Museum_bursary_report_CM - Society for the Promotion of

Roman Society Bursary Report- Department of Coins and Medals at the Fitzwilliam Museum
The disadvantage of studying classics in Australia is the unavoidable distance between my
university and the world’s greatest museums. Therefore, I was deeply grateful to receive a
Roman Society bursary, which allowed me to travel from the University of Queensland in
Australia to the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, and further my love of ancient
numismatics in the Department of Coins and Medals.
I received this bursary while in the final year of an Arts degree with an extended major in
Ancient History and Classical Languages, during which I had developed a strong interest in
the coinage of Ancient Greece and Rome by working as a research volunteer at the RD Milns
Antiquities Museum. Therefore, I was very excited to be placed at the Department of Coins
and Medals at the Fitzwilliam Museum, as it was an opportunity to learn from those with
authority and experience in numismatics, within an institution which has an expansive and
prestigious collection of ancient coins and shares my passion for numismatic research.
During my four week internship, I was tasked with the digitisation of the Catalogue of the
McClean Collection of Greek Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, under the supervision of
documentation assistant Eimear Reilly. This collection, which was bequeathed to the museum
by the astronomer and Cambridge alumnus Frank McClean, is an extensive collection of
ancient Greek coins, and although the catalogue is available in print form, digitisation will
allow it to be placed online, as a readily accessible and easily searchable resource for scholars
and students alike. Indeed, I had used the printed McClean collection catalogue as an
invaluable reference tool while undertaking my own research, and so being able to aid the
accessibility of this information, while seeing the collection “in the flesh,” was both an
honour and great privilege. The project also provided an invaluable formal training in
numismatic methodology. The chronological breadth of this collection, which encompasses
Greek coinage until the Imperial Period, allowed me to handle a wide array of ancient coins,
while also learning to recognise the minute variations in diameter, axis, thickness and weight
which differentiate coins within long strings of comparative issues. The project also provided
many opportunities to learn essential techniques and numismatic methodologies, and under
Eimear’s watchful eye I learned to utilise small tools such digital scales, rim charts, callipers,
and a wide array of numismatic terminology with ease. The final component of the
digitisation project was to take high-resolution photographs of each coin, to be uploaded onto
the online database. These photographs will provide a valuable reference point and visual
complement to the written descriptions in this catalogue, and learning to use this equipment
and produce high-quality photographs was an important transferrable skill-set of its own- I
plan to take a similar set of high-resolution photographs for my museum’s online database
throughout 2015.
One of the many highlights of my placement was the opportunity to attend the Money
Network’s ‘Coins and Medals Day,’ which was hosted by the Fitzwilliam Museum. This
event allowed me to meet the volunteer and professional staff who work closely with coin
collections in a wide variety of museums, and the event was comprised of seminar sessions
on the identification of Roman and Medieval coinage, coin collection management and
documentation in university museums; topics closely aligned to both my academic interests
and to my role at my university museum in Australia, where my duties, like those of many
attendees, include accessioning, displaying and researching the museum’s collection of
ancient coins. As a student and museum staff member whose fascination with ancient coinage
had its genesis through working with the museum staff at my university, it was wonderful to
spend time with such a large group of museum buffs and coin enthusiasts, and I benefitted
from the expertise and generous advice of people who also face the unique challenges
implicit in the storage, accessioning, conservation and display of the ancient coins in museum
Indeed, my time at the Fitzwilliam was typified by the warmth and generosity of the people I
encountered. I am indebted to Dr Richard Kelleher, Eimear Reilly, Dr Martin Allen, Dr
Adrian Popescu and Dr Ted Buttrey of the Coins and Medals Department, all of whom spent
large amounts of time showing me the numismatic ropes, fielding endless questions and
hauling the heavy coin cabinets that house the McClean collection from one end of the
department to the other. Under their guidance, I was able to experience the inner of workings
of a busy museum, learn the skills and techniques particular to numismatics, learn about
medieval coinage and discuss the myriad ways of using coins as historical evidence. This
experience was the encouragement I needed to dedicate the next step of my post-graduate
education to ancient numismatics, and I will always treasure my time at the Department of
Coins and Medals.
Charlotte Mann