Ancient coins for the colonies: Hellenism and the history of numismatic collections in Australia

Kenneth Sheedy



This article has its origins in some reflections on an earlier era in a rather different world. But they do eventually lead to Australia and to the processes of globalization which are such a salient feature of contemporary life in Australia. Here I want to explore something of the creation of private collections of ancient Greek coins in Australia and their subsequent fate. At first glance this topic would appear to have a distinctly local ring to it, that perhaps jars with the theme of ‘Hellenism in a Globalised World’. But the import of ancient Greek coins into Australia can be understood in terms of a long held European practice of collecting antiquities (and in particular coins), that was encouraged by Hellenism. In this context collections of ancient coins came to represent the acquisition of an education which privileged knowledge of the classical world (Bowen 1989). In the Renaissance, coins were collected as bearers of authentic (and securely dated) portraits and thus valued as a means of providing direct contact with the great men of antiquity (Haskell 1993; Weiss 1973; Stahl 2009). The vast numbers available meant that (in contrast to other sources of images - such as statues) coins could be collected by many people, and not only in Italy or Greece but throughout Europe.

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