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The Princeton University Numismatic Collection

The earliest record of a numismatic collection at Princeton goes back to 1849, when friends of the (then) College of New Jersey bought and donated a collection of plaster casts (“sulfurets”) of Greek and Roman coins, formerly the property of Lord Vernon. For a succinct account of the collection’s subsequent growth (it now contains about 70,000 items), see B.Levy and P. Bastien, Roman Coins in the Princeton University Library I (Wetteren, 1985), pp.xi-xii, and B. Levy and A. Stahl, "Princeton University Library," Compte rendu of the International Numismatic Commission, 51 (2004), 20-25.

THE FIRESTONE GREEK COLLECTION contains over 3,000 Greek-inscribed coins of the Classical and Hellenistic periods (ca.550-30 BCE). Unusually large holdings include the Baldwin Maull, Class of 1924, gift of silver staters and fractions of Tarentum (314; Maull’s handwritten catalog, with provenances, accompanies the collection), 122 of which are described in W. Fischer-Bossert, Chronologie der Didrachmenprägung von Tarent (Berlin, 1999). Another area of special strength is the coinage of the Seleucid kings of the Levant. A large collection of Parthian material was given by or purchased from J. Christy Wilson in the 1920s, including many unstudied small Parthian bronzes. Among important recent gifts are about 350 coins donated by Mark and Lottie Salton in 1996 and 1998.

THE FIRESTONE ROMAN COLLECTION, including “Greek imperials” . Over 5,800 coins: 650 of the Roman Republic, mostly silver; over 5,200 of the Roman Empire, mostly silver and bronze, to Anastasius (ca.35 BCE-491 CE). Contents of the Firestone Princeton collection from the Republic through Commodus (ca.2,000 coins) have been published by B. Levy and P.C.V. Bastien, Roman Coins in the Princeton University Library I (Wetteren, 1985). There are notable holdings in the coinage of Roman Corinth, the 1976 gift of Prof. and Mrs. T. Leslie Shear, Jr.; about 100 of these are recorded in M.Amandry, Le monnayage des duovirs corinthiens (Paris, 1988).

With the Greek and Roman coins should be mentioned two associated holdings: (1) The foundation piece of Princeton’s collection, a group of over 5,000 plaster casts of classical coins, bought by friends and alumni of the institution in 1849, and still in their original wooden trays. (2) Twelve cased volumes of impronte, i.e. plaster casts of classical (and modern) intaglio gems, made up by the Roman firm of Paoletti, active in the 18th and 19th centuries.

COINS OF THE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ANTIOCH EXCAVATION. The collection contains over 25,000 Greek and Roman coins excavated btween 1934 and 1939 at Antioch-on-the-Orontes by a consortium of institutions led by Princeton University. These are catalogued in D.B. Waage, Antioch-on-the-Orontes IV.2: Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Crusaders’ Coins (Princeton, 1952). Most of these are low-denomination coins minted in the area and provide an unparalleled view of circulation of petty coinage at a site that was a major city and mint in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The subsequent history of the site is well illustrated by the thousands of coins of the Arab-Byzantine and Ummayad period (638-969), the middle-Byzantine period (969-1084), the Seljuk period (1084-1088), the Crusader period (1088-1268), the Mamluk period (1268-1516), and the Ottoman period (1516-1918). The Islamic coinage from the Antioch excavations is partially catalogued in G.C. Miles in Antioch-on-the Orontes IV.1: Ceramics and Islamic Coins, ed. F.O. Waage (Princeton, 1948). All of the coins from the Antioch excavations are accompanied by detailed information on their find context, which is being included in the records as the coins are catalogued into the online database.

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM COLLECTIONS. Two collections have been transferred from the Princeton University Art Museum for cataloguing and consultation with the Princeton University Numismatic Collection in Firestone Library. The bequest of Dan Fellows Platt, Class of 1895, comprises about 3,000 coins, with areas of great strength in the coinage of the Roman Republic, including early bronze Aes Grave, in silver issues of Augustus and Hadrian, and in coins of Renaissance Italy. The bequest of Ernest T. Dewald, Graduate School 1916, is particularly strong in Roman Imperial sestertii.

