A lot of very large piggy banks were cracked open to make this coin collection. With some 600,000 objects, you’d need to view about 165 per second to be finished in an hour.
So get a move on.
Obviously, not all the items are on display. In fact, the Münzkabinett consists of just two small galleries, plus a third gallery with a temporary exhibition. It’s on the second floor of the museum, a little isolated from the other main collections.
Although one of the most important such collections in the world, you’ll need an English book or audio guide to get anything more than a quick visual impression. As with the Egyptian and Antiquity galleries, almost all information is in German only.
Spot the famous person
The first gallery traces the history of medallions, beginning with 14th century examples. You’ll also notice a wonderful series of miniature portraits along the wall (which continues in the next gallery).
These paintings were put together by Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol in the 16th century. Since the smartphone appeared over 400 years too late for his needs, he was forced instead to capture “snaps” of the rich, regal and famous through commissioned portraits.
It’s the largest collection of its kind from the renaissance and most are “genuine”, in the sense that they’re realistic representations of what people actually looked like (rather than what they wanted you to think they looked like).
This “who’s who” of 16th century Europe covers the great and the good (not necessarily the same), popes, princes, Saxons and sultans, not to mention many celebrities of the time, like Dante, Da Vinci and Sir Francis Drake.
The portraits are ordered by geography (e.g. “England”) or theme (e.g. “Popes”), but there’s no index of personalities that I could find – unfortunately you’ll have to spot the celebrities for yourself (Da Vinci is in the first gallery, section D, #95).
Tip: You can get great views across the square to the Natural History Museum if you peek carefully between the blinds and window frame here.
The second gallery has the coins. Lots of them. But it covers other forms of “money”, too: the first cabinet on the left already offers up some examples, from a 2nd century BC cowry shell to casino chips and a modern VISA card.
The early coins (the earliest here stem from around 600BC) are often a vital historical record, which I’d never really considered. For example, Roman coins might feature buildings that were destroyed long ago or the faces of Emperors who weren’t around long enough to leave much of a pictorial record behind.
Be sure to see the coin box in the far corner. Not an oversized whisky bottle for collecting your small change, but an impressive wooden cabinet for storing and displaying coins.
Use the audio guide to get some interesting background on selected items, such as how the first “Austrian” bank notes from the time of Empress Maria Theresia were signed individually by hand to guard against forgeries.
Tip: If you want to dig deeper into the collection, there’s an interactive online catalogue.
(Photo credit: © curto / Fotolia)