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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 7, February 15, 2009, Article 15

FOR AND AGAINST NUMISMATIC MUSEUMS

In last week's discussion of the possible sale of the coin collection of the Kings of Hannover, R. G. Doty wrote, " If one numismatic museum is threatened, all numismatic museums are at risk."

One reader noted (in all caps) I HATE "SLIPPERY SLOPE" ARGUMENTS. I'd rather not debate the logic, but agree that any all-inclusive statement can be tripped up with counterexamples. Of course, when my wife tells me I "always" this or "never" that, I know enough to keep my trap shut.

The Pros and Cons of Numismatic Museums have been discussed here before. I described how the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh's sale of its numismatic collection turned me against the thought of ever donating numismatic material to a museum, although I certainly don't tar all museums with the same brush and have donated other material to history museums (and plan to again in the future).

Doug Mudd of the American Numismatic Association forwarded a copy of an opinion article he wrote for Coin World a few years ago on why museum collections are so important for numismatics. It was written as a counterpoint to Robert Rhue's diatribe against permanently "sequestering" coins in museums.

In Public Ownership—Everyone’s Patrimony!, Doug wrote:
The debate over whether collectible objects should be held in public institutions or kept in private hands is not a new one, particularly in the field of Numismatics. Numerous instances are cited of rare coin types that are now almost wholly unavailable to collectors because most of the known examples are held in museum collections, the most well known instance possibly being Walter Breen’s article on coins “impounded” in the Johns Hopkins University collection.

My answer to the question is “it depends.” It depends on the objects in question and the circumstances surrounding them—should a unique coin be held in a museum collection when there is no intention of ever displaying it? Or should it be held by collector for 40 years to be seen only by close friends, its whereabouts or even existence unknown to the world at large?

Is the public better served by having objects permanently held in public collections or having them circulate in the private sector as part of collections to be bought and sold?

Another way of looking at the debate is to ask the question; Would there be collectors without public collections? Or its converse; Would there be public collections without collectors? In, both cases the answer is “Yes!” But, in both cases, I would modify the answer by adding that they (either the collectors or the public collections) would be diminished by the absence of the other. To be sure, collectors would have more material to collect, but scholarship about that material, particularly in the form of comprehensive catalogs, would be much harder, if not impossible, to produce.


Thanks to Doug for sending me the text of his article, from which the above excerpts were taken. These lines may be different from the final edited Coin World version. I think the above summarizes the situation well - public and private collections serve important and complimentary purposes. -Editor




Wayne Homren, Editor

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