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The Princeton University
Numismatic Collection

Current Exhibit

From a Grateful Nation

Latin American Medals and Orders

from the Robert L. Ross Collection

at Princeton University

Firestone Library, Princeton University

February 22 through August 3, 2014

In commemoration of the bicentennial of the first steps of the liberation of Spanish American colonies from Spanish and Portuguese rule, we are mounting an exhibition of awards, orders, and medals honoring the soldiers who fought for the liberation of what were to become the nations of Latin America.

Unlike in the United States, where there was general distrust of orders and decorations as signs of aristocracy, in Latin America the practice of creating new orders for the liberators and awarding medals to participants in the battles against colonialism was a vital aspect of the revolutionary movements and the governments that followed them. These visual markers of liberation are a seldom-studied manifestation of the material culture of anti-colonial movements.

The exhibition is based on the Ross Collection, which has been donated systematically to the Princeton University Numismatic Collection by Robert L. Ross over the past several years. It constitutes the most comprehensive colleciton of Latin American medals and orders in the world. The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive catalogue, listing all known pieces and illustrating in full color all of the pieces in the Ross Collection.


A full color catalogue of the exhibition, containing 736 pages with 969 color photographs, is available for $125 from the Friends of Princeton University Library, One Washington Road, Princeton, NJ 08544.  Inquiries about ordering can made to Linda Oliveira at loliveir@princeton.edu or at (609) 258-3155. 

There is an online version of the exhibition at:



Past Exhibits:

Capping Liberty

The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography
for the New American Republic

There is an online version of the exhibition at


Libertas Americana medal

An Exhibition of Coins, Medals, Banknotes
and Related Books, Manuscripts, and Graphic Arts
from Princeton University Collections

3 March 2012 – 8 July 2012

Leonard L. Milberg Gallery for the Graphic Arts
Firestone Library, Princeton University

Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., closed holidays


On Sunday, May 6, Louis Jordan, University of Notre Dame, will give a public lecture entitled "Transformations in Numismatic Iconography during the American Revolution" at 4 p.m. in 101 McCormick Hall on the Princeton campus. The lecture will be preceded at 2:30 by a curatorial tour of the exhibition in Firestone Library by Alan M. Stahl, Princeton's Curator of Numismatics. A reception in Firestone Library will follow the lecture. Additional curatorial tours will be held on Sunday, March 25, and Thursday, May 31, both at 2:30 p.m.

For further information contact Alan M. Stahl, Curator of Numismatics at astahl@princeton.edu.



Money on Paper

Money on Paper poster

Money on Paper
Bank Notes and Related Graphic Arts
from the Collections of Vsevolod Onyshkevych and Princeton University
Leonard L. Milberg Gallery for the Graphic Arts
Firestone Library, Princeton University
August 30, 2010, to January 2, 2011

Paper money as a form of art might seem the makings of a rather small exhibition, to judge from the modern bills of the United States and Europe. Bank notes, however, have constituted one of the dominant forms of visual communication for the past two centuries, and in many cases can be seen as works of art in their own right. Princeton University's Numismatic Collection is featuring currency worth looking at in the exhibition "Money on Paper" on view in the August 30, 2010, through January 2, 2011.
New Jersey shilling frontNew Jersey shilling back

New Jersey, 1 shilling, December 31, 1763.
Printed by James Parker, Woodbridge.

Because British colonial policies resulted in a dearth of circulating coins, the American colonies were the home of the earliest regular issues of paper money. Illustration was applied to colonial currency as an anti-counterfeiting device as well as for aesthetic purposes. Not surprisingly, the most inventive printer of paper money of the time was Benjamin Franklin, who devised a system of transferring the vein patterns of tree leaves to printing plates to foil counterfeiters. The Princeton exhibition includes a large selection of Franklin's nature-print notes, as well as issues of Paul Revere and the South Carolina engraver Thomas Coram, who brought classical imagery to that colony's bank notes.

Audubon's grouse
John James Audubon
grouse vignette, c. 1822

One of the highlights of the exhibit will be the first public display of the recently discovered banknote engraving of a grouse by John James Audubon, the great wildlife illustrator's first published work. On display with a sample sheet containing the vignette will be an original watercolor by Audubon, a steel printing plate from The Birds of America, and the Princeton first edition of the elephant folio book open to the page with Audubon's drawing of the pinnated grouse.

Durand New York note
New York, New York, The National Bank, $5, unissued proof (c. 1829).
Vignettes of George Washington and the mythological figure Hebe by Asher B. Durand.

Asher B. Durand, one of America's greatest painters, was also a major figure in the development of bank note art in this country. Along with his brother Cyrus, who invented a highly decorative series of anti-counterfeiting devices, he developed a classical, patriotic approach to bank note design that dominated the medium for the first half of the nineteenth century.

Montgomery $1,000
Confederate States of America, $1,000, Montgomery, May 22, 1861.
Portraits of John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson.

A section of the Princeton exhibit will explore the divergence of imagery on the bank notes of northern and southern issuers before and during the Civil War. Collectors of paper money will be especially interested by the complete set, in Extremely Fine condition, of six notes printed by the National Bank Note Company in New York and smuggled into the Confederacy in 1861 for distribution as notes of Montgomery, Alabama, and Richmond, Virginia. The American section of the exhibition ends with the high point of American bank note art, the Educational Series of 1896, designed and engraved by some of the most important illustrators of the day.

