British Numismatic Society : Medals, Prizes   Funds
BNS Medal
The British Numismatic Society

Promoting the study of coins, medals, tokens and banknotes

Medals, Prizes & Funds


2015 Internships

Emma Harper, Norwich Castle Museum

I undertook my placement at Norwich Castle Museum from mid-September to mid-October. During the month that I spent there, I was responsible for carrying out a variety of tasks relating to the museum's Anglo-Saxon, medieval and post-medieval numismatic holdings.

The largest part of my time was spent working with Dr Adrian Marsden on a newly-created website for the Norfolk Token Project. I was responsible for uploading images and information about 17th century tokens onto an online database, editing web pages to display the aims of the project, related events and other information, and using photoshop to produce distribution maps. This task highlighted an element of numismatic history that I had not encountered before, and also gave me the chance to be part of an initiative to make part of the museum's holdings accessible to the wider public.

During the rest of my time in Norwich, I spent several days identifying and provenancing a collection of sceattas donated to the museum by a metal detectorist, which required me to consult Historic Environment Record files, search image records, photograph the coins and create and update the relevant records on MODES. In addition, I worked on pennies of William I and Henry I, cross-referencing the museum's collection with the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles to modify and create MODES records. I was also responsible for drafting a grant application relating to the acquisition of a hoard of sceattas by the museum, which required me to research the composition and significance of this group of coins. This gave me an insight into the nature of the sceatta coinage, and into the processes that underpin the acquisition of Treasure Cases by museums. I was additionally asked to research the history and activities of the Norwich mint, in preparation for the creation of a new exhibition case on this subject. This taught me about an important aspect of later medieval minting with which I was hitherto unfamiliar.

Whilst undertaking my placement, I was able to attend a metal detecting club with members of the Museum's archaeology department. This was an eye opening experience that gave me a valuable insight into the material that is found by detectorists in Norfolk, illustrating first hand how the relations between museums and metal detectorists enhance our understanding of sites and the objects found in the region, and contribute to museum collections.

I learnt a lot during my placement in Norwich, which was extremely enjoyable. Not only did I gain experience of handling, identifying, photographing and cataloguing coins, I was given the opportunity to carry out a variety of tasks related to disseminating information about numismatic material to members of the public. Recently I have been offered a job as a museum Collections Documentation Assistant. which I believe was largely due to the opportunities provided by and skills developed during my month in Norwich. I would like to thank Dr John Davies, Dr Tim Pestell, Dr Adrian Marsden and the British Numismatic Society for giving me the chance to undertake this placement.

Gemma Hollman, Historic Royal Palaces

Last month I was incredibly fortunate to have the BNS fund my travel expenses so that I could take a volunteer placement at Historic Royal Palaces. I was based at the Tower of London, with a few days at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace, and as someone who has for years enthusiastically visited historic sites this was the best way I could think to spend a month of my summer. Owing to the link with the BNS, my main task whilst at HRP was to catalogue their vast coin handling collection so that they can increase the use of the handling collection in their learning department. I had a small amount of numismatic experience beforehand, having utilised coins as evidence in an undergraduate essay on the development of Anglo-Saxon towns, and the placement was a great opportunity to build upon this knowledge. I am intrigued at how objects that we carry in our purses and don't think twice about can be such a good window into the past. The imagery used, the politics of the inscriptions, and the materials used all give us an idea of life and politics in previous centuries. Most of the coins in the collection are fairly modern - nineteenth and twentieth centuries - but there were a handful of Tudor coins, and even some medieval coins. To be able to hold something that old was amazing!

To catalogue the coins, I of course first had to identify what type of coin it was, and then I had to put all of the relevant information into a spreadsheet: what inscriptions and imagery were on the obverse and reverse; what material it was made of; the date; its SPINK reference for other numismatists; its condition; which monarch it came under; its diameter; and finally its storage location. After all of that information had been catalogued for each coin they had to be stored in individual envelopes, with some of the basic information written on it for quick identification. Across my time there I catalogued just over 500 coins. This now means that anyone in the learning department who wants to use coins for either public events or private educational sessions can use the spreadsheet to find what type of coin, or a coin from a particular monarch, that they want, and can easily locate it and use it.

