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Hillsdale’s three coin col­lec­tions feature cur­rencies from all over the world | Courtesy Katie Hillery

Every week, senior Katie Hillery ducks into Mossey Library to research and catalog some of the college’s lesser-known resources: the Alwin C. Carus Coin Col­lection, the Brauer coin col­lection, and the Gleeson coin col­lection. Alto­gether, the three col­lec­tions consist of more than 2,000 coins, yet Hillery said few stu­dents are aware of their exis­tence.

As the student coor­di­nator for the coin col­lec­tions, Hillery’s job is to help coor­dinate coin exhibits and catalog and research each coin for the online data­bases where each of the col­lec­tions is doc­u­mented. Though she is the official coor­di­nator for the Carus col­lection, Hillery also works with the Brauer and Gleeson col­lec­tions.

Before a coin is pub­licly dis­played in the online database, Hillery must research the his­torical context of the coin and its fea­tures and prepare an image of the coin.

“It starts with his­torical research,” Hillery said. “I find that part really inter­esting as a history major. Say, if there’s a Greek coin from fifth-century Athens, I’ll do some research to set the coin in its his­torical back­ground, and actually try to describe a little bit what’s on the coin. If there’s a god or goddess, I try to identify that so people get the whole picture of what kind of coin they’re looking at. So there’s the brief description, and then some mea­sure­ments like weight and diameter, the picture itself, and then the catalog numbers.”

Some­times, this process can be very tech­nical and spe­cific for certain coins, and requires knowledge about how inscrip­tions are ori­ented and which side of the coin is the front or back. Other coins are dif­ficult to research because the coun­tries that made them no longer exist.

“Numis­matics, the study of coins, can be very tech­nical,” Public Service Librarian and former Carus coin col­lection coor­di­nator Brenna Wade said. “Dif­ferent types of coins have dif­ferent ref­erence books.”

Though the title of col­lection coor­di­nator has passed hands many times, Hillery is the first student coor­di­nator. She began her official role as coor­di­nator in Sep­tember after working with the col­lection as a student employee. She said the work was a natural fit for her interests as a history major and classics minor.

“I love this work because for me, it brings to life what I’m studying,” Hillery said. “My primary research interest is clas­sical art history, so dealing with so many coins and seeing the way they were crafted and the way they reflect the social and political climate of the day, I think is really inter­esting. To be able to have contact on a daily basis with objects that can be 1,500 years old — to be sur­rounded by history every day — that’s what I really like.”

Alwin C. Carus, who donated the Carus col­lection in 2005, intended the col­lection to be an edu­ca­tional tool, according to Hillsdale Academy Head­master Ken Calvert. Unlike many coin col­lectors, who focus on a spe­cific time period or nation, Carus developed the coin col­lection as a sample of a broad range of his­torical time periods for the purpose of edu­cating stu­dents about eco­nomics. The collection’s cur­rencies include ancient Greek and Islamic coins, coins from Nazi Germany, and modern Canadian and American coins.

“That’s one of the geniuses of the Carus coin col­lection,” Calvert said. “It has a good rep­re­sen­tation of coinage from throughout history, and you can really talk about a lot of great sub­jects related to it.”

Many of the coins are encased in the Her­itage Room, while others can be found in a display at the Hillsdale Academy’s library. Pro­fessors have incor­po­rated coins into their lec­tures, and some coins are dis­played during Hillsdale’s Free-Market Forums. Calvert will take approx­i­mately 40 coins to this year’s forum in Houston, Texas on Oct. 11 – 14 for par­tic­i­pants to examine between ses­sions.

In addition to their his­torical, reli­gious, and artistic value, the coins become a physical man­i­fes­tation of the world’s eco­nomic history.

“I think the invention of flexible wealth, portable wealth, trans­formed human history, moving it away from land and agri­cul­tural pro­duction to the level at which the average person could become wealthy not based on land or animals but based on coinage,” Calvert said. “This is what created the middle class. It’s what created the pos­si­bility of bigger and better things for everybody. This is what Alwin Carus under­stood about the history of money and coinage, and this is what he wanted Hillsdale College to share.”

Though many of the coins still require cat­a­loging and further research, the college’s coin col­lec­tions con­tinue to grow, Calvert said.

“We’ve had others give more coins to the col­lection, and there are others who have talked about giving their col­lec­tions, so we’re looking at the pos­si­bility of growing this col­lection quite dra­mat­i­cally in the coming decades,” Calvert said. “Mr. Carus has started some­thing here that I think can be made into a real jewel in the crown of Hillsdale College, to have this great coin col­lection as part of our library.”