BYZANTINE. Over 500 coins in gold, silver, bronze. Some of these have been described, together with examples in the Princeton University Art Museum, in S. Curcic and A. St. Clair, edd., Byzantium at Princeton (Princeton,1986). These holdings are being expanded, with the support of the Program in Hellenic Studies and the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund, with a concentration on coins issued and circulating in the Greek lands.

EASTERN MEDIEVAL. In 2007, with matching funds provided by the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund, the Princeton University Numismatic Collection purchased The Latin Orient Collection of coins of medieval Greece. The Collection comprises over 800 pieces issued by rulers of European origin in the lands of the former Byzantine Empire following the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

WESTERN MEDIEVAL. Ca. 500 coins; the largest holdings are in coins of the Italian states, England, and France.

PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC. Ca. 150 coins attributed, the same number unattributed (the latter all copper). In addition, several hundred coins on loan from the Department of Near Eastern Studies are being included in the online database.

The Wu Collection of about 2,000 Chinese coins chiefly of the Tang through Ming dynasties, assembled by Souheng Wu, the gift of Tung Ching Wu in 2006. A small collection of ancient Chinese coins, the gift of Dr. O.A. Holzer; ca. 30 North Siamese coins (exonumia) given by Dr. W. William Harris; 12 Siamese weights given by Dr. W. Harding Kneedler. A few other pieces of exonumia (cowries; larins; sycee; shell money).

MODERN WORLD COINS AND TOKENS. A very large collection (c.15,000), but generally of minor value and research interest (for example, it contains less than 2 dozen silver coins of thaler size or larger).

UNITED STATES,INCLUDING COLONIAL. About 2,000 pieces; 200 of these are Colonial, chiefly of New Jersey and the William Wood “Rosa Americana” series. The group as a whole is of very varied quality, with its fine and rare pieces coming chiefly from the collections of C.A. Cass and Dean Mathey. In addition, the collection has U.S. mint and proof sets from 1936 to1978, the gift of Edward Leh. There are 6 pattern coins, are all listed in J.H. Judd, United States Pattern, Trial, and Experimental Pieces, ed.7 (Racine, WI, 1982).

MEDALS. The medals number over 2000. In addition to a general collection of U.S. and world medals, there are two collections of special interest:

THE CORNELIUS C. VERMEULE III COLLECTION . Over 450 pieces, ranging from Renaissance to modern American; they largely represent the materials used for the donor’s books Medals to Masters (Boston, Mass., n.d.), and Numismatic Art in America (Cambridge, Mass., 1971); but there is also a large group, over 100 pieces, on canine themes.

THE ARTHUR L. NEWMAN AVIATION COLLECTION. Over 770 medals relating to balloons, dirigibles, airplanes, manned spacecraft. Arranged in order of date given on the medal. (Date range 1758-1970.) The collection also includes the donor’s typescript catalog, with phototographs and full information for each piece; and a few related items (dies, collector’s plate, etc.) The catalog is available online: http://libweb.princeton.edu/libraries/firestone/rbsc/aids/newman/

PAPER CURRENCY AND FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS. There are notable holdings in U.S. Colonial/Continental and Confederate paper (ca. 650 and 2,000 pieces respectively), chiefly the gifts of C.A. Cass and André de Coppet: see L.C. West in Princeton University Library Chronicle 21 (1959), 243-4. There is a representative but far from complete collection of U.S. 19th century Broken Bank notes (ca. 1200 pieces). There is a small holding in non-U.S. paper, but with a notable gift of Chinese and Russian 20th-century issues from W.W. Lockwood; and, from several donors, selections of German World War I currency and postwar “Notgeld.”

Alan Stahl
Curator of Numismatics
(609) 258-9127

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 Last modified September 6, 2006