Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Museums: Money, Money, Money Volume 56 Number 1, January/February 2003
by Perry A. Bialor

On display at New York's Federal Reserve Bank, clockwise from top: sixth-century B.C. Greek stater, first-century B.C. coin celebrating Caesar's assassination, second-century A.D. Kushan dinara, third-century B.C. depiction of Alexander the Great. (Courtesy American Numismatic Society) [LARGER IMAGE]

From its 750,000-piece collection (the largest in North America), the American Numismatic Society has assembled more than 700 pieces for its exhibition "Drachmas, Doubloons, and Dollars: The History of Money," running until 2007 at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The coins, medals, paper money, and other currencies are displayed in a ground-floor space once used for bond trading--a cavernous hall of gray stone punctuated by piers that support high, vaulted ceilings.

The money ranges from the earliest Greek coins to Roman, crusader, Arab, Chinese, and Korean pieces. More recent currencies include the German thaler, the Spanish doubloon, and other European coins. Special attention is devoted to American currency, from the earliest, designed by Benjamin Franklin, to vintage Indian-head nickels and liberty dimes, to more recent coinage in all denominations. African iron rods, miniature axes, and Native American wampum are also on display.

With so much variety, each visitor will find personal favorites. For me, they were Lysimachus I's "divine Alexander" tetradrachm, a work of art that is probably an accurate portrait of Alexander the Great (except for the horns of divinity), and the crusader coins, crude though they are, that incorporate Arabic inscriptions with the Christian cross, in recognition of the more sophisticated Arab civilization of that time.

Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of current exhibitions.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America