Medieval

The European medieval coinage history may be roughly divided in three uneven categories. First, the post-antique period, which witnessed the progressive dislocation of the Roman tradition, based on coins of gold, silver and bronze; then the Carolingian revolution, establishing the supremacy of silver as the monetary metal of reference, and finally the later medieval period which, with the parallel surge of the merchant city-states of Northern Italy and the Low Countries and progressive emergence of larger ‘nation-states’ like England, France or Castile, led to the revival of an abundant tri-metallic coinage system, of unparalleled complexity since weight and alloys standards could change from one location to another.

The Medieval Department of the ANS comprises almost 40,000 coins from the fall of the Roman Empire down to the end of hammer-struck coinage during the course of the 17th century. The starting point for the various post-Roman coinages is the time when a new minting regime can be recognized in the coinage itself. Thus, the Ostrogothic and Vandalic series, which were produced according to the Roman standards with no perceptible change in personnel or technique, remain part of the Roman collection, while the pseudo-imperial coinages attributed to the Visigoths, Franks, Suevi and Lombards have been allocated to the medieval department.

The ending point for the medieval department is equally difficult to define. The conventional definition is that hammer-struck coins belong in the medieval department, while milled coins are considered modern. In general terms this means that some time in the 17th century the coinage falls into the purview of the Modern Department. However, there is much variation from country-to-country and mint-to-mint, and sometimes within a single mint some denominations were hammer struck at the same time as others were being milled. Added to these ambiguities are the cases of coinages in which flans were rolled and then hammer struck, and those mints, which went back-and-forth between minting methods. So, in general terms, we end the medieval period with the English Civil War and the Thirty-Years War. In any case, coins of a given mint are kept together in the ANS collection, from the 5th century through the present, regardless of formal departmental designation.

Like any collection built mainly through donations, the medieval collection of the ANS is quite uneven. Within the English series, the donations of Emery Mae Norweb have created very strong areas in the Sceatta coinage of the Anglo-Saxon period and that of William the Conqueror as well as, much later, Charles I, while Stephen and the Anarchy are well represented through the acquisition of the Cabot Briggs collection. Other strengths include Swedish coins (the Robertson collection), Polish (that of Count Alexander Orlowski) and royal French (Ferrari). The Ives bequest of gold florins cuts across mint and national boundaries, and the Scoville bequest is outstanding in portrait coins from all Italian mints. Finally, through the generous action of an anonymous donor, a significant group of mostly Spanish coins which belonged to the Huntington Collection, have come back to the Society’s Medieval Department on a long term loan basis, some of them being donated or to be donated. The largest known group of Visigothic coins, over a thousand in all, is incorporated into that loan.

Some parts of the ANS medieval collection have been built by the careful buying of past curators, most notably Henry Grunthal, in charge of the collection in the 1950s and 1960s, who systematically built up the holdings in the Carolingian, Bracteate, and Thaler areas to make them significant research.

Jeremiah D. Brady, curator from 1970 to 1980, concentrated on building the Anglo-Saxon holdings. The research interests of the past curator of medieval coins, Alan M. Stahl, are reflected in purchases of early medieval, Italian, and crusader coins.

The Society is currently engaged in a major collaborative project with the Kittredge Numismatic Foundation to create an online reference tool covering all Papal coin types: Click here for a preview.

At present, there is no in-house dedicated curator for the collection, but volunteer work on specific areas of the Department and the computer cataloging of the collection continue, while the entire Medieval collection is available for study by any serious researcher, upon request.

To search this department please click here.

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