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Students to work with UB's priceless coin collection

Bringing the past to life

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UB students may soon get the chance to hold the same objects that figures like Julius Caesar, Augustus and Alexander the Great might have more than 2,000 years ago.

In the midst of Lockwood Memorial Library’s rare book collection is a set of recently rediscovered coins that date as far back as the Roman Empire. The coins include 34 silver medals of the Kings of England from William I to George II; a selection of silver Greek coins dating from 600-100 B.C.; a variety of British gold coins from 200 B.C. to 1911; gold Roman coins depicting Emperors; and a small number of Japanese gold coins from the 19th century.

The coins have been in Lockwood Library for 80 years, but students will just now get the opportunity to work with them.

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/ Courtesy of UB Photo Database |

Philip Kiernan (left), an assistant professor in the Department of Classics, and Mike Basinski (right), curator of UB’s poetry collection, pose with Lockwood Library’s collection of ancient coins. Student may have the chance to work directly with the coins next fall.


“Ancient objects, like the Lockwood coins, bring the past to life in a very real way that cannot be achieved through textbooks alone,” said Philip Kiernan, an assistant professor in the Department of Classics. “By working with the Lockwood coins in a hands-on setting, students will be touching the same objects that [might have been] held by people like Julius Caesar, Augustus, Pericles or Alexander the Great.”

The coins are currently in a vault and are undergoing a conservation and preservation process so the students can start to work with them as soon. Kiernan is planning a seminar for the fall semester that will allow students to examine and handle the artifacts.

Thomas B. Lockwood donated funds to build Lockwood Library, which was originally on South Campus in Abbott Hall, in 1933 and donated his unique book collection to the library in 1935.

Included in that collection were Lockwood’s rare coins.

Kiernan, who has taught at UB since the fall of 2010, first heard about the coins from an alumna who remembered seeing them while attending UB in the early 1970s.

“After a series of phone calls and false leads, I eventually got into contact with Mike Basinski [curator of UB’s poetry collection], who had been quietly looking after them over the years,” Kiernan said.

Kiernan discovered the coins still in the original cases in which they arrived after Lockwood donated them.

Kiernan said the coins not only provide basic historical data such as the names, titles and dates of rulers, but they also bear images that are simultaneously works of art, propaganda and symbols of civic pride.

In the coin seminar Kiernan is planning, the coins will be assigned to individual students, similar to how he runs his ancient artifacts course, which uses artifacts from collections in the Department of Classics. Students will take pictures, measurements and compare them to other coins in published literature.

Kiernan said the coins are “direct products of past economies,” and have been traded, saved and spent by real people thousands of years ago. Each of the coins is a remarkable witness to the period in which it was made, according to Kiernan.

Kiernan also says that a large amount of students have already expressed interest in working with the coins.

“We have an obligation to the donors and also to provide the students with the best environment possible, and to ensure that future generations of students have the same opportunities,” Basinski said. “They’re unique, they’re Buffalo and they offer research potential. I think these coins just prove that UB’s libraries are world-class. There’s no end to the possibilities of what these materials might offer.”

Jashonda Williams is a news staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com


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