Simon Glenn, our numismatics project officer, gives an update on our numismatics project.

Since January 2018 the project has been improving the accessibility of the approximately 15,000 coins held in Special Collections. Much of the focus is on enhancing the ability of visitors in Leeds to view coins and to help members of the University to use them in teaching sessions. Just as importantly we are changing our online presentation of the coin collection which will soon display coins in a slightly different way from our other collections.  Specific numismatic information will become readily accessible through the online catalogue.

However useful our catalogue is, people have to know that there is a coin collection in the Leeds University Library. Rarely do users search for a particular collection of coins.  More often than not they wish to find examples of coins issued by a specific ruler or in a particular place.  Where the coins are kept is of secondary interest.

In this respect coins are different from much of the unique archive material held in Special Collections.  They have always been mass produced and many examples, even of ancient ones, survive in their thousands in disparate collections. The coins struck in the name of Alexander III of Macedon (the Great) in his lifetime and for up to two hundred years afterwards are a good example. It has been estimated that over 100 million tetradrachms, the standard silver coin of the time, were struck. The Leeds University coin collection has 10, one of which is shown below.

Tetradrachm coin
Obverse of silver tetradrachm of Alexander the Great 336–323 B.C. showing Heracles wearing a lion scalp. Image credit University of Leeds Library.

Gold and bronze coins were also produced in the name of Alexander and of his successor Philip Arrhidaeus.  In total Special Collections holds 61 examples. Images of these coins are now online on the Special Collections catalogue. Although 61 may sound impressive, it is small in comparison with the holdings of major numismatic collections.  The British Museum has 4,061, and the American Numismatic Society in New York 10,818! The smaller scale of our collection makes it unlikely that researchers will visit Leeds or our online catalogue to look for coins.

Over the last few years the American Numismatic Society has created a number of online portals to gather together coins produced by different ancient authorities, making them accessible in a single site using the principles of Linked Open Data. Examples include Coinage of the Roman Republic Online (CRRO) and Online Coins of the Roman Empire (OCRE).  Coins minted in the name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus appear on PELLA.

These portals bring together coins published online by different institutions and present them in a single corpus. There is also a link back to the original object on its institutional website. The 61 coins in the Leeds University coin collection are the latest added to PELLA.  Using Martin Price’s catalogue The coinage in the name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus as a reference, the coins are organised using Price’s type numbers.  For example, the coin illustrated above from the mint of Amphipolis is number 12 in Price’s work. There are 17 examples of this particular type in PELLA.

Our single coin appears alongside those in the collections of the American Numismatic Society, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Berlin Münzkabinett, and the British Museum. All of our 61 coins are integrated in this way.  PELLA’s multilingual descriptions and interface allow an entirely new audience worldwide to search for coins and they will be able to find coins from Leeds alongside the world’s major numismatic collections.

If you are interested in the coins of Alexander the Great and the numismatic collection of the University of Leeds, look out for a talk  at the University by our numismatic project officer, Simon Glenn, on Monday 15th October.