In the days before debit cards, you could trace a trip across the globe in the coins exchanged along the way. The Around the World in 80 Coins exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum takes us on a numismatic journey with 16 famous historical travellers.
- Presents coins as markers of history & culture
- Small exhibition, but full of interesting anecdotes
- All text in German and English
- Runs from April 26th, 2022 to January 28th, 2024
- See also:
Coin Cabinet Exhibition
(Exhibition view: Around the World in 80 Coins; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Coin Cabinet © KHM-Museumsverband)
The coin cabinet in the Kunsthistorisches Museum feels a little tucked away. Perhaps somewhat shy in the presence of all those Rembrandts and Raphaels in the picture galleries on the floor below. But the special coin exhibitions are a small one-room delight that take you on insightful historical journeys.
As the title Around the World in 80 Coins (respect to whoever came up with that) hints, this latest exhibition focuses on renowned travellers from history.
Instagram, smartphone galleries, and travel blogs document journeys today. For historians, coins play a similar role as constant companions on the road and in marketplaces; their design, images, inscriptions, and value offer insights into countries, cultures and characters through time.
Each of the 16 cabinets within the exhibition introduces a personality with a short biography and five coins from their historical era.
We begin with Olympias (c.375-316 BCE) and end with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) via the likes of Boudica and the Beatles, Mozart and Marco Polo, and even Soliman the elephant, who journeyed from Sri Lanka to Vienna in the mid 1500s.
Each cabinet reveals a few tidbits about the coins and their associated political, historical, cultural, artistic or economic connections. The details throw up some delightful anecdotes.
We learn, for example, that the doors to the Temple of Janus in Rome stayed open when a part of the empire was at war, but closed during times of peace. Or that the paper money encountered by Marco Polo in China was made from the bark of Mulberry trees.
As such, we discover coins as a snapshot of a time and place in history, where a simple change in an inscription might mark the end of a dynasty, and shapes, materials, and images reflect a mosaic of states and influences across the world.
Dates, tickets & tips
Take a journey through the wallets of time from April 26th, 2022 to January 28th, 2024. Any entrance ticket for the Kunsthistorisches Museum also gets you into the coin cabinet.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
Pick up a (free) exhibition booklet once inside, which expands a little on the biographies.
Obviously, be sure to browse the other treasures in the museum collections too. For a similar flavour to historical coins, try the Greek and Roman section: the beautifully-lit displays include engraved gems, cameos, and gold jewelry.
And I find it hard to visit without drinking a coffee in the museum café. Only because you’d struggle to find a more glorious setting for a simple hot beverage. Trust me.
How to get there
Follow the travel tips in the main Kunsthistorisches Museum article.
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna