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The History of the Vienna Numismatic Collection

The Numismatic Collection in Vienna had its origins in the collecting activity of the Habsburgs, among whom the following played an especially important role: Emperor Maximilian I († 1519) and his grandson Ferdinand I († 1564), as well as the latters son Archduke Ferdinand of Tirol († 1595). The first surviving inventory was made in 1547 under Emperor Ferdinand I by his treasurer Leopold Heyperger. It includes 1567 coins, almost all of them of Roman provenance.

Emperor Rudolf II, who was a great collector and patron of the arts in his capital Prague, enlarged the Habsburg coin collection and greatly promoted the medallists art. Emperor Charles VI appointed the Swedish scholar Carl Gustav Heraeus to be the first inspector of medals and antiquities. The emperors particular fondness for antique coins is documented in his Nummothek, a numismatic collection in book form. Francis Stephen of Lorraine, the consort of Empress Maria Theresa, called to Vienna the highly gifted and self-taught Valentin Jamerai Duval in order to organise and also to expand the important collection of modern coins from around the world. After the rulers death in 1765, the modern coin collection was united with that of the Habsburgs, which had meanwhile grown considerably.

In 1774 Joseph Hilarius Eckhel, a Jesuit priest born in 1732 in Enzesfeld in Lower Austria, became director of the collection of antique coins under the overall supervision of Duval. As a scholar Eckhel remains world-famous today. He not only opened the antique coins of the imperial collection to the public but also founded the science of numismatics with his Doctrina numorum veterum ("Knowledge of Ancient Coins") published in eight volumes. Other important scholars worked in the so-called "collection of coins and antiquities" after Eckhels death in 1798, studying and expanding the imperial collections. In 1891 the collections, which had been housed in a wide variety of locations, were united in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The collections of coins and antiquities were housed until 1899 on the ground floor. On January 1, 1900, separate collections were established for coins and antiquities, and in 1909 the Numismatic Collection was moved to the second floor of the building.

The present collection includes more than 700,000 numismatic items, ranging from coins, medals and paper money to orders, emblems and badges to securities and credit cards. Along with the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris, the Coin Cabinet in London, the coin collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the collection of the American Numismatic Society in New York, the Vienna Numismatic Collection is among the five most important collections of its kind in the world.

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