As well as cataloguing the coin collection, I had various opportunities to take part in other activities across HRP and the learning department, and one of these - Story Scramble - gave me an opportunity to witness the use of coins in public handling first hand. Story Scramble takes place at the Tower of London numerous times a year, and I was based in the object handling station in the White Tower. Amongst a few other objects, including a seventeenth-century clay pipe and a First World War brass box given as Christmas presents to soldiers, were two medieval coins. One was from Henry VI's reign (dated c.1440) and the other was from Edward I's reign (dated c. 1270-1300). The target audience of Story Scramble is children and so it was usually children who would handle these coins, but inevitably adults who came by the table became interested in all of the stories and wanted to learn more about the objects or hold them themselves! Seeing the awe in people's faces as you let them hold (carefully!) a coin that is over 700 years old was extremely rewarding, and feeling that you had taught even one person something that they didn't know before, or inspired them to become more interested in history was equally so.

As well as cataloguing the coins, I learnt about other related aspects of the coin collection. For example, I gained knowledge of conservation by using archival grade paper and document pens, acid free tissue paper, and cutting Plastazote and archive boxes. Whilst I knew historic artefacts have to be carefully looked after, I didn't know exactly how this process was carried out, and so dealing with these aspects whilst working with the coin collection, as well as when I visited some of the costume collection at Kensington Palace, gave me a good insight.

The placement taught me so much in just four weeks, and I am incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity. Not only did I gain a plethora of skills that I can use as I go on to do a Masters in Medieval History in September and in any future career, but I met a lot of very nice people who were all very good at their jobs. To know that I got a chance to work at important historic sites and get immersed in their histories was certainly wonderful, but I gained so much more. I got to hold pieces of history, I learnt about careers in curating and the learning department that I didn't know of before - and that I am very interested in pursuing - and I furthered my interest in all things numismatic. As I go on to do my masters, I am hoping to gain more work experience and perhaps one day return to HRP. I must give a big 'thank you' to everyone at HRP and the BNS who made this placement possible for me. It is something I will never forget.

Riccardo Caravello, York Museums Trust

My BNS four-week long internship was split between the Yorkshire Museum and the York Archaeological Trust. With YMT I worked on some groups of Roman coins from the excavations run by Peter Wenham in York during the 1950s and 1960s; the YAT coins were from excavations run by the Trust in York in the 1970s and 1980s.

The project aimed to catalogue and record the coins into the YAT and YMT databases with special attention on coins from sites inside the colonia (the civilian settlement developed in the bank south-east of the river Ouse, after the foundation of the Roman fortress), in order to add more information about the coin circulation in the civilian area in the Roman period.

I spent the first week at the YMT office dealing with the coins from Peter Wenham's archive. The first thing I needed to do was to check the envelopes with coins to make sure that their identification and provenance were correct. In fact, I had cases of coins with no clear labels or of envelopes with labels but no coins in it. It was necessary to create a table with all the information I could get from the envelopes in terms of identification, date of excavation, site and stratification details. That was a perfect introduction to the Roman city and the modern areas where the excavations were focused on. As the grid was completed I could start to look at the published material by Wenham trying to match it with our coins. That was a really exciting job because I had the opportunity to see how useful the documentation system can be to build back what the archaeological excavation produced.

When the sites and their corresponding coins were sorted I gave each an accession number and started to add them to the Museum's database, ADLIB. That was the moment when I spent a lot of time analysing the coins, checking the identification and adding the catalogue references when appropriate. For that reason, I really appreciated the wide bibliography the YMT provided. I got more familiar with the identification process and the use of the RIC catalogue. Afterwards, in the Research Room of the Museum I took pictures of the coins which were added eventually to the records in Adlib to complete the documentation.

I spent the second and third weeks at the YAT store checking and adding the coins from four different sites in York into the YAT database (IADB). I was asked to fill a spreadsheet for each site writing in detail the description of the obverse and reverse types and any notes I could add. For most of the sites I had a list of the coins already identified but the operation was challenging because I needed to check the identification and the catalogue reference when provided. During that period I could see how the finds storage works. Throughout the weeks I took pictures of the coins and uploaded the spreadsheet in IADB.

The last week was split between the YMT and YAT getting the point on the whole material I had analysed so far. For this purpose I created some graphs to compare the groups of coins and study their denominations. I wrote an analysis for every site, providing a brief story of the site and an analysis of the coins. One of the most interesting thing which came out from the sites was the association of early coins with skeletons and cremations and at some point we thought to create an exhibition showing the evidence of this ritual. Unfortunately, we could not carry out the idea due to the lack of time but it could be realized in the future.

The internship was really valuable and helped me to get more confidence in working on Roman coins. Furthermore, it was a complete research job which brought me to work with archives, specialized bibliography and archaeological reports. The internship made me live the numismatic study as an important part of a complex work on finds, archaeological data and interpretations. Analysing coins made me curious about the individual Emperors as well as their specific political plans. It was interesting to see how the Museum and the YAT work on their materials in order to make them available for future research.