In 2012, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opened the first gallery devoted to ancient Greek and Roman coinage in a US art museum. Given its location within a public institution, the gallery, known as the Michael C. Ruettgers Ancient Coin Gallery (“coin gallery” for short), treats the general public as its student population, welcoming those as young schoolchildren and high school students all the way up to learned scholars. This paper aims to share the strategies employed in the coin gallery with the academic community in the belief that a dialogue between those teaching with coins in museums and institutions of higher learning can only strengthen outcomes in both.
The paper begins with an introduction to the MFA’s coin collection, which dates back to the early years of the museum (founded in 1870) and numbers approximately 8,000 coins. The need for the gallery, with its state-of-the-art casework with custom-designed magnifying instruments and lighting, and the curatorial and educational goals for it will be explained. The “big idea” for the gallery – the notion that coins are miniature masterpieces and the emphasis on coins as works of Greek and Roman art and their relationship to works of art in other media – will be the central focus of the paper. The interpretive strategy of the gallery blends thematic and chronological approaches – a balancing act evident in cases entitled “Metal into Money,” “Money into Art,” as well as those devoted to portraiture and mythology, on the one hand, and cases in which the best specimens of Greek and Roman coins are exhibited, on the other hand. The use of technology in the form of iPads with the first-ever MFA app (“MFA Coins”), as well as the process of developing such an app, will shed light on the benefits of technology in teaching with coins. Finally, a summary of the overwhelmingly positive responses to the gallery will be presented.
Teaching with Coins: Coins as Tools for Thinking about the Ancient World