Mucha front
Mucha back
Czechoslovakia, 50 korun, 1929.
Designed by Alfons Mucha, engraved by Karel Wolf.
Collection of Vsevolod Onyshkevych.

The stagnation of American paper money design in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is put into relief by comparison with some of the beautiful and creative examples of European notes, on loan for the exhibition from the collection of Vsevolod Onyshkevych, Princeton Class of 1983. Alfons Mucha, the popular creator of poster art, designed paper money for Czechoslovakia in the 1920s that epitomizes the glory of art nouveau design. Other important artists of the period, such as Emile Vloors in Belgium and Eliel Saarinen in Finland, put their stamp on the currency of the period. In the second half of the twentieth century, R. D. E. Oxenaar and J. T. G. Drupsteen created a distinctive look for the bank notes of the Netherlands. In the era since the euro imposed a bureaucratic sameness to the currency of most of Europe, Switzerland has kept the innovative look of its paper money with the computer-enhanced colorful notes designed by Jörg Zintzmeyer, while the Faroe Islands have issu ed a series of simple, evocative notes based on the watercolors of Zacharias Heinesen.

A publication entitled Money on Paper, by Princeton's Curator of Numismatics Alan M. Stahl,accompanies the exhibit. It contains a full catalogue of the bank notes on display with color photographs of many of them. There are three additional illustrated essays in the catalogue: Mark Tomasko writing on "Bank Note Engraving in the United States," Francis Musella on "Benjamin Franklin's Nature Printing on Bank Notes," and an edited version of the newsmaking article by Robert Peck and Eric P. Newman entitled "Discovered! The First Engraving of an Audubon Bird." The book is available for $30 from the Friends of Princeton University Library, One Washington Road, Princeton, NJ 08544.  Inquiries about ordering can made to Linda Oliveira at loliveir@princeton.edu or at (609) 258-3155. 

In a public lecture on Sunday, October 17, at 3 p.m. in McCormick Hall 101, Mark D. Tomasko, a well-known expert on paper money, will speak on "The Art of Bank Note Engraving." The lecture, open to the public without charge, will be followed by a reception in Firestone Library and a curatorial tour of the exhibition. Additional curatorial tours will be held on Sunday, November 22, and Sunday, December 12, both at 3 p.m.

For more information on this exhibition or on the Princeton University Numismatic Collection, contact curator Alan Stahl, astahl@princeton.edu, (609) 258-9127.

Numismatics in the Renaissance.

This major exhibit was held in the main exhibit hall of Firestone Library, November 19, 2007 through July 20, 2008. It comprised a selection of early printed books from Princeton University Library holdings that contain numismatic illustrations based on ancient coins, displayed alongside coins from the Princetone University Numismatic Collection that correspond to those illustrations. The books included treatises on numismatics, works on ancient history, and editions of classical texts such as Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars. The confrontation of the printed and numismatic sources illuminated the role of numismatics in the development of humanistic writing and publishing and the effect of the inclusion of coin images on the development of book illustration. Additional features of the exhibit were an example of the 1561 map of Rome by Pirro Ligorio, which used ancient coin images as the basis of the illustration of many buildings, and sixteenth-century coins and medals th at display the growing interest in and knowledge of ancient coins in the era.

A Symposium entitle "The Rebirth of Antiquity" was held in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit. The papers given at the symposium were published in the Winter 2008 issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle and are available as a hardbound volume.

More information on the Numismatics in the Renaissance exhibit.


The Byzantine Mint of Thessalonica. In the central Middle Ages, the Byzantine empire faced progressive loss of lands in Asia Minor in the face of Turkish expansion. It increasingly turned its attention to its western, Balkan lands. This new orientation is epitomized in the coinage of the mint of Thessalonica in northern Greece, which had operated only sporadically since the seventh century. As part of his far-reaching currency reforms, Alexius I Comnenus re-opened the mint of Thessalonica, probably to supply coins to his troops in the northern Balkans. It remained the second mint of the empire until the capture of Constantinople by the Europeans on the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and resumed its role as an important mint after the restoration of the unified Byzantine Empire in 1262. The 18 coins in this exhibit were purchased in 2005 with matching funds provided by the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund

The Diplomatic Medal. The Diplomatic Medal was intended as a gift to foreign diplomats who had helped the American Congress during the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson chose to have this medal made by the French Mint, as had Congress when awarding medals to the heroes of the American Revolution, as it was considered to be the best equipped artistically and technically. The arms depicted on the obverse constitute one of the earliest appearances of the Great Seal of the United States. The reverse is typical of the art of its day, with the juxtaposition of classical, historical and contemporary motifs – note the Indian maiden in a chief’s bonnet and grass skirt, and the sailing ship behind Mercury. The medal was designed by Augustin Dupré. The dies were completed in 1791, and examples in gold were presented to the Marquis de la Luzerne (French Minister to the United States from 1779 to 1784) and the Count de Moustier (French Minister to the Unite d States from 1787 to 1791). Both of the recipients were forced to emigrate during the French Revolution, and their medals are presumed to have been melted. Six examples were struck in bronze and were delivered to the American government; of these three are known to have survived. The example on display is the only one in a public collection.Gift of Cornelius C. Vermeule, III, 2003, from the collection of his grandfather, Senator Cornelius C. Vermeule (1858-1950).


Alan Stahl
Curator of Numismatics
(609) 258-9127

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