Experience the hobby of kings with the National Numismatic Collection's new Discovery Cart

Want to partake in the "Hobby of Kings?" Then consider becoming a numismatist—a person who collects and studies coins or paper money.

Coin collecting may date all the way back to ancient Rome but it wasn't popularized until the Renaissance. That's when it came to be called the "hobby of kings" through an association with the wealthy elite. Luckily today you don't have to be a king to get involved with numismatics!

The National Numismatic Collection (NNC) has launched a hands-on Numismatics Discovery Cart featuring an activity called Spot the Counterfeit to encourage more involvement with the hobby. Through this activity visitors learn to think like a numismatist by employing many of the skills that collectors use in building their individual collections, including the terms and techniques that are helpful when exploring coins and banknotes. The hands-on activities inspire visitors to examine coins and paper money in a whole new way, from investigating condition to examining qualities such as luster.

A small, cabinet-like square cart with 4 wheels, a blue front, and items on top sits in front of a giant vault door set against the wall with a sign for the value of money exhibit.

The cart activity engages the senses of sight, smell, touch, and hearing to teach visitors about the methods developed by artisans, experts, and even criminals to make and fake currency. Visitors will use loupes and magnifying glasses to look closely at the objects, identifying clues that reveal the authenticity of the objects. They are even able to smell mystery scents and learn how those scents relate to the history of counterfeiting. All of the objects on the cart are intended to be handled by visitors so that they can explore features such as weight and texture. Finally, visitors learn to hear the different sounds that various metals make, another clue that will help them "spot the counterfeit."

A somewhat aerial look at a small cart with paper currency, coins, a shell, some sort of string, and a piece of paper. There is a large vault door behind it.

After experiencing the cart, visitors are encouraged to continue their numismatic exploration in The Value of Money exhibition, where they will have the opportunity to be further inspired by some kingly collectors: Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich and Josiah K. Lilly Jr.

Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich (1863–1919) began collecting at age 14. He received specialized tutoring in numismatics, studied other Russian coin collections, and became a very serious collector. He remained committed to the hobby throughout his life and ultimately amassed one of the largest and greatest collections of Russian coins and medals ever known. With assistance from other Russian numismatists, he even wrote a 12-volume catalog about his collection, which is still regarded today as the most comprehensive text on Russian numismatics. The National Numismatic Collection was fortunate to receive a large portion of his collection (over 11,000 objects!) in the 1950s and 1960s along with copies of his catalog.

A bronze-ish coin with a man in profile. He has short hair and no adornment. Around the edge of the coin is text.

Like Mikhailovich, Josiah K. Lilly Jr. (1893–1966) was a passionate collector not only of coins, but also of rare books, manuscripts, and other historic objects. Lilly took over management of his grandfather's pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly and Company, and eventually became chairman of the board in 1953. Unlike Mikhailovich, who chose to specialize his coin collecting by focusing solely on Russian material, Lilly collected gold coins and bars from anywhere in the world. He accumulated a truly outstanding gold collection of approximately 6,125 objects that was acquired by the Smithsonian through an act of Congress in 1968, a few years after Lilly's death.

One side of a gold coin. There is a knight in armor on a horse with its legs reared. The man holds a sword and the horse is above splashing water and a globe-like detail. Text is around all of the outside of the coin.

Although these collections are certainly awe-inspiring, remember that you don't have to be a grand duke or heir of a pharmaceutical company to be a collector. With a little bit of knowledge and close observation, anyone can become part of the "hobby of kings."

We hope you will visit the museum to experience our new Numismatics Discovery Cart and enjoy our current exhibitionsThe Value of Money and Stories on Money. You can also look here to find resources to help you start your own collection!

Jennifer Gloede is the outreach and collections specialist for the National Numismatic Collection. Kate Steir is the education officer for the National Numismatic Collection and a PhD student at Georgetown University.

The Numismatics Discovery Cart is made possible by the generous support of Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Shiva.