NUMISMATICS IN LOCKDOWN
In this focus provided by the Money & Medals Network, based at The British Museum, we look at some of the challenges faced by numismatists during the pandemic
MMN UNDER LOCKDOWN
What a year! The COVID19 pandemic has impacted on planned Money and Medals Network activity, just as it has on all our lives, writes Henry Flynn, British Museum. In January 2020 MMN was entering the final six months of the most recent period of Arts Council England (ACE) funding, with multiple museum collections mapping visits planned and six training events in different areas of England at various stages of organisation. In March it quickly became clear that this activity would not be able to go ahead. It was then that the national lockdown came into effect and all planned MMN activity involving face-to-face interactions was put on hold.
I am the Project Curator for MMN, and since my role is externally funded I was not furloughed during the lockdown. This enabled me to keep working on the Network, but in a very different way from normal. Firstly, the nerve centre of the Money and Medals Network moved from the Coins and Medals Department of the British Museum to my north London flat where I have been based permanently up until very recently. Armed with a laptop issued by Q Branch, by which I mean the British Museum Information Services Department, I was then able to keep MMN going in a variety of ways. The Money and
Medals website features a growing repository of information about numismatic holdings in UK museums. This is where all the information gathered during the collections mapping process is uploaded to as each participating museum gets their own page on the collections section of the website. This is fast becoming a very comprehensive database which is accessible to anyone with an interest in numismatics. Having to work from home and not being able to travel for several months afforded me the chance to give the website some TLC and tackle the backlog of questionnaires that had built up during 2019’s busy training schedule.
In total, 17 new pages have been created. This includes information gathered during previous periods of activity such as at Stromness Museum and Orkney Museum, all the most recent assessment visits conducted during late 2019 and early 2020 such as SS Great Britain and the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, and also some new contacts made during the pandemic. It still isn’t really possible for me to travel far to view collections, so I have been prioritising putting information on the website instead, hope that a physical visit will follow at some point. These new MMN members include Headstone Manor & Museum and Kirklees Museums and Galleries. The website is the most up to date it has ever been, and this information is of course all intended for your benefit, so I would encourage you to visit www.
moneyandmedals.org.uk and take a look for yourself!
The planned programme of six training events has been paused for now as it seems it isn’t going to be possible to hold physical events in 2020. I am hopeful that these training days will go ahead in some socially-distanced form, perhaps early in 2021. meantime, I am looking into running online MMN sessions to increase our engagement with museum professionals and to enhance our training programme. The first of these trial events will be held later this year.
interest of keeping the profile of MMN visible during these dark times I have been maintaining a presence on social media, keeping our followers on Twitter and Instagram informed of developments, and joining in with events such as Professor Dan Hicks’ #MuseumsUnlocked and contributing to @NumisChat. To follow MMN on these platforms, you can find us @ moneymedalsnet. It has been a challenging year to say the least, but Network activity continues and the project itself is adapting to this new situation. We are still here to help, please check the news page of our website regularly to stay informed!
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) during lockdown
On 23 March 2020, when the Prime Minister placed the UK under ‘lockdown’, metal detecting, and other searching for archaeological finds, was essentially prohibited, writes Prof Michael Lewis, Head, Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum. Throughout this period, all the Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officers (bar one, who was redeployed to county council Covid-19 support operations), remained on PAS work, though the nature of this transformed somewhat. Instead of undertaking outreach (such as club visits, finds days etc) to bring in finds for recording, the FLOs took to social media (to stay in touch with finders), and also took the opportunity to work on backlog and unfinished ‘red-flag’ records on the PAS database: https://finds.org.uk/database. With period of ‘total lockdown’ (so until 13 May), the FLOs and volunteers recorded 6,251 finds and updated almost 11,000 records. This work has continued, with 16,542 finds now recorded since 23 March.
Currently people are able to go out metal-detecting, fieldwalking and mudlarking, as long as they follow government guidance (produced by the DCMS with PAS support): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidanceon-searchingfor-archaeological-finds-in-englandduringcovid-19. This emphasises the importance of detecting responsibly, not excavating in-situ archaeology and reporting Treasure, as well as (of course) socialdistancing. Some FLOs have been able to meet with finds, primarily to take in Treasure and other finds for recording, though the situation is variable across the country depending on where they are based and the local restrictions. Therefore, especially for the next six months (until at least Easter), the focus has been on processing Treasure finds (as much as the system allows) and the digital recording of other items. The PAS is blessed with a digital platform for recording finds (which can be done anywhere) and has been essential to enabling the Scheme to function (and to some degree flourish) at this time.
Numismatics goes digital
The coin world, often unfairly, has a reputation of being old-fashioned, obscure, and behind the times, writes Dr Megan Gooch, Bodleian Library, Oxford. Numismatics is seen as an antiquarian pursuit by gentlemen collectors and little-known academic sub-disciplines. But I hope I am preaching to the converted here when I say that whilst numismatics can be niche, it is and always has been highly relevant and forward-looking.
Even the bastion of traditional numismatics – the coin society – went digital thanks to the corona-crisis. This year saw many of us getting to grips with Zoom, Teams and other video conferencing tools, regardless of our age or technical ability.
Both the British and Royal Numismatic Societies, as well as some local societies, paused their lecture programmes and then reinvented them for the digital pandemic age online. Whilst many of us suffered from zoom-fatigue, the novelty of online meetings allowed us to access talks and lectures from the comfort of our own homes – and reached international members who would not normally be able to travel to in-person meetings. It’s amazing how the coin community (and everyone else) adapted to the new digital world – but kudos must go to Clare Rowan who organised the ‘World in your Hand’ conference digitally in April, at the start of our digital journey. She welcomed fifteen speakers and 100 delegates from around the world in this online conference seamlessly transitioning from the planned event in Warwick to Zoom.
April also saw the birth of a new digital
“It’s amazing how the coin community (and everyone else) adapted to the new digital world”
numismatic community on Twitter. Amelia Dowler from the British Museum founded NumisChat where like-minded coinfans can discuss a numismatic topic every week on Tuesdays from 5-6pm (BST). Recent topics have included forgeries, the future of money, ships and navigation, religion, and trade currencies. It’s been lovely to share ideas, see new perspectives and also, just share some really great coins with others – just follow #NumisChat to join in.
Social media has also given us the gift of numismatic content from the Royal Mint Museum (@ RoyalMintMuseum) and the Bank of England Museum (@ boemuseum). The former’s A-Z of coins brought us some jewels from their collection, and more recently they’ve been sharing a topic dear to my heart – stories from Mint Street at the Tower of London. The Bank of England museum has been bringing us stories from the people and work of the Bank, including intriguing photos from their archives.
Although I always think of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (@ findsorguk) as a largely numismatic endeavour, their work records more than just coins. However, the monthly Coin Relief blogs by Sam Moorhead and Andrew Brown have kept us satisfied on the numismatics front. And the weekly #FindsFriday on Twitter is often a lovely or grotty – but always interesting – coin find.
The world of coin collecting too was affected. The traditionally social events of coins fairs, auctions and COINEX were replaced by online auctions and sales. With coin dealers and auction houses adapting, like museums and so many other organisations, to digital platforms.
Has the digital replaced the old ways of ‘doing numismatics’? No. I’m sure we all yearn for a chance to meet each other in person again, to see old friends and make new ones in the numismatic community. But there are new digital possibilities – online meetings and sales can be attended by people from a distance, and social media has helped us discover new numismatic stories and discuss our work and interests with others. I’d like to think the best of these initiatives will continue, but I for one, can’t wait for a sherry party at a numismatic society and seeing you in person again!