Tom Casper submitted this article inspired by an earlier E-Sylum piece. Thank you!
COINS IN THE CLASSROOM
By Tom Casper
We have all heard of grade schools as well as high schools utilizing coins to expand the subjects of art,
history and geography. This is not only an excellent way to teach the connection between coins, rulers and
countries but also to introduce to them the wonderful hobby of coin collecting.
Recently I became aware that a Wisconsin college is also teaching with coins. Lawrence University in
Appleton, Wisconsin has a rare and massive collection of 420 ancient coins. It has been appraised as the third
best ancient coin collection in the U.S. On October 15, 2019 the coins were shown in the Wriston Art Center
Galleries, for Classics students taking Intensive Beginning Latin. The course is being taught by Assistant
Professor of Classics, Adriana Brook, Assistant Professor of Art History. The theme for this year’s showing was
animals on coins, and was given the clever name, The Ancient Coin Petting Zoo. Eight coins were passed
around to students wearing gloves who were able to handle and study the coins. They have been doing this
each year since 2014 with a different theme each year.
Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins are represented in the collection. The collection was donated to the
University by a Lawrence Alumna, Ottilia Buerger of Mayville, Wisconsin. She attended Lawrence from 1934 to
1938 receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin. She went on to teach English and Latin for the next several
years at schools in Goodman, Wautoma and Beaver Dam, Wis.
In 1958 she continued her interest in history by turning to numismatics, specifically ancient coins. Her first
purchase was at the coin shop in Gimbels Department Store in Milwaukee. It was a Roman denarius for about
$5. She thought she may buy some additional coins in the future but never thought of forming a collection. In
the mid-1960s she became serious in growing her collection. She continued buying coins from Gimbels, coin
dealer Edward Gans of Berkeley, CA, and Harlan Berk of Chicago. She than contacted dealers overseas,
Seaby’s and Spink & Sons of London. Nearly all the purchased coins were in mint condition. She loaned the
collection in Lawrence in 1995 and bequeathed to the University upon her death in 2001. By donating her
collection, she hoped enrich and enlighten student learning in art history, classical studies and history. A
portion of her collection, 232 coins, can be found on line at
According to the curator, Beth Zinsli, the key piece is the collection is a large, gold medallion of Roman Emperor
Constantius II, 337-361AD. This piece is one of only three versions known. The obverse shows a bust of Emperor
Constantius facing right with the inscription DN CONST ANTIVS MAX A VGVSTVS. The reverse shows Constantius riding a
six-horse chariot with the inscription DN CONST ANTIVS VICTOR SEMPER A VG. The medal is not dated but has the mint
mark of Antioch (AN) in exergue. The medal weighs 40.04 grams with a diameter of 4.7cm. In 2005, a Lawrence
student, Julia Ruff wrote a 62-page Honors Project paper on this medallion. The website for this paper is
Constantius II Medal
Ottilia wanted her collection available to students so they can explore not only the historical and aesthetic importance
of the coins themselves, but also their political, religious, economic and artistic contexts. This Ancient Coin Petting Zoo is
certainly accomplishing her goal.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
THE ANCIENT COIN PETTING ZOO
Wayne Homren, Editor
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