Ask the Expert: Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics (Coins, Medals, Tokens and Banknotes) for York Museums Trust (YMT)

Money, Medals and Museums in the Twenty-first Century

Most museums will have some form of numismatic collection. This might be Roman coins in an archaeology collection, tokens in social history or medals in military museums. However, numismatic collections are relatively seldom utilised. Cabinets of coins, medals and tokens sit unused in a variety of stores. There are reasons behind this. The antiquarian nature of collections, with large numbers of coins from areas remote in space and time from the modern museums, present problems. Similarly, the challenges of classification (is it sub-class 10a or 10b?) have put many off numismatics. Finally, the inherent challenge of displaying objects that are small and round must be acknowledged, in addition to the fact that money is something so everyday that we seldom stop to think about it.

Image from Guardian, 9.i.1996

Image from Guardian, 9.i.1996

It is a pity that numismatic collections are not utilised more widely. In the brief time that I have been based in York I have seen some fantastic things in collections within the region. Craven have an excellent Roman hoard, Sheffield an incredible array of industrial tokens/medals while York can boast the rather fabulous Vale of York Viking hoard. When I have been out and about visiting museums I like to say that every numismatic collection has something of interest, it is just a matter of finding out what it is and how to make the most of it.

An awareness of the potential of numismatics can be seen with some major museums devoting whole galleries to its display. Refurbishments of the BM, Ashmoleon and Manchester Museums have all devoted large spaces to Money. Closer to home, we have found in York that numismatics can work well in a number of contexts. We have material integrated into a range of exhibitions (The head of Constantine alongside his coins) but numismatics also stands on its own as can be seen in a ‘travel money’ display. It pops up in our Richard III handling sessions and even in our volcanoes display. Our work with WW1 medals has proved to be one of the most rewarding volunteer projects.

‘Travel Money’ display, with coins donated by visitors in August 2013, at the Yorkshire Museum

‘Travel Money’ display, with coins donated by visitors in August 2013, at the Yorkshire Museum

A realisation that there is enormous potential in numismatic collections is one of the reasons for YMT’s appointment of a Curator of Numismatics. My role is to provide advice, support and help to Museums within the region. If you fall under the remit of MDY then I am here to help. I am planning to host regular training on a range of topics, can provide specific advice – on identification, documentation, display, handling, interpretation or whatever you can think of! – if desired and am currently working on trying to ‘map’ the numismatic collections of the region. This mapping will feed into a national scheme which aims to quantify the scale and type of numismatic collections across the whole country. This will allow for more effective planning of training and the connection of collections with local specialists/volunteers.

In sum, money and medals have huge potential within a Museum environment. Handled appropriately and with a little imagination there are few things that they can’t be utilised for. In my blog, I’m happy to field queries about all things numismatic so please use it as an opportunity to take a look in that dusty cabinet and see what you have!

Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics, York Museums Trust

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 29 November, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyaskexpert.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to gillian.waters@ymt.org.uk  

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contactwith us and let us know.

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19 Comments

Andrew, we have some paper Russian Imperial Roubles (pre 1917) in the Stewart Collection at Burnby Hall Gardens. I’m interested in knowing what the circumstances of their issue was and what value they might have. Unfortunately I’m on a research assignment in Sussex on the 29th so cannot submit my question during the Q and A window, but wondered whether you might be able to assist me if I contacted you direct at another time? Many thanks.

Peter Rogers November 26th, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Looking forward to the discussion this afternoon!

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 1:35 pm

What’s your favourite coin the museum collection?

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I guessing you may have something a little similar to this (http://goo.gl/yKoVcL). Banknotes were issued in fairly substantial numbers in the early twentieth century and Russia was no exception to this. Perhaps the unusual aspect is that they have ended up in collection so far from home. It woudl be interesting to trace their provenance or know a little more about how they cmae to be in the collection.
It is also notable that the notes of the USSR feature quite different imagery (http://goo.gl/MORuCT). I’ll email you personally with a little more information if you think that would be helpful.

Andrew Woods November 29th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Lucy Moore ‏@CuratorLucy has asked
#mdyaskexpert bitcoins have been in the media a lot – how/should new currencies be reflected in collections? #numismatics

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Lucy Creighton ‏@lucy_etc has asked
#mdyaskexpert if you could have one coin in your collection that you don’t have at the moment, what would it be?

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

My favourite coin is probably our fabulous Charles I pound (http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/features/features/10631132.There___s_history_on_the_other_side_of_the_coin/). It is enormous and goes down well with children who just can’t get their head around something so big being a £1 coin! Love the portrait of Charles I too, him riding a horse. Beautiful and with enormous potential for education.

Andrew Woods November 29th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Andrew replied to @CuratorLucy #mdyaskexpert Not too sure that we can ‘collect’ Bitcoin in a traditional sense, better 2 try 2 collect it in #digital medium?

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Andrew @YMT_coins discussed his inspiration for starting in numismatics with @Bexx_FLO “It started with my grandfather’s #WW2 coins. He served in the navy and kept one from everywhere he visited.”

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Andrew @YMT-Coins discusses the nature of collecting coins with @CuratorLucy “I see many unused collections of C19th world coins. Must be careful not to collect too widely … Must be careful not to collect too widely Limiting collection is vital. Large coin collections can be built up with no prospect of ever really being usedThis is particularly true of coins/tokens, which are small and don’t take up much space.”

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Andrew @YMT_Coins discusses the different ways of displaying #numismatic collections #mdyaskexpert “By thinking of them as money not as coins. Traditional displays talk about kings/emperors when which is difficult to relate to. Far better to think about value/costs – things that everyone can relate to. Coin in the hand rather than as an abstract”

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

It would be a #Viking coin of Olaf struck in York in the 940s. Stunning image of Odin’s Raven http://goo.gl/8NZX4P #mdyaskexpert

Andrew Woods November 29th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Andrew @YMT_Coins discusses modern display techniques with coins rather than old-fashioned coin drawers. “Fewer coins on display, well-lit and not in rows. Big images nearby. Crucially, possibility of #handling too”.
Tactile is great too. My #travelmoney display was low and not behind glass so that kids could touch it” #mdyaskexpert

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 4:01 pm

@DrMLivingstone “I have one of these [Charles I coin] hammered by an arts and crafts silversmith in 1890s to make the bowl of a ladle.”

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Andre @YMT_Coins [In response to @DrMlivingstone] “Wow, fantastic. I’d love to take a look! I think you can safely say that it is likely to be unique” #mdyaskexpert

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Andrew @YMT_Coins praises @CravenMuseum’s coin collection “have a fab archaeology collection (http://www.cravenherald.co.uk/news/10233441.Craven_Museum_secures_grants_to_buy_Roman_coins/ …) but also many old-fashioned coin drawers.”

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Andrew @YMT_Coins discusses how coins can be used in museums “They can be used in so many ways @MuseumLiverpool have a great medal tower and resource http://goo.gl/P1JbFT ” #mdyaskexpert

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 5:00 pm

@DrMLivingstone posts on twitter an image of a Charles I coin that made a ladle! #mdyaskexpert https://twitter.com/DrMLivingstone/status/406449967461453825/photo/1

Gillian Waters November 29th, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I think you need to draw a distinction between coins and medals. Family medals attract quite a bit of attention in regimental museums where the issue is usually how to make them easily and aesthetically available for visitors to view without giving over too much limited gallery space to them. Most museums resort to drawers but this can lead to problems with abuse of the drawers and displacement or damage of the collections.

Erik Blakeley December 3rd, 2013 at 10:56 am

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