Collecting coins in the 18th century

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by GinoLR, Sep 28, 2023.

  1. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    After people passed away, their relatives and heirs often have the sad duty to empty their houses, sometimes share between them some family souvenirs or objects they like to keep, sell the rest in some kind of garage sale or give it to charities if it may help. Sometimes, they find very old things.

    When we had to do it for my in-laws, a family from Normandy, there were souvenirs we could trace back to my wife's grandparents, great grandparents, who had lived in the late 19th c., and even older things that probably came from 18th c. ancestors. None of these people, as far as we know, was a collector of anything, and in the family traditions some furniture or objects had just always been there... It is the case for this old worn-out book.


    It is in very bad condition. Obviously it is not a collectible item for bibliophiles, it is just a book that had been read again and again. It is "De l'Utilité des Voyages et de l'Avantage que la Recherche des Antiquitez Procure aux Sçavans", by M. Baudelot de Dairval, printed at Rouen (Charles Ferrand) in 1727. ("On the usefulness of travels, and the advantage scholars draw from researching antiquities").

    It's all about Greek and Roman civilization, commentaries about objects, inscriptions, coins. Especially coins. There are manuscript comments in the margins, sometimes in French, sometimes in Latin, in black ink, black or red pencil, perhaps from two different handwritings. The book is not at all an original edition: it was first published in Paris in 1686, but was later reprinted, this one in Rouen. There were not many numismatic books available in the 1720s, especially if you lived in some provincial city, and this one had the quality of being relatively affordable and, being printed in Rouen, it is not surprising to find it in a personal library of Normandy.

    In the 18th c. it belonged to somebody who collected ancient coins. Let's see this illustration of a denarius of Manius Cordius Rufus (46 BC) :


    On the illustration there is an owl on the goddess' shoulder. But somebody wrote in Latin with a red pencil : "In meis, non Noctua, sed Cupido" ("on a specimen of my collection, it is not an owl but it is Cupid"). Of course the unknown collector was right : this goddess is Venus...

    I shall never know if this book could have been bought by some known ancestor in the late 19th or early 20th c., but it is very unlikely: this was the field of interest of nobody we know in the family. The quality of some surviving pieces of furniture of the late 18th and early 19th c. show that there had been relatively wealthy people in this period, among which somebody likely to have collected ancient coins as a hobby. When I hold this worn-out book, I find it a little moving to be in contact with an ordinary provincial collector who probably lived in Normandy 3 centuries ago. From where could he get his coins? Were there dealers in Rouen, or did he find them when he travelled to Paris if he did?
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  3. expat

    expat Remember you are unique, just like everyone else Supporter

    Sad subject in relation to your in-laws, but an incredibly interesting book to have found. Thanks for sharing
  4. Jim Dale

    Jim Dale Well-Known Member

    While I was in college, I was a student helper in the library acquisitions department. The department would process all books, new or antique books. There were many collections from well-known people. I was always amazed at the care and handling of the owners of the books. There were many books that were hundreds of years old. The library has a section of the library cordoned off. The books are very valuable. You won't believe this, but they kept their Playboys in that area as well.
    SensibleSal66, paschka and sand like this.
  5. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    I would not believe it if you said the college library kept the Playboys in the open access section...
    One day I had to go by car to a country well-known for its corrupted army, police and customs. And in the trunk of my car I was carrying not illegal, but sensitive material which could have caused me lots of problems. Thanks God and Hugh Heffner, Playboy was the solution. I bought two Playboys at a gas station and put them in my trunk among my luggage. When I stopped at the border, the policemen told me to open the trunk, they started to search and immediately found the two magazines. "It's forbidden in this country", they said. "All right, I replied, please remove them". They took them, shut the trunk not searching further, and told me to go on...
  6. Curtis

    Curtis Well-Known Member

    What a nice book to have, even without the family connection, but especially for that history. I wonder if this person would've bought the coins in the city -- any big city, not just Paris, could've have a thriving coin market.

    Especially Rouen, which was long a cultural center with many artists and intellectuals, who were, for the first time, starting to become collectors, in addition to the nobility.

    In a rural area, it is also possible that "everyone knew" the person who collected ancient coins. So any time they were dug up in a field or encountered in the market, people would bring them to your ancestor.

    In fact, there are still people in "source countries" who acquire local finds that way. (BCD Collection tags make it clear that local surface finds usually made their way to him, just as virtually every coin found in Egypt would've passed across G. Dattari's desk in the late 19th century.)

    In general, there is a lot of interesting historical scholarship on collecting ancient coins (and antiquities and other stuff) in the 19th, 18th and earlier centuries.

    There's a lot more on the 19th century, since that's when there was an explosion in number of published collections & auction catalogs, and at the end of the 19th cent, the start of photography for ancient coins. (Also a great topic in its own right, for which I have a separate bibliography.)

