Jeff Rock submitted this nice report on a pleasant numismatic surprise seen on tour in Italy. Grazie!
A Numismatic Surprise in Umbria, Italy: Ducal coins and medals on display
coin wife knows, numismatists seem to have a special radar that leads them directly
to coins, even when far away on vacation, somewhere with no advance knowledge of
numismatics in the region. Such was the case for me, spending a couple weeks in Umbria, the
central part of Italy. A day trip of an hour-and-change on a bus to the medieval cliff-face town
of Gubbio led to the usual wandering of streets, stopping in small churches, looking at Italian
clothes that could never possibly fit an American frame, grabbing a gelato or two in the summer
heat and, of course, stopping in at museums and historical buildings.
One such building was the
Ducal Palace, built in the Renaissance style in 1470, literally atop pre-existing medieval
buildings, and is the only Renaissance building in this small city. The contents were stripped off
and sold by later owners (including a wonderful painted studio that is now in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York), so there is little there in the way of period furniture or original
paintings, though the upper floor has a trove of paintings of the area owned by the city and
My surprise was that on first entering there was a display of coins and medals, four nice-sized
cases that take up an entire, small room. The medals relate both to the owners of the palace over
time, but also a nice representative display of works of medallic art spanning the Italian
Renaissance. There are 37 medals on display, 7 of the Duke of Urbino Frederico da Montefeltro,
and his family. There are numerous examples of medals by Pisanello and other major artisans of
the era, and there are a couple gold examples as well (I do not know enough about the series to
comment on whether they are contemporary casts or ones made a bit later, but most are
provenance to museums and private collectors who loaned them). For those whose Italian, like
mine, is non bene, the descriptions are given in both Italian and English.
For the two display cases of coins, there are 35 examples on display, ranging from the earliest
coinage of Gubbio (which though small was chosen as a site for the main mint after obtaining the
right to coin money from Pope Martin V) in 1404, for a bit over a century, ending with the
coinage of Guidobaldo di Montefeltro in 1508. The coins are from private collections, but also
boast some wonderful pedigrees, including Vittorie Emmanuel III, King of Italy until 1946. By
far the most important coin is the unique silver lira made sometime after 1474, which bears an
extremely realistic portrait of Frederico and was likely produced shortly after he received that
title; it hails from the famous Nicolo Papadopoli collection, and is the single coin depicted in the
Even though centuries and thousands of miles removed from my own areas of specialty, the
exhibit was enough for me to stop and examine – and admire the art and skill of the time.
Sometimes half the fun of travel is wondering just how numismatics will find us.
"While most city museums I've been to in Italy have a few coins here or there they tend to either be ground finds from the area (which are certainly interesting, but seldom pretty), or a more generic group of emperors or the like. Finding something like this that was clearly put together with a sense of pride by collectors in the town is really nice to see! I don't know a whole lot about ancients, but I do know if I ever retire to Italy I would almost certainly have to start collecting them. I think the addiction ends only when you are 6 feet under!"
Wayne Homren, Editor
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