In Memoriam: Theodore V. Buttrey, Jr.

(Written by Sarah E. Cox, and shared with the SCS by Ofelia N. Salgado-Buttrey)

Theodore V. Buttrey, Jr.

29 December 1929 – 9 January 2018

Renowned educator, numismatist and classicist, Theodore V. (“Ted”) Buttrey, Jr., died on January 9, 2018, eleven days after his 88th birthday.  Born in Havre, Montana, as a child he attended the Peacock Military Academy in San Antonio, Texas, where he first encountered the coins of Mexico, a life-long interest.  His secondary education was at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, after which he entered Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude in 1950 in Classics.  In the summer of 1952, he participated in the inaugural Summer Seminar in Numismatics conducted by the American Numismatic Society, an experience that may well have been pivotal in setting the later course of his career.  In 1953, still at Princeton, he completed his Ph.D. thesis on a numismatic subject, “Studies in the Coinage of Marc Anthony,” a chapter of which was condensed and published as “Thea Neotera on Coins of Antony and Cleopatra,” ANS Museum Notes 6 (1954), pp. 95-109.  There followed a Fulbright scholarship to study in Rome.

In 1954 Ted joined the faculty of Yale University, where he remained for a decade, first as an instructor and then as assistant professor in the Department of Classical Studies; he also served as curator of the numismatic collection and, from 1962 to 1964, as assistant professor in the Department of Medieval Studies.  In 1964 he moved to the University of Michigan, where he remained until his retirement in 1985, starting as associate professor of Greek and Latin and rising to full professor in 1968.  From 1969 to 1971 he also served as Director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.  After retiring from Michigan he moved to the University of Cambridge, to become an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Classics of Clare Hall College, where he had previously been a Visiting Fellow and Resident Member.  In addition, from 1988 to 1991 he served as Keeper of Coins and Medals at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and from 2008 until his death held the post of Honorary Keeper of Coins.  Ted was a life member of the SCS (the APA at that time) and the AIA, as well as a member of the Royal Numismatic Society and the Société Française de Numismatique, and he received a host of awards and honors, including the Medal of the Royal Numismatic Society, the Huntington Medal of the ANS, the medal of the Norwegian Numismatic Society, and the Wolfgang Hahn Medal of the Institut für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte of Vienna University.

Ted’s publications, both books and articles, totaled well over 100.  Most were concerned with topics in numismatics, especially antiquity, where the broad span of his interests encompassed Athenian coins, Republican denarii, Flavian coins, the coinage of Pescennius Niger, and even calculating ancient coin production.  The modern era of numismatics also consumed much of his time, and a challenge to the authenticity of a collector’s gold bars of the Spanish-American southwest even got his name in the newspapers.  But he never forsook his devotion to Classics, as evidenced by his early article, “Accident and Design in Euripides’ Medea,” published in AJP in 1958, while he was at Yale, and to an even greater extent by the television programs he produced for Michigan Media on Homer, Greek drama and theatre, Herodotus, Suetonius, and other classical subjects.  As recently as 2015, in conversations at the International Numismatic Congress in Taormina, he discussed plans for a book on the role of fate in Oedipus Rex, arguing against the idea of unshakeable destiny.

While never thought of as one who suffered fools gladly, he was a charismatic teacher and approachable mentor, encouraging of younger scholars, as well as a witty and engaging raconteur.  He will be greatly missed, but he leaves an immense legacy for his students, colleagues, and family to cherish and spread.

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(Photo: "Candle" by Shawn Carpenter, licensed under CC BY 2.0)   


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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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