|by Elena Stolyarik|
What It Takes To Move a Collection of Over 1 Million Objects
Since 1907, the site at Audubon Terrace has been the permanent residence for one of the oldest museum and research institutions in the country—the American Numismatic Society. Soon the ANS’ collections and library will be relocated to a new building in lower Manhattan’s financial center. The ANS’ new facility, with its greatly expanded space, will enable the staff to continue maintaining the Society’s world-class collections of important historical numismatic artifacts for many years to come. Most importantly all objects will be stored in one single, 1,700 square foot vault. Presently, the ANS has three vaults, two of which are housed within the same security area. The third one is on a separate floor. The new arrangement will increase security and put all of the curatorial offices in close proximity to the main vault.
In preparation for our move to the new building, a complete inventory of the ANS collections—consisting of about a million numismatic objects dating from the 7th century BC to the present—has been undertaken for the first time. The main goal of this assessment is to determine the exact number and location of the coins, medals and decorations and other materials amassed in approximately 12,000 drawer-trays and other shelving units. The total number of objects and their location is necessary for a well-organized move. Another purpose of this on-going collection management program is to identify and track missing or misfiled items. Before the curatorial staff started this inventory program, misplaced objects had been noted in a less systematic fashion, usually during study of individual coin trays. Now the creation of a complete inventory has become a part of our regular curatorial job.
Computers greatly help in this task. Sebastian Heath, the ANS Director of Information Technology, designed a data-base, based on FileMaker, a commercially available program, which captures the information for this project. This system provides full “life cycle” management in accordance with the requirements of the inventory, compacts and stores the records in the ANS’ data-base. The inventory is, of course, a long-term project, but the move to the new location requires the curators to provide movers and insurers with the basic number and location of all objects in the collection. Every member of the ANS curatorial staff is involved in this process. In addition, the permanent staff benefits tremendously from the help of an increased number of curatorial assistants, interns and volunteers.
Alexandra Halidisz and Sofia Gofman have made major strides in all three vaults. Alexandra is a graduate of Hofstra University and currently a student in the Hunter College Graduate Program in Art History. She has been working for the last year as Curatorial Assistant for the Margaret Thompson Assistant Curator, Peter van Alfen. Sofia Gofman is also a Hofstra graduate and presently a second year student in Museum Studies at the City College of New York. Together with Peter van Alfen, the two interns have finished the inventory of the Museum’s extraordinary ancient Greek collections. This section — around 98,000 objects from the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods – is housed in more than 1,300 trays. These include the first known coins from Lydia and Ionia; an outstanding group of Athenian coins, including two decadrachms; the world’s best collection of coins of Alexander the Great; many regal and civic coinages of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.; a remarkable series from Southern Italy and Sicily; provincial issues struck under the Romans, as well as examples of many other examples of ancient people’s coinages. As of the beginning of the June, Alexandra and Sophia also finished the inventory of the nearly 97,000 objects from the Roman and Byzantine collections in the second lower level vault.
The most difficult part of our inventory will be the huge collections of the Main Vault, which presently houses all items other than those of the ancient European and Mediterranean World. The materials in this section range from the medieval through modern periods for Europe, the Americas and Africa, and include all ancient, medieval and modern issues from East and South Asia as well as all post-Classical issues from the Near East. Among the outstanding holdings are the single most complete collection of Islamic coins, the world’s largest assemblage of glass coin weights and the famous “Jem Sultan” collection of Ottoman Turkish coinage. Another area of treasures is the American section, featuring one of the best collections of United States coinage together with rare and important pieces from other countries—many from the permanent loan collection deposited with the ANS by the Hispanic Society of America. Care and management of these areas are under the supervision of Michael L. Bates, Curator of Islamic Coins, and Robert Wilson Hoge, Curator of American Coins and Currency. For the inventory and a host of other tasks, Curators Bates and Hoge have relied heavily on Dawn Bennett, our indispensable upstairs Curatorial Assistant who is an undergraduate in Classical Archaeology at Hunter College. At the time of writing, Dawn has completed surveying more than 600 trays, containing around 55,000 numismatic objects.
Left: Richard Perricelli and right: Michael Bates
Inventorying the paper money collection has been undertaken by Museum Volunteer Richard Perricelli. He and Bates have worked through the ANS’ massive collection of Notgeld—the colorful emergency notes printed during and after the First World War in Germany and elsewhere. Other holdings include rare examples of Chinese and Russian banknotes. So far, Perricelli has counted about 13,000 currency-holders� and albums� in the collection. Bates has also tackled one of the most problematic areas, the upper floor of our main vault, which is has been in serious need of organization, cataloguing and filing of miscellanies materials. One of the few public collections of military decorations and insignia in the United States is housed here. This impressive collection, based on that of Archer Huntington, contains some real rarities of US and European decorations. Also located in the upper floor of the Main Vault is the Society’s huge collection of medals, which represent a considerable challenge. Many of these art medals have not been registered. In addition the cataloguing of this material is often difficult, as not many catalogues exist for such objects. Thus curators and volunteers have to create their own cataloguing system while creating an inventory of the collection. Long-term Museum Volunteer Ted Withington has already worked through 3,786 trays of medals and has been collecting information about the location and the sizes of all items, many of which have never been entered into the Society’s computer records. Whitington and his wife Robin are also in the process of creating an inventory of the Medieval European section of the cabinet.
Robin and Ted Withington
During this summer we anticipate assistance from additional interns, including Andrew Schloss, a student at the University of Rochester; Jonathan Torn, a student at McGill University; Jihan Varisco, a recent High School Graduate, and High School student Daniel Isaac. They will work as needed under the supervision of the curatorial staff, all of whom believe that our common efforts will help to finish this necessary inventory project very soon, and that they will help us to relocate the ANS’ numismatic collections successfully and efficiently.
As with any move — whether of a large museum or a household — one benefits greatly from the difficult exercise of accounting for one’s possessions and re-arranging them in a new environment. In this process we will have to find spaces for our large medalic models, the small collection of paintings of numismatists, old coin cabinets, old photographic glass plates, and much more. All these items keep turning up in the many corners of the old ANS building on Audubon Terrace. There are some surprises and real finds, but most of the work is mundane, repetitive and tiring. The curators are very grateful to have the assistance of all interns and volunteers in this monumental task.
Andrew Schloss and Jonathan H.G. Torn