The numismatics room and gallery were made possible by a gift from a descendant of Bela Lyon Pratt, a Connecticut medalist and sculptor who studied at Yale, and one display case is devoted to his designs. Other cases explore ancient coinage with the portraits of the Twelve Caesars; local history and Connecticut’s early coinage; curious numismatic objects from around the world; and beautiful bank note material. Taken together, these cases offer the most extensive and comprehensive installation of numismatic material ever at Yale. The display is on view adjacent to the Bela Lyon Pratt Study Room, where visitors may make an appointment to view collection material.
The Gallery’s collection of numismatic material is among the University’s oldest, dating to the early years of the 19th century. By 1863 the holdings numbered some 3,000 items; two decades later the Greek and Roman portions alone totaled over 3,200. Formerly known as the Yale Numismatic Collection, jurisdiction over it passed from the University Library to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2001. The collection now comprises over 120,000 pieces and is by far the largest assemblage at any American university.
The collection provides the basis not only for formal instruction in numismatics but also for expanding the horizons of historians, art historians, archaeologists, and the general public. Its great strength remains Greco-Roman, including examples of the earliest coinage of western Asia Minor, the supreme artistic achievements of Syracuse and southern Italy, and masterpieces of Hellenistic and Roman portraiture. Silver coinage from the Roman Republic has been systematically acquired, and the collection of imperial coins is comprehensive; it has been augmented in recent years by the purchase of the collection of Professor Peter R. and Leonore Franke (over 4,100 pieces of Greek cities and the provinces) and the acquisition of roughly the first half of the collection of Ben Lee Damsky (about 900 pieces), which has enhanced the Gallery’s imperial holdings. The strengths of the collection include fine examples from the English and German traditions, a broad selection of Renaissance medals, and the coins from Dura-Europos, which complement the Gallery’s other holdings from this important Yale excavation in the 1930s.
For the modern period, one of the most important single bequests was C. W. Betts’s collection of medals pertaining to the American Revolution, which was the basis of a scholarly study from 1894 that remains in use today. The collection also includes paper money, with many thousands of Confederate notes selected to represent virtually every issue of the Civil War period, as well as a superb run of Connecticut coppers from the 18th century. The numismatics collection has recently been fortunate to receive transformative support from Susan and John Jackson, b.a. 1967, and the Liana Foundation, which will see the department’s activities, and its holdings of paper currency and related artwork, expand exponentially.