barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


New to Numismatics?

‘Numismatics – not money in your pocket, spotting the 1869 penny or the 1953 sixpence – it is the story of civilised society who finds it difficult to do without, in order to give work for bread or sugar etc. It can be beautiful if one wants it and if one is prepared to pay for it. It can recall famous historical characters + events, it can explain curious things.’

Philip David Whitting

 

Numismatics is the study of coins, the word comes from the Greek νόμισμα (nomisma) meaning ‘coin’. Collecting and studying coins has been a popular pastime, amongst those wealthy enough to have one, for many centuries. Even royalty, such as Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), were known to have numismatic collections.

The objects can hold a fascination for people for any number of reasons – they are objects which have passed through the hands of many people over centuries; they show us images, at least ostensibly, of famous historical figures; lower denomination coins can be a rare connection to ordinary people of the past not noteworthy enough for chronicles and statues; they can be beautiful; they can tell us about the formation and disintegration of economies; they can show the criminal activities of historical counterfeiters; or any number of more personal reasons. In the words at the top of this page, Philip Whitting – whose coin collection forms the backbone of the Barber’s coin collection – described what coins meant to him.

A great many societies and cultures produced coins to service their economy. The Barber’s collection contains mainly Byzantine coins. The Byzantine Empire is the name given by modern people to the Eastern Roman Empire after it had Christianised and had its capital moved from Rome to Byzantium. For historians, the exact line between the Roman and Byzantine Empires is a complex issue, for numismatists it is simple: Byzantium began with the monetary reforms of Anastasius I (491-517) in 498. For the Byzantines themselves, they were Romans, Ῥωμαῖοι (Rhomaioi) – something reflected in their silver coinage from around 811, where Michael I (811-813) and his son Theophylaktos were styled MIXAHL S θЄOFVLACTЄ ЄC θ’ bASILIS ROmAIOn (Michael and Theophylaktos, by God Emperors of the Romans).

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If you are interested in learning more about coins or Byzantium, please follow one of the links to the right-hand side of this page.

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