Skip to content

Art History

Art History.  The study of the development of art from classical times to the present including all forms of art and their interrelationships. Numismatics derives information from the vast body of knowledge of art history; also it provides data from coins and medals to this field of knowledge. Portraits and portraiture is perhaps the largest contribution from numismatics to art (some rulers are known only by their portraits appearing on coins and medals), but additionally, those artists, engravers and medallists who created coin and medal designs for centuries have added immensely to this field of art.

While the numismatic researcher utilizes the methods of the historian – for

research – the numismatist looks to the literature of art history for additional data and documentation. In his search for a variety of information, the numismatic researcher wants to know: Who was the artist? What were the conditions of the creation of a coin or medal? What were the details of its issue? Who is portrayed? What is the meaning of the allegory? What is the identity of the symbols and attributes? The answers to some of these questions can be found in the literature of art and form the basis of numismatic connoisseurship.

In addition to the iconography found on coins and medals, the art historian studies the lives of the artists and the development of their art through schools, by style and technique and can sometimes be helpful by stylistic comparisonhs. These studies can infrequently be helpful to numismatics by identifying unknown portraits, difficult symbols and symbolism artists who did not sign their work, and be of aid to numismatic attribution.

            The greatest classical numismatic art historian was Reginald Stuart Poole (1832-1895). Trained in Egyptology while in Cario with his uncle, orientalist Edward W. Lane, he was writing as early as 17. On return to England he was named an assistant in the department of antiquities at the British Museum, and ultimately the first keeper of a newly formed department of coins and medals. Under his 22-year leadership 15 catalogs were publish on these collections. He lectured consistently and stressed the theme of the relationship of Greek coinage to Greek art.

            In America, only one numismatist holds such a similar high regard for art history and its use in numismatics. Cornelius Clarkson Vermeule III (1925-2008) was a museum official (Boston Museum of Fine Art), author of over 800 articles, but most noted as the author of Numismatic Art in America. He created the word Federalist as the ART MOVEMENT term for early American coinage style (Liberty Head, Liberty Seated).


A33 {1971}  Vermeule (Cornelius C.)  Numismatic Art in America; Aesthetics of the United States

Coinage.  Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.