American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this
article with a great question: Who was the first coin collector?. Thanks!
Sometime around 600 BCE, a merchant east of Troy in the Kingdom of Lydia looked at two
coins and noticed they were different. He set them aside and compared them as he acquired other
coins. Unfortunately, Greek historian Herodotus did not record his name or a description of the
extent of his collection.
Hoards of coins of a single type are studied as a representation of commerce at the time. When a
hoard contains coins of all different types, it is considered to represent a systematic collection.
Such early hoards have been found but not linked to a specific collector.
So, who was the first coin collector memorialized in print? According to the trusted source of
Wikipedia, the first famous coin collector was Caesar Augustus. He was born as Gaius Octavius
on September 23, 63 BCE. He got a job with the firm of his great uncle Julius and rose to the
position of CEO by 27 BCE. At least the story goes something like that.
Augustus produced coinage under his own name and distributed it to his employees and local
merchants. According to a report by Roman historian Suetonius, Augustus gave
coins of every
device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money on the festival of Saturnalia.
This has been interpreted as evidence that Augustus was a coin collector but I believe that
evidence is very thin. Collecting coins and giving away coins are two very different activities.
Jump forward a millennium to the Byzantine Empire and Theodora Porphyrogenita (980-1056).
She is the first woman mentioned in Wikipedia. This was reported by John Julius Norwich in the
second volume of his trilogy, Byzantium: The Apogee. Wikipedia states that she
Owned a large
collection of ancient coins and medals which she kept in custom-made bronze cabinets and
happily accepted new additions as presents.
Theodora's career in the family business did not go as well as Octavian's. Her attempts to
become emperor were thwarted by her older sister Zoe. When Constantine IX died, Theodora
became emperor for sixteen months briefly at age 74.
Caesar Augustus and Theodora Porphyrogenia are both represented on coins from their era.
These might make an interesting exhibit of coin collectors who appear on coins.
I found documentation of these early collections to be very thin. Are there better sources to
confirm the activities of these collectors? I call upon the smarty pants readers of The E-Sylum to
come up with better candidates for recognition as the first coin collectors.
I'm curious to see what our readers come up with!
Wayne Homren, Editor
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