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The Princeton University Numismatic Collection is one of only a handful of academic coin collections in the United States. In addition to serving the needs of students, faculty and researchers in a number of departments, it is available to the general public through exhibitions, the online database, and by appointment with the curator.
The earliest record of a numismatic collection at Princeton goes back to 1849, when friends of the (then) College of New Jersey bought and donated a collection of plaster casts (“sulfurets”) of Greek and Roman coins, formerly the property of Lord Vernon. The Princeton University Numismatic Collection is thus the oldest continually curated public numismatic collection in the United States. For a succinct account of the collection’s history, see B. Levy and P. Bastien, Roman Coins in the Princeton University Library I (Wetteren, 1985), pp.xi-xii, and B. Levy and A. Stahl, "Princeton University Library," Compte rendu of the International Numismatic Commission, 51 (2004), 20-25.
The Numismatic Collection contains about 115,000 items (we'll know more exactly when the ongoing cataloguing is completed), including coins, paper money, tokens, medals and decorations from the earliest period to the present. While the basic collection has always been housed in the University's Library (since 1948 the Firestone Library), other collections have been combined with it over the years, including those of the Princeton University Art Museum, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and the University Archives.
The core collection contains about 700 coins in gold, silver, bronze. Some of these have been described, together with examples in the Princeton University Art Museum, in S. Curcic and A. St. Clair, eds.,Byzantium at Princeton (Princeton,1986).
About 2,000 pieces; 200 of these are Colonial, chiefly of New Jersey and the William Wood “Rosa Americana” series. The group as a whole is of very varied quality, with its fine and rare pieces coming chiefly from the collections of C.A. Cass and Dean Mathey. In addition, the collection has U.S.
Greek coinage: over 4,000 Greek-inscribed coins of the Classical and Hellenistic periods (ca.550-30 BCE).
The medals in the comprehensive collection number over 2,000. In addition to a general collection of U.S. and world medals, there is strength in the medals of World War I. Among the highlights of the medallic holdings is the collection of medals relating to aviation, the gift of Arthur L.
Ca. 800 European coins; the largest holdings are in coins of the Italian states, England, and France. About 300 Islamic coins, mainly of Western Asian mints.
There are notable holdings in U.S. Colonial / Continental and Confederate paper (ca. 650 and 2,000 pieces respectively), chiefly the gifts of C.A. Cass and André de Coppet: see L.C. West in Princeton University Library Chronicle 21 (1959), 243-4.