Blind Coin Collector

It's another kind of fun to collect coins if you can't see them.

Visiting the Coin Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

| Filed under Museum Travel

I was very much looking forward to visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where there is a coin gallary. I have never heard coins classified into the art category, though it does makes sense, I was curious to find out how and why. I started arranging for this visit before the trip to the Smithsonian in November. It seems that each of these museum visits are more interesting and educational, once I know what to look for or what to ask, having a comparison.

It was easy to find the right person to talk to, from the museum’s page, I followed the accessibility link, called the number, and that was all. I talked with Hannah Goodwin, who is the manager of accessibility. She arranged for me to meet their curator Phoebi Segal from the coin gallery, and Meghan who joined us and later took me to the coin gallery, but let’s start from the beginning.

First, let’s see what coins, art and me have in common. Well, all three of us, probably nothing. And here is why: I understand coins in a historical and cultural context, but when it comes to art, very often the artistic value of a coin is too small to feel. Of course, when coins are used in art in any other way that’s another story. So, as much as I would like to, I don’t have a good way to appreciate art on coins. This is why this visit was so interesting, anything I can learn about this area is new to me.

Phoebe has prepared a few interesting coins for me which she showed me in a library. They were all a great experience to touch. It was surprising to me how elaborate these coins were given that they were all over 2000 years old. One of my favorites was a silver dekadrachm with Athene’s head, it was one of the most detailed faces I felt on a coin.

She also showed me an incuse design, which I have never felt before. Basically what is raised on one side, is pressed in on the other.

One small coin had a crab on it. I wouldn’t have guessed what it is, but once I knew it was a crab, it did make sense. But let’s face it, I had no idea how to depict a crab in two dimensions.

Maybe a random sidetrack here, but as I was touching these coins, something came to mind to solve. As I visit different exhibits, and get to feel a number of different coins, there is only so much I can remember. I should find a way to take notes or preserve my thoughts without disrupting the explanation.

Phoebe had a wealth of information about each coin, and given that I’m not an expert of ancient numismatics, practically everything was new. Unlike paper currency, this is definitely an area I would like to learn more about, it is mostly the matter of time that’s holding me back. Identifying ancient coins would have its own challenges, but maybe it is something worth exploring.

After the introduction to the coins, Meghan took me to the coin gallery where she showed me a few statues which were depicted on coins. She also read some of the information about the exibit on the connection of coins and art.

There was way too much information only in the coin gallery, let alone the museum itself. One could spend days there, unfortunately there is only so much I could fit into this visit. Just like in DC, I feel that I could definitely come back here and learn more.

One thing I didn’t know and I could have researched before the visit is that the museum has an ipad app where you can get information about the exhibited items. At the gallery people could use ipads with this app to get more information. After I got home, I looked for the app. I was surprised to find that I already had it, I probably got it when I downloaded all numismatic apps I could find. However, I could not remember why I was not familiar with it. After I opened the app, I remembered. After making the first selection, there is a list of numbers which seem to be random, probably arranged as a map, and the whole thing didn’t make sense to me. However, when I drilled down further, I found a wealth of information. I wish I put more effort nto it the first time I explored the app.

It has been a wonderful experience, I really enjoyed the unique approach to numismatics and art.

Thank you all for making it happen.

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