Cabinet des Medailles

Cabinet of medals and coins is located in Paris, France, 75001, rue de Richelieu, 58.

Phone:  +33 (0) 1 53 79 83 32      

Fax: +33 (0) 1 53 79 89 47

Official website of the Cabinet: www.bnf.fr

Working hours: Monday — Friday from 13-00 to 17-45

Saturday from 13-00 to 16-45

Sunday from 12-00 to 18-00

Admission: free

 

History of the collection

 Cabinet of coins and medals. France.

Cabinet of coins and medals. France.

The oldest museum in France, the Cabinet of medals and coins, officially called the Department of Antiquities of the National Library of Paris, is located in the former building of the National Library — an old mansion on the Rue Richelieu. This is the most interesting numismatic collection in Europe. It owes its birth to a truly royal collection — the collection of Louis XIV Bourbon (1643-1715). Later it included the collections of his successors on the French throne. Francis I Valois (1515 — 1547) and his son, Henry II (1547 — 1559), whose wife, famous Catherine Medici, added the collection with the Italian coins and passed it on to her son, King Charles IX (1560 — 1574).

 

Religious wars prompted Charles IX to enter the post of the keeper of medals and antiquities of the royal family. And each new monarch, joining the succession, expanded and replenished the collection of coins, which was considered the richest in Europe, the collection of medals, gems, cameos.

 

The cabinet — a small separate room for storage and display of personal collections of the works of art, as well as a room for private meetings, was finally formed by the first Bourbon king Henry IV, who appointed Rusk de Bagarri, a connoisseur of art, the keeper of antiques and  royal medals.

 

Louis XIV, fine connoisseur of art and culture, combined the offices of the Duke of Orleans, his uncle, and Hippolyte de Bethune, the nephew of the minister Henry IV Sully. Besides, he moved the collection from the Royal Library in Paris to Versailles Palace in order to have the united collection within his easy reach.

 

In 1724, the Cabinet of medals was again returned to Paris by the grandson of Louis XIV, Louis XV, who placed it in the Royal (National) Library, which is located in the palace of the Marquis de Lambert, up to this day. The collection included a number of collections received from many collectors. One of them was a collection of Gaston d’Orleans, which was so voluminous, that was located in six rooms of the Luxembourg Palace. Reflecting the tastes and interests of its owner, it included a large number of Greek and Roman coins.

 

Through the activities of J. Foy-Vaillant, the author of works on numismatics of the Greeks and the Roman Empire eras, the man, who had visited many European countries, as well as Egypt, Algeria and Iran, a lot of interesting exhibits were added to the collection.

 

One of the first art historians and archaeologists Count Caylus bequeathed his collection of rare antiquities to the Cabinet of medals and coins in 1765.  Thus trying to make the collection more accessible to the scholars.

 

After the monarchy was abolished, the Cabinet of medals received the pre-Christian artifacts from Sainte-Chapelle. At that time the head of the Cabinet was the founder of modern numismatics, outstanding Theophilus Marion Dyumersan. In 1795 at the age of sixteen he went there to work and didn’t allow the Allies to plunder the collection after the defeat of Napoleon. Theophilus Marion Dyumersan published with his own money the history of the foundation of the collection and its description.

The exhibits from the "gurdon treasure." V-VI century.

The exhibits from the «gurdon treasure.» V-VI century.

In 1846, the Cabinet was filled with a serious treasure of V-VI centuries, consisting of nearly one hundred ancient coins and golden products discovered a year before in the French town Gourdon.

 

Baron P.-F. Burle d’Eyi added to the National Assembly his collections of Roman Republican coins. O. d’Albert. The Duc de Luynes, the favorite of Louis XIII, passed to the cabinet his collection of 7,000 copies of Greek coins in 1862. The famous author of numismatic works about the times of the Crusades and the works on numismatics of France F. de Saulci presented the Cabinet 7000 coins of the Gaul period. The pride of the collection – the gold stater, the largest coin of antiquity that belonged to the king of Bactria Evkratid I, weighing 169.2 grams and of 58 mm in diameter, was bought by the t Numismatic Cabinet in 1867 for 30,000 francs, which at the time was equivalent to 8.7 kg of gold.

 

The study of ancient coins, originally based on the study and collection of antiquities, had made rapid progress. Science-based systematization of the collections of coins, medals and paper money encouraged the formation of so-called Muntz-cabinets (from the German Munze — coin) across the whole Europe. France numbered up to 200 cabinets. Passion for drawing up such rooms had not only the positives. A large number of fake ancient coins that inexperienced numismatists took for the real things appeared. That fact brought difficulties to the development of science.

 

In XVIII century the state collection of France, one of the best in Europe at the time, was put in order. Napoleon I brought to the Cabinet all the coins of the public assemblies of the countries they conquered: Spain, Italy, Germany. So his collection reached the plentitude, which had never been reached by any European coin cabinet. Later, of course, all the treasures had to be return to the countries they had been taken from.

 

The staff of the Cabinet of medals and coins issued a number of scientific catalogs, systematizing the artifacts of the collection. In the XIX century T.E. Mionnay published a 15-volume catalog, including 52,000 Greek and Roman coins. For this he used his specially invented scale that measured the diameter of the coin, which was called — Mionnay scale.

E. Babelon issued the Catalogue of Greek coins, M. Proulx released the coin catalog of Caroling and Meroving, E. Myhre with A. Shabuye systematized Gaulish coins, A. Lavoie — Muslim, A. Dieudonne — two volumes of the collection of coins from the founder of the Capetian dynasty , Hugh Capet (987-996), ending with Louis XII (1498-1515). J. Laforêt with P. Pierre also made two volumes. A number of valuable works on ancient numismatics was issued by the Director of Cabinet of medals later director of the National Library, J. Reader in 1960-1970 years.

 

Nowadays, the Cabinet of coins and medals, placed in the National Library in Paris, includes about 500,000 items of all existing nations and times. Among them the most well represented are thee coins of Greece (46,000 titles), Rome (45,000 items), Gaul (12 000 copies) and France.

 

Thus, the collection of which had passed its way from the personal collection of antiquities of the King of France, to the national heritage of the country, as it was called at the time of the French Revolution, was being constantly updated, and never divided into parts.

 

Attractions of the Cabinet of medals and coins

Great cameo of France (I c. BC)

Great cameo of France (I c. BC)

 

One of the attractions of the Cabinet of medals and coins is the world’s largest cameo. It is made of solid onyx plate — a form of agate, consisting of black and white stripes — size of 31 by 26 cm. With pinpoint accuracy it represents more than two dozen figures, grouped into three horizontal zones. Creation of the cameos dates I century AD — the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

 

In addition, the Cabinet of medals and coins stores other unique exhibits: Ptolemies Cup made of sardonyx, dating from the I century BC, the Cup of Chosroes (Cup of Solomon) made of gold and crystal — a unique heritage of the Sassanids, the world-famous «Julia’s Aquamarine», the daughter of the Titus, the cup found in the Rhine — a masterpiece of the Roman Empire; golden setting of Gospels, presented by Charles IV to the treasury of the chapel of Saint Chapelle.

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