Eleanor Smith, Ashmolean Museum
I spent the duration of my placement at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Whilst there I worked on three different projects, which allowed me to experience a wide variety of the numismatic research and work which happens in museums such as the Ashmolean. Firstly, I helped Shailendra Bhandare in his preparation for an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War through the use of coins, banknotes and medals. I researched some of the items which had already been selected, principally commemorative medals and German notgeld or ‘emergency money’. This provided a really fascinating insight into the way in which money is affected by periods of war, both in its production and circulation. Moreover, the challenging nature of a few of the commemorative medals gave me an appreciation of the various debates and discussions which are required to produce a well-curated, comprehensive and stimulating exhibition.
I further helped to put together a handling collection of coins with a focus on the monarchs of the British Isles. I helped to research each coin as well as collating contextual information for each reign, and drew this information together in one document. This work was, for me, particularly valuable as it allowed to me to develop an understanding of the working life of the museum beyond research activities.
The final project which I contributed to was related to the Ilchester mint. I did some very interesting research into the history of the town of Ilchester. This focussed on its rise as an important borough and county town in the Middle Ages and the presence of a mint in the town. I particularly enjoyed this research as I have typically focussed on modern history throughout my degree, and so this area was very different to anything that I had studied before. It was, therefore, a fantastic opportunity to gain an understanding of a new field of study in both history and numismatics.
My experience at the Ashmolean was incredibly valuable to me. The placement not only gave me the opportunity to be a part, if just for a short time, of an incredible museum, but also taught me volumes about the world of numismatics. I learnt vast amounts about research and the day-to-day realities of working in a leading museum. I was also able to work with some very interesting people who brought numismatics to life for me. Overall, my placement has been an insightful experience which has given me new direction when looking beyond my undergraduate degree.
Rachel Wilkinson, Fitzwilliam Museum
I was fortunate enough to receive the BNS bursary to go to the Coins and Medals Department in the Fitzwilliam Museum. I am very grateful to both the British Numismatic Society and Fitzwilliam Museum for this opportunity. I graduated this summer reading Classical Archaeology (MSt.) and would like to pursue a career in the field of numismatics. This internship helped me develop the skills I need and helped me to gain an understanding of the different roles within the department.
Adi arranged a series of meetings for me with Conservation, the Collections Manager and the Education Department. I also had an introduction of labelling of objects within the museum. I was shown the progress from handwritten scrawls (with prices!) to the typewritten efforts of the ’80s. These meetings gave me a good understanding of how the Coins and Medals Department fitted into the Museum and how each of these department contributed to the preservation and presentation of the objects.
Within Coins and Medals, I updated the Flavian coin records with their entries within the second edition of Roman Imperial Coinage. It gave me an appreciation of the range of the iconography used by Vespasian and his descendants and an awareness of how this coinage fitted into a wider Flavian programme of triumph. The next task was to continue the retrospective accessioning of the McClean bequest. I was lucky enough to handle and photography some of these beautiful coins. Many of those I logged were central to topics I had studied and it was brilliant to be able to handle these objects. Hopefully they should be on the database and accessible to the public some time soon! Eimear, the Documentation Officer, taught me about standardising terms for the database and how to photograph the coins.
Everyone in the department has been tremendously supportive in giving me advice for applications and interviews, being patient when I was learning and keeping the biscuit tin fully stocked. The internship has given me experience and confidence going forward to apply for jobs and is a great opportunity for anyone interested in numismatics.
Emily Wilkinson, British Museum
I spent September working alongside Marion Archibald, helping her with the preparation of her forthcoming book on Anglo-Saxon and early Norman coin hoards. I had been studying early medieval Britain and Scandinavia, and Germanic philology, at university so this focus enabled me to use the knowledge I already had while also extending it.
I was introduced to the core literature on the topic, and how it was used in analysing coins. Everyone I met taught me huge amounts about what museum work involves, and how the permanent galleries and special exhibitions are prepared and managed. I was able to visit the labs and the Prehistory and Europe department, learning about their work and the tools and machines available for object identification and conservation. I was able to take some advantage of the BM’s collections, and I was stunned to be handed a tray of gold coins from Sutton Hoo and allowed to handle some of them!
Most of the work was typing up Marion’s drafts and notes, and preparing some of the tables for the book. As well as trying to find suitable characters to represent the legends, I got to check some of them against the original coins! I also helped with scanning images of coins to be included in the text. Basic though it sounds, I learned so much about how to look at coins, whether picking out features that signify type or series, recognising the indications of a potential forgery, or spotting Viking ‘pecks’ used to assess silver quality. I explored how coins were minted and the place of moneyers and mints in Anglo-Saxon society, as well as becoming familiar with a wide range of their names and the dialectal variants.
Marion also took the time to show me a range of other coins in the collections and discuss their background: geographically spread across Northern Europe and the Mediterranean; and chronologically from medieval through Tudor, Civil War, Commonwealth and Georgian down to the present day. I was given a glimpse into the similarities and differences in coinage between states, and developments over time. Although I spent most of my time with the Coins & Medals staff, they also introduced me to experts from a number of departments and even from outside the museum – keeping up with lunchtime conversations was sometimes challenging! But in the BM canteen everyone eats together, and I never felt like the odd one out.
I have learned a lot about what a career in numismatics would entail, and have a much clearer vision of the areas of scholarship and conservation I’d be most interested in. I was also given the opportunity to see how a museum and its curators work, and to experience some of what it would be like working in such a team. Aside from meeting so many people working at the centre of their fields, though, the high points have to be the Sutton Hoo gold – and helping to identify an Anglo-Saxon forgery on day two of the placement!