Department of Coins and Medals

Great Russell Street




tel: +44 (0)20 7323 8607

fax: +44 (0)20 7323 8171

email: coins @


The British Museum

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Contact details: Duty curator

Tel: 020 7323 8607

Email: coins @


Date of visit: 8 August 2012


Nature and extent of collection

The Department of Coins and Medals is home to one of the world's finest numismatic collections, comprising about one million objects. The collection spans the history of coinage from its origins in the seventh century BC to the present day, and related material such as coin weights, tokens and money boxes. The department also holds the national collection of paper money, ranging from one of the earliest fourteenth century Chinese banknotes to the euro, as well as a magnificent selection of commemorative and art medals from the Italian Renaissance to the present


All numbers below are estimated


Greek coins: 60,000 Greek, 30,000 Roman Provincial

Iron Age coins: 9676 (of which 6762 are British and 2914 Continental)

Roman (including provincial): Republican 12,612; Imperial - Augustus-Commodus c.15,000. Severans and later c.110,000 (55,000 Cunetio)

Byzantine coins: 7,000

British coins: Later medieval and early modern Europe: About 200 cabinets of material, all of it registered – maybe c. 200,000 items? It is all British, European and European colonial, covering the period c.1200 to 1800.

British tokens: c.35,000

European coins: 150,000-200,000.

Asian coins:

Middle Eastern coins: c.40,000

African coins: Roman North Africa see Roman; Aksumite see Greek? Islamic under Middle East. Also see modern and paper money.

American (USA and South America) coins: See modern and paper money.

Oceania: See modern and paper money.

Modern and Paper Money: 160,000-180,000 objects. (Modern British coins 30,000+; Banknotes 55,000+; Credit/debit cards 5,000+; Cheques 7,000+; Modern non-European coins; 15,000+; Modern European coins 35,000+; Tokens 20,000+.

Medals: The national collection. One of the largest and most wide-ranging collections in the world. around 75,000 from all over the world, beginning with Renaissance Italy and up to the present day.

Paranumismatica: c.20,000

Other: Modern banking ephemera and coin jewellery etc. 1,000+; Badges: around 15,000 from all over the world, beginning in the late 19th c and going up to today, but focussed particularly on the UK and US from the 1970s. 


Library: The most extensive numismatic library in the country is also housed within the department and, like the collection itself, exists for the benefit of the scholar and general public alike.


Specific strengths: Material donated from scholars and numismatic organisations worldwide. Including theses and periodicals. Key antiquarian works.



Database used: Merlin


Proportion of collection on database: about 50%


How much detail in database entries? Depends on the area of the collection, all entries are online but not all have yet been ‘improved’ to full records (about 34% have)


Are images incorporated? Yes, where present (25% of records)


Is the database accessible to the public? Yes


Is the database publicly accessible online? What is the URL if so? Yes,





Are there permanent numismatic displays? Yes, the museum has a dedicated Money Gallery (Room 68)


Is numismatic material incorporated into more general displays? Yes many other galleries around the museum include coins and medals in more general displays.


Is there a facility for temporary exhibitions? Yes, Gallery 69a shows two exhibitions a year focused on numismatic subjects.


Have there been numismatic exhibitions in the past? If so, what? Yes, two temporary exhibitions each year since 2004, three per year before that. Recent subjects have included; Bubbles and Bankruptcy, Shakespeare's Money and Medals, Cost of Living in Roman and Modern Britain, Eric Gill.



Access to the collection

Is there a study facility? Yes, the collection and library are accessible to all members of the public by appointment. The study room is usually open during department opening times, on weekdays 10.00-13.00 (except Wednesday), and 14.15-16.00 (closed on bank holidays). Space is limited, so pre-booking is essential. If you wish to consult the curator of a particular area of the collection please ensure you make the appointment well in advance. For reasons of security, all visitors must provide photographic identification in order to be admitted to the study room (for non-UK visitors this must be a passport). This is a condition of entry and no exceptions will be made. Photography is not permitted in the study room.


Is equipment (balances, magnifying glasses, etc.) provided? Yes, available on request. The museum's digital library catalogue can be accessed through a PC in the study room.



Public engagement with numismatic collection


Is there a handling collection? Yes. It contains examples from each area of the Department’s collection from Roman coinage to paper money and is made available in Gallery 68 through the volunteer’s team.


Are numismatic collections used in Education sessions? Yes. At present they are used most frequently by the Learning, Volunteers and Audience Department but this is set to change with the creation of a new education program devised by LV&A with curatorial support from the Dept. of Coins and Medals. The main focus of which will be teaching financial literacy to secondary school pupils.


Do numismatic collections feature in gallery talks, lectures? Yes. At present there are two numismatic-based talks a month presented by members of the department, in addition there are eye-opener tours of the money gallery led by volunteer guides. These regular talks are supplemented by specific exhibition based talks based on changing 69a exhibitions and other notable events such as the opening of the new Citi Money Gallery.


Are there other engagement activities based around numismatic collections? Yes. Family days have been organised in the past which are based around coin design and striking activities. Again with the creation of a new education program this hoped to increase.



ID and public enquiries


Does the museum offer a service for identifying objects and other public enquiries? Yes. Objects can be handed in to the department for identification during normal opening hours: weekdays 10.00-13.00 (except Wednesdays), and 14.15-16.00 (closed on bank holidays). If an object is handed in to the department, a receipt will be given and, whenever possible, dealt with on the same day. If this is not feasible then objects can be collected later, or returned by post. You can post objects to the department for identification, marked for the attention of the duty curator. Please include the cost of return registered postage. You may not submit more than 10 objects for identification at any one time.



Curatorial knowledge


Is there any numismatic expertise in-house. If so, who, and in what areas?


Department of Coins and Medals:

Richard Abdy - Iron Age and Roman coins

Philip Attwood - Medals

Robert Bracey - Ancient coins of South and Central Asia

Dario Calomino – Roman Provincial coins (Newton Research Fellow)

Barrie Cook - Later Medieval and Early Modern coins

Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis - Islamic and Iranian Coins

Amelia Dowler - Greek coins

Eleanor Ghey - Roman coins (p/t)

Tom Hockenhull - Modern money

Paramdip Khera - Islamic, Indo-Islamic and Sikh coins

Alexandra Magub - Parthian coin (p/t)

Sam Moorhead - Roman coins (Portable Antiquities Scheme)

Elizabeth Pendleton - Parthian and Sasanian coins

Helen Wang - Chinese and East Asian coins

Gareth Williams - Early Medieval coins


Other museum staff:

Meika Harris (Learning, Volunteers and Audiences) - Education Manager: Citi Money Gallery

Richard Hobbs (Prehistory and Europe) - Roman coins

Jonathan Williams (Directorate) - Iron Age and Roman coins

Is there access to external expertise? If so, who and in what areas? The Department has good relations with the numismatic staffs of the other principal cabinets in the UK and overseas as well as universities.


If there is expertise in-house, is there a willingness/capacity to share that with other museums?

Yes, already doing so.