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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 3, January 21, 2007, Article 9

LARRY LEE ON COINS AND MUSEUMS

Also in response to the call for suggestions on coins and museums,
former American Numismatic Association museum director Dr. Larry
Lee submitted the following:

"I would first caution Doug Andrews’ friend that the numismatic world
uses two words differently than they are used in the museum world:
“conservation” and “curate” both have different meanings for the
museum professional than the do for coin collectors. Most of the
“conservation” methods used by both amateur and professionals in
the numismatic world would curl the hair (literally?) of the
professional metal conservator, who may be aghast at some of the
methods and chemicals used by the coin doctors in “curating” their
coins. The professional museum conservator, who publish their methods
in scientific journals, would also not condone the fact that  many
of the coin conservators consider their methods to be private or
proprietary and will not actually reveal what they have done in
curating the coin.

"That caution aside, Mr. Andrews’ museum friend may already be familiar
with the CCI Notes series published by the Canadian Conservation Institute.
Each Note is a technical bulletin that contain practical advice about
the care, handling, and storage of various materials, including metal
and other numismatically-related materials such as leather, ivory,
feathers, and shells. Series N9 deals with metal objects in general,
with 9/7, for instance, covering the removal of “tarnish” from silver.
Series 11 covers the conservation of paper. CCI also carries the book
“Metals and Corrosion: A Handbook for the Conservation Professional”
by Lyndsie Selwyn. As good as these resources are, none of them mention
or treat coins, medals, tokens or paper money in depth.

"Filling that void is another Canadian product, Coin World columnist
Susan Maltby. Her monthly article is a great resource on numismatic
conservation issues from a museum perspective. In past columns Susan
has treated light, mold, temperature and humidity, handling, oxidation
and many other conservation aspects of coins.

"Finally, while I was at the ANA, Doug Mudd and I developed a week-long
Summer Seminar class on “Numismatics for the Museum Professional” which
was just what the name suggested: a class covering handling, housing,
cataloging, displaying and deaccessioning numismatic collections. A
condensed version of this class is being offered by the ANA at Charlotte
on Mar 14-15 and Mr. Andrews’ friend may also want to consider that
option.

"Regarding an introduction to numismatics, Dr. Doty’s recommendation of
Philip Grierson’s “Numismatics” is, unfortunately, indeed as good as it
gets. I say unfortunately because despite its obvious depth and
Grierson’s brilliance, the book was written thirty-two years ago by
an English don who spent his entire life living on campus at Oxford,
it deals primarily with ancient coins and it was published before most
of the current eddies in American numismatics (grading, assay bar
fraud, manufactured rarities) were even swirling.

"Further, Greierson wrote from the perspective of European scholar
who operated in a world where numismatics was accepted as an academic
discipline and he thus took for granted his reader’s familiarity with
research methodologies, standardized techniques and the rigorous
testing behind scientific investigation. The book thus loses something
in the translation to an American audience where numismatics is
considered a hobby with a healthy overlay of commercialism and little
or no scholarly recognition at the university level.

"The cold truth, which should be self-evident to this bibliophilic group,
is that there is no single “Principles of Numismatics” textbook in our
field to recommend to this outside professional! Imagine geology or
archeology, two observational sciences that grew alongside numismatics
during the mid-1800s without a textbook called “Principles of Geology”
or “Principles of Archeology”. Impossible! Yet not for numismatics,
which lost stature as an academic discipline when it failed to develop
the corresponding methodologies as did the other two sciences.

"As noted previously in The E-Sylum, in my doctoral dissertation on
numismatic education in the United States, I compiled information
from 141 different American museums with numismatic collections large
enough to be noted in from the numismatic literature. I then looked
at how those institutions used their collections as both formal and
informal teaching tools in an academic environment: classes, exhibits,
exhibit catalogs, publications, etc. That study was a necessary
prelude to developing an educational textbook on numismatics: you
can’t figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve
been.

"I have now written a textbook and curricula for numismatic education
at the post-secondary level. This past semester, I taught an 8-week
course on “Advanced Numismatics” at a local college based upon this
textbook. The course is designed to be presented over two full
semesters at the graduate level, so the nine students who took the
class got one year of graduate study crammed into 24-hours. From
the “Review of the Literature” lesson of that curriculum, I would
point the curator to the following primary sources regarding museums
and numismatics:

"“Curators and Culture: the Museum Movement in America 1740-1870” by
our own Joel Orosz gives an excellent overview of the uniqueness of
the American museum and its evolution in a democratic society. While
it does not address numismatic collections in depth, another book by
Dr. Orosz “The Eagle that is Forgotten: Pierre Eugene Du Simitier,
founding father of American numismatics” (1988)” does tell of the
development of the early American museum numismatic collections
primarily that of du Simitier and Charles Willson Peale and the
three Peale museums.

"“Collecting in a Consumer Society” by Russell Belk (1995) is a
great book that treats the psychological aspects of collecting.
Belk recognizes that coins represent an important artifact to be
found in virtually all early museum collections and insights and
anecdotes about coins in museums are spread throughout his vastly
intriguing book.

"Finally, an article by Brian Rosenblum (son of E-sylum contributor
William Rosenblum) in the Aug 2000 Celator on “The information needs
of academic numismatists” represents one of the few metacognitive
studies of numismatics as an academic discipline and would be of
interest to both museum professionals and other formal and informal
educators interested in this aspect of numismatics."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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