The National Numismatic Collection is comprised of approximately 1.6 million objects and is thought to be the largest money collection in the world. Its diverse holdings represent every inhabited continent and span more than three millennia, ranging from Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets to 21st-century credit card readers.
The collection has grown from a few thousand objects in the mid-19th century to its present size through donations from public institutions and private collections.
The National Numismatic Collection is unrivaled in its holdings of American material. It is the U.S. monetary system's collection of record and includes the extraordinary collections of the U.S. Mint, Treasury, and Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Other notable collections include:
- The Chase Manhattan Collection
- Approximately 24,000 American and international banknotes, coins, banking materials (including a rare collection of U.S. presidents’ personal checks), and alternative and commodity currencies
- The Confederate Currency Collection, also known as "The Richmond Hoard”
- Approximately 600,000 Confederate banknotes
- The Josiah K. Lilly Jr. Collection
- 6,125 American and international gold coins and bars, including an almost complete collection of U.S. gold coins
- The Paul A. Straub Collection
- About 5,600 European gold and silver coins ranging from the 14th to 20th centuries
- The Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich Collection
- Approximately 11,400 Russian coins and medals—thought to be the most comprehensive Russian coin collection outside of Russia
- The George B. Glover Collection
- 2,025 East Asian coins ranging from the 7th century BCE to the 19th century CE
- The Catherine Bullowa Collection
- About 20,000 American and international coins, banknotes, and medals
- The Raymond Hebert Collection
- Ancient and medieval coins from the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia
- The Mrs. and Mr. Mortimer Neinken Collection
- Approximately 100,000 pieces of Austrian and Germany paper money
- The Ulysses S. Grant Collection
- 25 Japanese coins gifted to President Grant by Emperor Meiji in the 19th century
- The Howard F. Bowker Collection
- 473 East Asian monetary objects ranging from the 7th century BCE to the 20th century CE
Ancient Greek and Roman Coins
The National Numismatic Collection holds approximately 26,900 Greek and Roman coins and has good representation in all areas of ancient coinage. A group of scholars recently carried out an assessment that revealed some exceptional strengths of the collection, including world-class holdings of eastern Roman provincial and civic coin issues and a number of older hoards. A narrative overview of the assessment is available here and a more detailed listing of the NNC’s classical coin holdings is available here.
Accessing the collection online
A portion of the National Numismatic Collection is available online through NMAH's online catalog. The National Numismatic Collection is currently working to develop digitization initiatives in order to make the collection more accessible to the public.
Recent digitization initiatives
Mass Digitization Project: Coins and Medals of the Lilly, Straub, and Mikhailovich Collections
The National Numismatic Collection partnered with the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office to digitize over 25,000 coins and medals from the Josiah K. Lilly Jr., Paul A. Straub, and Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich collections. This project received additional funding from the National Collections Program. These images will be available online by mid-2020.
- Access a video about the digitization
- Access the Josiah K. Lilly Jr. collection
- Access the Paul A. Straub collection
West African Currency Digitization Project
The National Numismatic Collection partnered with the London School of Economics (LSE) to digitize 880 West African currency objects. This project was generously funded by the LSE's Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fund.
- Access the collection in the museum's online catalog
- Access the project's Learning Lab
- Access a description of the project here
- Access a review of the project here
Numismatics 3D Digitization Pilot
The Smithsonian Digitization Program Office's 3D team partnered with the National Numismatic Collection to digitize and create online educational experiences for a collection of East Asian coins.
German Notgeld Inventory
The National Numismatic Collection has completed a one year project to catalog and create digital surrogates of a collection of approximately 6,000 German notgeld notes. This project received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
- Access the project's Learning Lab
Cataloging and Digitizing Chinese Paper Money
The National Numismatic Collection has completed a two year project, generously funded by Michael Chou, to catalog and digitize approximately 5,800 pieces of Chinese paper money. Images of these objects are available on the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center and a portion are on the Smithsonian's Transcription Center website, where digital volunteers all over the world will be able to assist with the transcription and transliteration of these notes.
- Help transcribe
Howard F. Bowker East Asian Coin Project
The National Numismatic Collection completed a two year project to digitize over 8,000 coins in its East Asian coin collection thanks to a generous donation from the Howard F. Bowker Family and Michael Chou. A dedicated member of staff cataloged and photographed these coins and related monetary objects that span nearly three thousand years of East Asian history. The collection is publicly accessible via the Smithsonian's online catalog.
John Adams Comitia Americana Medals Project
The National Numismatic Collection completed the digitization of its Comitia Americana medals thanks to a generous donation from John Adams. A dedicated member of staff cataloged and facilitated the photography of 119 medals struck between 1776 and the late 19th century. This group of historic medals represent a newly independent United States engaging with the international community through numismatic art.
- Access the collection in the museum’s online catalog
- Access the project's Learning Lab
- Related blog: How a Congressional vote to create Revolutionary War medals affirmed the Declaration of Independence
Bureau of Engraving and Printing Rapid Capture
In October 2014 the National Numismatic Collection initiated an innovative “Rapid Capture” digitization project, pioneering one of the first projects of its kind at the Smithsonian. The goal of the project was to digitize about 250,000 proof sheets from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) collection, consisting of over a quarter-million unique sheets used to print banknotes and tax stamps from 1863 to the early 20th century. These proof sheets were kept by the BEP as a collection of record for the currency issued during this time and were transferred to the National Numismatic Collection between the 1960s and 1980s.
The project involved a conveyer belt system with a custom-designed 80 megapixel imaging system to digitize the objects as efficiently as possible. This innovative process was incredibly effective when compared to the old method of employing a flatbed scanner. The digitization team processed nearly 3,500 sheets every day at a cost of less than a dollar per sheet in just four and a half months!
Another component of this project was the integration of the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. Through this online platform, members of the public are able to log on, see our objects, and assist us with cataloging them by filling in predetermined information fields. Their work has allowed us to catalog objects quickly and efficiently.
At the completion of the project, the team was able to digitize 274,340 currency proof sheets from our collection. The sheets are still going through the transcription process.
The National Numismatic Collection is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to make our collections accessible, furthering the Smithsonian Institution’s mission of sharing our valuable resources with the world.
Recent Rehousing and Preservation Initiatives
Inventory and Rehousing of American Coins
The National Numismatic Collection has initiated a multi-year project to inventory and rehouse the American coin collection. This project received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Removal of Wax from Coins
The National Numismatic Collection is actively working to remove wax from the surface of over 6,000 coins. This project was made possible thanks to a generous donation from the Howard F. Bowker Numismatic Projects Endowment Fund. This project also received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care Initiative, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Rehousing the International Paper Money Collection
The National Numismatic Collection rehoused its international banknote collection thanks to a generous donation from Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Shiva. Two dedicated members of staff moved all the notes from degrading plastic sleeves, into new, archival quality folders for their long-term preservation. The collection consists of more than 80,000 individual pieces of paper money, dating from the late 18th century to present day and representing dozens of countries around the world. While working through the collection, the team also revealed its potential as a resource for historical research.