They cracked open a lot of very large piggy banks to build this coin collection. With some 600,000 objects, you’d need to view about 165 per second to be finished in an hour. So you better get started…
- Traces the history of coinage and money through the centuries with a selection of historical examples
- Also includes a collection of miniature historical “celebrity” portraits
- Current exhibition:
- See also:
Coins and medaillions
(The first gallery in the coin collection exhibition rooms; photo © KHM-Museumsverband)
Obviously, not all the museum’s coins are on display. In fact, the Münzkabinett just consists of two small galleries, plus a third gallery with a temporary exhibition. You find it 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 may still need an English book or audio guide to get anything more than a quick visual impression of the permanent exhibition.
At my last visit in 2019, almost all information was in German only. Expect the temporary exhibitions to be fully bilingual, though. Each year seems to see more English added to the museum as well.
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).
Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol put together this collection of paintings 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.
The portrait collection is the largest 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), including popes, princes, and sultans, not to mention many “celebrities” of the time, such as Dante or Da Vinci.
The portraits are ordered by geography (e.g. “England”) or theme (e.g. “Popes”), but I found no index of personalities, so had to spot the celebrities for myself (for example, see the first gallery, section D, #95 for Da Vinci).
Tip: Enjoy great views across the square to the Natural History Museum if you peek carefully between the blinds and window frame in this gallery.
(A Greek gold stater of the kind you might see in the coin collection. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
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 VISA card.
The early coins (the earliest here stem from around 600BC) often serve as a vital historical record, which I’d never really considered.
For example, Roman coins might feature buildings destroyed long ago or the faces of Emperors who became ex-Emperors too quickly to leave much of a pictorial record behind.
At the same time, who knows how accurate such representations might be? Politics or vested interests may have influenced coin designers.
Be sure to see the coin box in the far corner. Not an over-sized 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 coin collection, try this interactive online catalogue.
Next: Perhaps time for a coffee in the museum’s café after all that art?