This project investigates the very roots of the >Vienna School of Numismatics<. It reconstructs the networks of Eckhelʼs Austrian precursors, the polymath Erasmus Frölich and the historian and theologian Joseph Khell, in the framework of the international initiative Fontes Inediti Numismaticae Antiquae (FINA). Studying and publishing the correspondence of the two Jesuits makes it possible to understand the influences shaping the development of scholarly numismatics in Austria.

The letters in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

In the archives of the Coin Cabinet of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there is a codex (inv. no. II) containing all in all 119 letters written by altogether 33 correspondents to Eckhel’s precursors: 34 letters addressed to Frölich, a polymath and one of the trailblazers in the study of Hellenistic royal coinages in the Age of Enlightenment, and 85 letters addressed to Khell, Frölich’s direct successor and Eckhel’s teacher, who was instrumental in shaping Eckhel’s vision of numismatics as a historical source. The codex represents a relatively small selection from the correspondence of the two scholars that was handed over to Eckhel after Khell’s passing, in view of its interesting scholarly content. Eckhel continued to exchange letters with some of the correspondents of Khell. In view of this continuity, one may in fact perhaps speak of one large network of the >Vienna School of Numismatics< in the second half of the 18th century. The letters shed new light not only on numismatic matters, but also provide fresh insight into many aspects of the history of the period.

Documents in other archives

In view of the selection operated in putting together the codex in the Vienna Coin Cabinet, the documents it contains are not representative of the original breadth of the networks of contacts created by the two scholars: after intense research in archives in Austria and abroad over the past few years, the total number of letters known from their correspondence has almost tripled, with 293 documents currently being attested, exchanged with 52 men.

General remarks

The correspondence of Frölich and Khell is written in Latin, French, Italian and German and was exchanged with scholars in a host of different countries ‒ including even China! The two networks of Frölich and Khell, interestingly enough, hardly overlap: the network of Frölich is documented by 52 letters exchanged with 23 correspondents, and the larger one of Khell by 241 letters exchanged with 29 correspondents. Most of Frölich’s correspondents are represented by just one or two letters, while the correspondence of Khell comprises several substantial groups of letters that enable us to follow the scholarly exchange between him and other antiquarians over several years.

Erasmus Frölich (1700–1758)

The correspondence of Frölich reflects this fascinating man’s manifold interests. They discuss a wide range of topics – not only coins, but also genealogy, history, and astronomy: the latter is the case, for example, in the letter addressed to him by Joseph Franz (1704‒1776), the founder of the Vienna observatory, containing an important account of the observation of the comet C/1743 C1.

Joseph Khell (1714–1772)

Khell’s correspondence largely revolves around antiquarian and numismatic topics, by contrast. Among his correspondents we find big names such as the >father of classical archaeology< Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717‒1768), the patron, collector and expert in ancient gems Philipp von Stosch (1691‒1757), the enlightened Italian statesman Bernardo Tanucci (1698‒1783), a key figure of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, the French Intendant-General of the Navy and famous coin collector Joseph Pellerin (1684‒1783), or the librarian and numismatic scholar Julius Carl Schlaeger (1706‒1786) in Gotha.

The edition: print and online

All the letters of the correspondence were transcribed, and a historical and numismatic commentary on them will be prepared. A hybrid edition of the correspondence will be provided: both in printed form and online, the latter being more flexible in interlinking documents and information. For this reason, the transcriptions of the letters were carried out in TEI-XML. Through a cooperation with other (digital) projects housed at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, such as APIS (Austrian Prosopographical Information System), the project could use existing technical infrastructure to curate the collected data. All documents (and attachments) were catalogued in the project’s database, set up in cooperation with the Austrian Center for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage (ACDH-CH) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.


Principal Investigator