An E-Sylum reader forwarded this article about Alan Stahl, curator of numismatics at Princeton University.
On a table behind a locked gate in a vault at Princeton University, ancient coins lie sprinkled in their boxes.
Some are copper; some, gold. Some are straight and flat. Others are cupped like tiny saucers. They bear the images of Alexander the Great or the Emperor Augustus or the 7th century emperor, Constans II, because they were minted during the reigns of these rulers thousands of years ago.
The rulers and their empires have long since turned to dust, but their coins are still around. Worn and ragged-edged and of all sizes, they look like what they are -- pieces of history. And they are here, at Princeton, in a collection that has been curated since 1849, the oldest such in the United States.
Professor Alan M. Stahl, curator of numismatics at Princeton and a scholar and author, presides over the collection with the bemused air of someone who has seen it all. While a guest professes astonishment at the weight and feel of a coin from 336 B.C. minted in Macedonia, Stahl chuckles lightly. He does this kind of thing every day, and he uses it not to stoke his own curiosity but to illuminate history.
"It focuses your attention on something that people of the time took for granted. People who wrote in those eras almost never talk about the coins, just like now they might never mention what a dollar bill looks like. But by looking at it seriously and studying it, you see something new about a society," said Stahl. For example, you can learn how long coinages survived and where they circulated, he said. "You find coins from Venice in the Black Sea, and that tells you something.
"Coinage debasement, that tells you a lot -- if you put a lot of silver in your coin and then all of a sudden you cut that silver in half, that tells you about the economy," Stahl said.
"And, of course, the imagery on the coinage is very important too. Often these things aren't recorded. So the important thing is to be able to learn what's going on and then interpret it."
For example, Stahl will use coinage of a more recent provenance to illustrate a little known fact about the formation of the United States. In an exhibition slated to run a year from now, Stahl will feature coins to depict the often intense debate about what or who was to be pictured on our new country's currency.
To read the complete article, see:
To discerning eye, ancient silver yields gold
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