In addition to extensive archaeological and ethnographic collections, Luther College also possesses a substantial collection of currency, both ancient and historical, which is referred to as the Luther College Numismatics Collection. The ancient coinage in this collection spans a wide range of time and space, from Greek city-states to the Roman Empire, as well as many coins from the ancient Levant.
The study of coins, called numismatics, has had a great impact on historical studies. Researching the distinctive features of coins such as inscriptions, metal composition, and depicted images are excellent ways of learning more about a particular culture. Numismatics plays a significant role in understanding the specifics of Greek and Roman culture--the two civilizations that have had the most influence on modern coinage. The origin of the word numismatics comes from the Greek word numos, which means "current coin."
To mint coins in the ancient world, an artisan would carve images into two different dies, one depicting the obverse and one depicting the reverse. These images would have a negative relief of the desired final coin, so the artisan would carve where he wanted elevation in the final product. To start minting, a flan, or a blank metal disc, was carefully weighed in order to ensure standard weights and values. It would then be placed between the dies, the larger die, usually featuring the reverse, placed on top. With the flan secured between the two dies, the top die would be hammered down, transferring the image onto the coin. This was called a hammer die, and was the predominate method of minting in the ancient world. During minting, the coin was likely heated in order to make the metal softer, thereby allowing a cleaner transfer. The entire process was not unlike today’s modern minting, although it was more labor intensive and only one coin could be done at a time by a minter, rather than machines which can stamp hundreds in a minute.
For a glossary of terms used in relation to ancient coinage, see: Illustrated Ancient Coin Glossary
The Luther College Ancient Numismatics Collection is the result of three major donations by Luther Faculty:
Orlando (Pip) W. Qualley (1897-1988) was a member of the Luther College class of 1918, and in 1931 he received a Ph.D in Classics from the University of Michigan. From his graduation until his retirement in 1969, he held positions of Vice President, Dean, Professor of Classical Languages, Registrar, basketball coach and football coach. While participating in an archaeological dig in Karanis, Egypt between 1924 and 1925, Qualley obtained the 420 coins in his collection from a Dr. David Askren. Dr. Askren was a medical missionary living in Cairo and had a keen interest for antiquities. The coins that Qualley procured were originally offered to Prof. Kelsey, who was the leader of the archaeological expedition in Karanis and to whom Dr. Askren had sold numerous antiquities prior, many of which still reside in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. After Kelsey declined to buy the coins, either because he had acquired so many in other excavations or he realized that the Karanis excavations would yield many more (over 50,000), Dr. Askren offered them to Qualley, who then purchased them. Most of the coins from this collection range from the Ptolemaic Period (305 – 30 ) to the RomBCan ImpBCerial Period of the 3rd and 4th centuries. His collection of over 400 coins was given to Luther in 1925.
Richard Simon Hanson was a Professor of Religion at Luther College. Many of the pieces Dr. Hanson donated were obtained while he was doing doctoral work with the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Upper Galilee, now known as Palestine. He spent nine summers doing archaeological work with the coins, including cleaning, photographing, and studying them. The coins he worked with numbered around 6,000, but those were the property of Israel. Israeli officials allowed Hanson to take the coins that they did not want, and Hanson ended up with around 600 coins, many of which eventually came to be part of Luther’s collection. Hanson has written several books regarding the coins, many which deal with the coins unearthed at Khirbet Shema, an expedition on which he was the lead numismatist. In fact much of what we know about the coins in the Qualley and Haatvedt Collections are the result of Dr. Hanson’s efforts to catalog and describe them.
After graduating from Luther in 1930 and going on to obtain a graduate degree, Rolfe Haatvedt returned to Decorah and was a professor of classics at Luther College for 37 years. Throughout his life he obtained a private coin collection, which was donated to Luther College by his wife Helen after his passing.
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