    A lot of collecting history falls under the research topics of "antiquarianism" and "classical reception."

    There's much more available, but here are a few that are available online and that I found interesting enough to record in my annotated bibliography for this topic:

    Rambach, Hadrien. (2010). “Collectors at auction, auctions for collectors.” Schweizer Münblätter [SMB] 60: pp. 35-43.
    35: “…short history of auctions…”
    beginning with Herodotus, continuing through antiquity, medieval, and modern period.
    37: “The first printed auction catalogue was published in Leyden for the dispersal of the library of Philips van Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde 1538–1598) on 6 July 1599. The catalogue was prepared by the renowned book-dealer Louis Elzevier c.1540–1617); among the lots were several numismatic books and some ancient coins as well. The first printed auction catalogue devoted to coins was issued in Amsterdam for the sale of the Johan Raphael Grill Collection in 1679.”

    Hadrien Rambach has written a lot more about collecting in the 18th to early 20th centuries, especially in Germany (but also Switzerland, France, and elsewhere in Europe and the U.S.).

    R. Weiss (1968). “The Study of Ancient Numismatics during the Renaissance,” Numismatic Chronicle 7 (8): 177–87.

    Dominique Hollard (1991). “L'illustration numismatique au XIXe siècle.” Revue Numismatique (Année 1991), 6th Series, Vol. 33: pp. 7-42 & pl. I-III (separate).

    Woytek et al. (2022). Ars critica numaria: Joseph Eckhel (1737–1798) and the Transformation of Ancient Numismatics. Full book made available as free PDF:

    de Callataÿ (2013). Numismatic Antiquarianism through Correspondence (16th–18th c.) = 14 articles collected from the 2017 meeting on numismatic antiquarianism held in Rome.
    Eurydice Georganteli (2008). “Numismatics” in E. Jeffreys, J. Haldon & R. Cormack (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Byzantium (Oxford University Press), Oxford, 2008, 157-175. []
    • Includes summary of numismatic writing from Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas forward, with reference to collecting in antiquity, and “modern” collections, 14th century to present.
    Miller, Peter (2008). “Peiresc and the Study of Islamic Coins in the Early Seventeenth Century,” The Princeton University Library Chronicle , Vol. 69, No. 2 (Winter 2008), pp. 315- 369

    Cunnally, John (1994). "Ancient Coins As Gifts and Tokens of Friendship during the Renaissance." Journal of the History of Collections, 6 (1994), pp. 129-143
    Cunnally, John (2001). "The Portable Pantheon: Ancient Coins as Sources of Mythological Imagery in the Renaissance"
    Cunnally, John (2008). “Of Mauss and (Renaissance) Men: Numismatics, Prestation, and the Genesis of Visual Literacy,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. LXIX (Winter, 2008), pp. 241-261.

    • Since the 19th cent. we’ve had a “marmorcentric” (marble) attitude toward antiquity (and antiquities), w/ museum sculpture the archetype of an artifact, but the Renaissance had a much more “nummocentric” attitude: educated people were very familiar with coins then, passed them around at dinner, gave them as gifts, posed with them in paintings, kept them in pockets and bags and scattered in any room: “humanists of an earlier era were more familiar with antiquities that could be held in one’s hand and passed around the table for discussion, a “nummocentric” perspective on the ancient world.”

    A personal favorite (applies to 19th cent. American collectors):

    Friedlaender, Marc (1974). “Charles Francis Adams, Numismatist, Brought to the Bar: Groux v. Adams.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 86: pp. 3-27 (25 pages).
    • The Charles Francis Adams (son of the US President) is largely responsible for the "John Quincy Adams Collection" sold by Stack's 1971.

    There are many more I'd like to include & talk about, since I find this topic fascinating, but that's probably already much too much!
    GinoLR, kountryken, Curtisimo and 2 others like this.
  7. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    I think it is quite possible that Rouen had sellers of coins and artifacts. It's a good size city and an important port on the Seine between Paris and Le Havre , even a couple of centuries ago.

    Besancon is a smaller city near the Swiss border, yet I found a small coin shop there back in the early 90s.
    Curtis likes this.
  8. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    Wonderful book and interesting thread @GinoLR . My library is sorely lacking in 19th century and early books but I find them extremely interesting.
  9. kountryken

    kountryken Well-Known Member

    I understand, and appreciate you not wanting to overload your post. But, I love history, and if I had time (which I don't, at this time), would very much enjoy a "history lesson" from you. Thanks for posting.
  10. kountryken

    kountryken Well-Known Member

    @GinoLR what an amazing find. I'm so glad that you shared it with us. Thank you. Hope you "stumble" upon something that ties this to your family! Blessings, Kenneth
  11. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Thank you ! What a precious post... I think I'll read many of your links with the greatest attention. I didn't know there were printed auction catalogues as soon as the 17th c.
    kountryken and Curtis like this.
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