Obituary: Herbert A. Cahn, 1915-2002

by Ute Wartenberg

On April 5 of this year Herbert A. Cahn died unexpectedly at the age of 87. Both an academic and a dealer, he was one of the most distinguished numismatists of the 20th century. Born on January 27, 1915 in Frankfurt, he became interested in numismatics early in his youth. During his student days in the Goethegymnasium he worked for the well-known coin dealer Adolph E. Cahn. His first article on an unpublished denarius of Septimius Severus appeared in 1929 when Cahn was only 14 years old. Published not long after, one of his first catalogs, the sale of the collection of Republican coins of E.J. Haeberlin, likewise shows his amazing talent at an early age. Following his graduation from gymnasium, he enrolled at Frankfurt University in archaeology, ancient history and Classical philology; he left Nazi Germany in 1933 and emigrated to Switzerland. With his brother Erich, he founded the dealership Münzhandlung Basel, which exists to the present day under the name of Münzen und Medaillen AG. In later years, Cahn’s interests turned increasingly towards Classical antiquities and he became, together with his son Jean-David, one of the most renowned antiquities dealers in Europe.

His love for coins and the field of numismatics was not restricted to the commercial field. In 1940, Cahn completed his dissertation on the coinage of Naxos, which was published a few years later under the title Die Münzen der sizilischen Stadt Naxos. Ein Beitrag zur Kunstgeschichte des griechischen Westen. This work, one of the most important die-studies of Greek numismatics, shows Cahn’s strongly art-historical approach at its best. Later publications include a book on the coinage of the island of Knidos in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, many articles on ancient coins, medals and antiquities. From 1965 on Cahn taught at the University of Heidelberg, where he received in 1971 the title of honorary professor. His activities as editor, writer, organizer, and initiator of many organizations have left a lasting legacy.

Cahn joined the ANS in 1936 and was made a Corresponding Member in 1977. He received in 1983 the ANS’s Huntington Award in recognition of his substantial contribution to the field of numismatics.

Herbert was both a renowned numismatist and more importantly a true gentleman and will be dearly missed by all who knew him.