Patricia Milne-Henderson's rare and exciting private collection of books on coins, medals and antiquities goes on sale in the first online auction held at Sotheby's in the United Kingdom on the 8 July. Here, Senior Specialist of Books and Manuscripts, Charlotte Miller, gives an insight in to the collection – identifying highlights and explaining their significance in the market today. 

                                                                           ANDREA FULVIO, ILLUSTRUM IMAGINES (ROME, 1517)

The earliest book in this fine collection is Andrea Fulvio’s Illustrium Imagines of 1517, which contains woodcut medallion portraits of classical figures (from Alexander the Great onwards) but with no real concern for their historical accuracy, despite the blank spaces left for some characters implying that accurate portraits were yet to be found. He was imitated by Johann Huttich in the 1520s. A generation later, it was understood that the images on coins could enhance and clarify historical knowledge and the number of books on coins proliferated, with numerous works by Enea Vico, Jacopo Strada, Guillaume du Choul, Guillaume Rouillé and Sebastiano Erizzo; though Rouillé famously included medals of Adam and Jesus Christ in his work, which he admitted were based on written sources. In the earlier works just the obverses of the coins, with the portraits, were shown; later works included the reverses as pertinent to the content of the obverses (such as Vico’s Le imagini con tutti i riversi trovati of 1548).

                                                               ENEA VICO, LE IMAGINI CON TUTTI I RIVERSI TROVATI (VENICE, 1548)

Archaeological finds in Rome and elsewhere at this time meant that Roman coins existed in substantial quantities and were therefore widely available; they provided genuine and datable images of Roman history, art and culture in a portable form. Grand collections were assembled, by the Fugger family (as used by Strada for his Epitome), Ferdinand of Austria (as documented by Lazius), the Este dukes of Ferrara (as used by Vico), Abraham Ortelius the map-maker (as used by himself, Goltzius and Sweerts), Fulvio Orsini and Sebastiano Erizzo. Vico’s works were perhaps the most influential from this period of activity. 

                                                                JACOPO STRADA, EPITOME DU THRESOR DES ANTIQUITEZ (LYON, 1553)

He was an artist by trade and became keeper of the Este medal cabinet in Ferrara. Coins were also used to help identify statues of Greeks and Romans, and perhaps also to repair damaged busts in a suitable manner to enable a match with a coin portrait. Orsini depicted coins, statues and inscriptions in their original, battered and defective states, rather than making them whole, and used these different media to complement each other.

                                                                                   JACOB BORNITZ, DE NUMMIS (HANAU, 1608)

Catalogues of coins were also used by artists as sources of images and symbols, particularly for allegorical figures, and indeed motifs from coins regularly appeared in emblem books. The significance of the images was much debated, for example in the correspondence between Fulvio Orsini and Antonio Agustín in the later sixteenth century. However it became clear through the seventeenth century that coins were mostly viewed as supporting evidence for literary sources, rather than proving their inaccuracy or filling gaps or resolving contradictions, and the images of coins became of more practical use to artists than historians. Charles Patin countered that coins proved Roman history to be true because we could see it, and later it was the inscriptions on the coins (in essence, a form of early printing) that became considered most useful to the historian.

Later numismatic collectors such as Abraham Gorlaeus, Queen Christina of Sweden, the eighth earl of Pembroke, Jacopo Muselli, Matthew Duane, Joseph Smith and Enrico Sanclemente are also represented in the books in this collection. There are also economic and political texts on coins and coinage, from Guillaume Budé to Jacob Bornitz. The use of coins in texts of Classical authors was sometimes for decorative purposes (see the editions of Vergil, Horace and Cornelius Nepos), though some appear as supporting evidence (in Stewechius’s edition of Vegetius).

We are very proud to be offering these books for sale from what is considered to be the finest private library of historical numismatic books.

The Patricia Milne-Henderson Collection: Books on Coins, Medals and Antiquities online sale 8–18 July 2016

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