be seen outside the Special Collections reception and an online exhibition.

We are now working on a broader numismatics project looking at other parts of the collection, in particular the many coins donated by Mr Paul Thackray. The project aims to address a number of issues: conservation, accessibility of the collection, and publicising the coins more widely.

Although the vast majority of the coins, tokens, and medals in the collection are in excellent condition themselves, the conditions in which they have been kept in the past can sometime lead to inadvertent damage.

One group of coins is in a rather different state from the rest of the collection, having been buried for a substantial part of the last 1,800 years: a hoard of 252 2nd and 3rd century AD Roman bronze coins, allegedly discovered on the Greek island of Paros. Before the project these coins were kept in individual envelopes made of acidic paper, creating the potential for chemical reactions harmful to the coins. They have now been arranged into chronological order by the emperor under whom they were produced and placed in inert plastic trays.

Coins from Paros hoard
Before: the coins of the Paros hoard in their individual envelopes. Image credit Leeds University Library
Repackaged coins
After: some of the coins in their new accommodation. Image credit Leeds University Library

Work to catalogue the coins and make them available online with full references is continuing, although the condition of some coins means they are rather challenging to identify!

Thanks to the work of Ilva Gjermeni, who undertook a placement with us as part of her MA in Art Gallery and Museums Studies, we have also made progress cataloguing the substantial collection of East Asian monetary objects donated by Mr Thackray. We are very much indebted to Dr Helen Wang, Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum for her work identifying our coins. Ilva started the process of preparing the import of Helen’s identifications into our catalogue, which, when complete, will allow researchers to search the collection fully.

As well as improving the accessibility of the collection for researchers we want to publicise the coins widely. For this reason, coins will soon make an appearance in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery. The Be Curious festival, which aims to give members of the public an insight into work going on at the University of Leeds, provided an excellent opportunity for us to bring out some coins and run handling sessions last March. It was wonderful to be able to show a coin of Julius Caesar and see such enthusiasm for an object over 2,000 years old.