Numismatics

The numismatic collection at the Gallery, at more than 120,000 objects, is by far the largest and most diverse held by any American university. It is displayed, in part, in a dedicated exhibition gallery and housed in the Bela Lyon Pratt Study Room for Numismatics.
Sestertius of Julia Domna from Rome
Medal of the Tavern Club
Uncertain denomination of Septimius Severus
Tetradrachm of Antiochus VIII and Cleopatra
Aureus of Augustus from Rome
Medal of the Tavern Club

About Numismatics

The numismatics room and gallery were made possible by a gift from a descendant of Bela Lyon Pratt, a Connecticut medalist and sculptor who studied at Yale, and one display case is devoted to his designs. Other cases explore ancient coinage with the portraits of the Twelve Caesars; local history and Connecticut’s early coinage; curious numismatic objects from around the world; and beautiful bank note material. Taken together, these cases offer the most extensive and comprehensive installation of numismatic material ever at Yale. The display is on view adjacent to the Bela Lyon Pratt Study Room, where visitors may make an appointment to view collection material.

The Gallery’s collection of numismatic material is among the University’s oldest, dating to the early years of the 19th century. By 1863 the holdings numbered some 3,000 items; two decades later the Greek and Roman portions alone totaled over 3,200. Formerly known as the Yale Numismatic Collection, jurisdiction over it passed from the University Library to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2001. The collection now comprises over 120,000 pieces and is by far the largest assemblage at any American university.

The collection provides the basis not only for formal instruction in numismatics but also for expanding the horizons of historians, art historians, archaeologists, and the general public. Its great strength remains Greco-Roman, including examples of the earliest coinage of western Asia Minor, the supreme artistic achievements of Syracuse and southern Italy, and masterpieces of Hellenistic and Roman portraiture. Silver coinage from the Roman Republic has been systematically acquired, and the collection of imperial coins is comprehensive; it has been augmented in recent years by the purchase of the collection of Professor Peter R. and Leonore Franke (over 4,100 pieces of Greek cities and the provinces) and the acquisition of roughly the first half of the collection of Ben Lee Damsky (about 900 pieces), which has enhanced the Gallery’s imperial holdings. The strengths of the collection include fine examples from the English and German traditions, a broad selection of Renaissance medals, and the coins from Dura-Europos, which complement the Gallery’s other holdings from this important Yale excavation in the 1930s.

For the modern period, one of the most important single bequests was C. W. Betts’s collection of medals pertaining to the American Revolution, which was the basis of a scholarly study from 1894 that remains in use today. The collection also includes paper money, with many thousands of Confederate notes selected to represent virtually every issue of the Civil War period, as well as a superb run of Connecticut coppers from the 18th century. The numismatics collection has recently been fortunate to receive transformative support from Susan and John Jackson, b.a. 1967, and the Liana Foundation, which will see the department’s activities, and its holdings of paper currency and related artwork, expand exponentially.

Learn More about the Numismatics Room

Note from the Curator

A transformative gift, the Susan and John Jackson, B.A. 1967, Endowment Fund for Numismatics, has helped establish an independent Department of Numismatics at the Gallery. The department will also benefit from a generous bequest from Susan and John Jackson, B.A. 1967, and the Liana Foundation, which will considerably augment the department’s collection of paper currency and related artwork. One of the most impressive pieces is a unique gilded framed currency collage from the American Bank Note Company, dated to the late 19th or early 20th century. The inner center frame is composed of green stamp proofs, including the 1871 6¢ Hawaii stamp, 1883 1¢ Costa Rica stamp, 1885 1¢ Dominican Republic stamp, and 1860–64 8 1/2¢ Nova Scotia stamp. In the center is a Union Pacific stock certificate for 1,000 shares. Above, an arc has 30 1882 Hawaii stamps, alternating between the 10¢ black stamp and the 15¢ brown stamp. Above the first arc, a second arc consisting of 22 oval portraits of notable 19th-century figures adorns the center frame above the stock certificate. The bottom portion of the central framed area comprises four historical vignettes, which are also found on bank notes and other currency-related material. These include, from left to right: De Soto’s discovery of the Mississippi River; the embarkation of the Pilgrims; the baptism of Pocahontas; and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Around the center area, a second frame is composed of specimen bank notes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Montenegro, and Peru. Additional stamps and colored geometric lathework contribute to the vibrant and elaborate collage.

Benjamin Dieter R. Hellings

The Ben Lee Damsky Assistant Curator of Numismatics

American Bank Note Company Collage, New York, early 20th century. Collage; bank notes, security engravings, stamps, and stock certificates. Lent by Susan and John W. Jackson, B.A. 1967, and the Liana Foundation

Meet the Curator

Benjamin Dieter R. Hellings

Benjamin Dieter R. Hellings, the Ben Lee Damsky Assistant Curator of Numismatics, joined the Gallery in late September 2016. He holds an M.Phil. from the University of Oxford, where he successfully defended his doctoral thesis in late November 2016. His research focuses on coin find patterns and the use of Roman coinage in northern Europe from ca. 50 B.C. to A.D. 410. Part of his dissertation research appears in the 2016 Numismatic Chronicle, in an article titled “The Denarii of Septimius Severus and the Mobility of Roman Coin: The Case of Roman Germany.” He is especially interested in the pre-Roman world of Temperate Europe, Roman coinage and the economy, and the use of numismatic “big data” for research and teaching.

benjamin.hellings@yale.edu

Further Reading

Bellinger, Alfred R. The Coins. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949.

Bellinger, Alfred R. “The Numismatic Evidence from Dura.” Berytus 8 (1943): 61–71.

Bellinger, Alfred R. “The Syrian Tetradrachms of Caracalla and Macrinus.” American Numismatic Society Numismatic Studies 3 (1940).

Metcalf, William E. “The Ben Lee Damsky Collection.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2008): 95–105.
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Metcalf, William E. “Hadrianic Novelties.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2011): 42–47.
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